Jesus Christ was, is, and is to come as King. This is good news, because His Kingdom was, is, and is to come. God has never gone on vacation, or been overthrown. He has allowed us to dissent, rebel, choose badly. King Jesus then begins the process of bringing healing, hope, and health. Jesus said some things so clearly you would think nobody could misunderstand him. You would be wrong.
Jesus said: “. . . love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Applying this truth can be hard and we might disagree how to apply this idea, but the bottom line is that Christians cannot hate any person. We cannot hate a bin Laden, Stalin, or that troll in the other political party. Christians can hate bad ideas and oppose them. Christian police can do justice to protect and serve the community. Christians cannot hate people.
Yet hate we do.
God is ready to help us do this hard task and if we are willing, then we can stop learning not to hate. God is a teacher and will help us do what is right. Here is a fundamental truth: assenting to an idea is not the same as believing the idea. For example, a humanist (secular or Christian) might assert that people matter, but if she or he does not live as if that idea is true, then the idea is powerless. The truth is what we do. If you say you love God and hate your brother or sister, then you are lying.
God gives us intellectual freedom. Because of that, I teach with intellectual freedom and extend intellectual freedom to my students in class. They question. They make mistakes. I question and make what turn out to be mistakes. This is good, but it “wastes time.” Why don’t I just impose my good answers on them? First, of course, because I am sometimes wrong. Second, even if I am right, when it comes to deep questions (not “facts”), a person must come to truth, goodness, and beauty for themselves. Learning has to be a free process for it to be real. We can train our animal natures, but as humans, we must come to truth for ourselves. Training is not enough.
I was thinking about this because of a question from M*:
- Assuming for the sake of argument that Christianity is true, why do you think God would have allowed confusion over doctrines to the point where there are thousands of Christian denominations, yet Islam has only two or three such divisions?
God allowed confusion over doctrines, because God gives us intellectual freedom. If we take the most clear teaching of Scripture, people refuse to take the plain meaning and ignore it. We make bad intellectual choices and God Himself allows those choices, because if God made us get it, then we would not get it. We would be trained and not educated.
Of course, we wish that God would do this (at times), because we do not like seeing mistakes. That’s not how it works. You, M*, have decided not to be a Christian. Since you are a good chap, I might (if I am having a bad day) wish I could make you choose differently and then I see my sin. I cannot make you choose, that would be my will your will!
But shouldn’t God’s will be my will? Of course! But God let’s me seek that state. He is right, but He allows me to work on it. There is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. God’s Church cannot be divided. It is not secret that I think that Church is found in the communion called the Orthodox Church and that I have found a wholesome evangelical expression of that faith in my pastors. Why doesn’t everyone agree with me on this topic?
It isn’t because all my friends are ignorant. I know many who know more about theology and disagree with me.
It isn’t because all my friends are surely wrong. I think they are wrong or I would not be in the place I attend, but they can be very persuasive. My goal is to do the best I can and if my Roman Catholic or Evangelical friends are right, though they have no persuaded me, that the Lord would have mercy.
My Church is much more than what CS Lewis called “mere Christianity” (the basics all people who are Christians share) and it is important to know those differences and live out those differences, but also to see what we have in common. My favorite group which does this work runs Touchstone Journal. These are all people I take seriously as Christians even if my opinion is less charitable about their churches.
This applies to other groups even more strongly. Some have been inspired and taken off from Christianity, but have deviated enough from the Christian consensus on ideas and doctrine that they are really more neo-Christian or “inspired by Christianity.” Progressive groups like the Episcopal Church USA have ceased to be Christian, though I have many dear friends who are certainly Christian. A socially conservative group like the LDS (Mormons) is not Christian (in this sense), but I have colleagues whose witness seems Christian (at least to me).
Love first . . .
Thanks for asking M**.
*M is a non-Christian that sent me 55 questions earlier this year. He has asked that I not reveal his or her name. I will write as if “he” is a male, but this is for convenience. I do not know if I will get to all his questions. I try to limit my answers to hundreds and not thousands of words. Here are questions:
**If you are reading this when it was written, then this is the last question from M! He ended up asking a few extra questions (see some follow ups), but my attempt to give a brief answer to a serious, well informed atheist is done. I enjoyed the process and I hope you did too M! Thank you.