Our Reasonable Faith 4

This post is by RJS – looking at Keller’s book, not as a pastor, an evangelist, or a theologian, but as a lay Christian who has been immersed in secular academia for 27 years as graduate student, postdoctoral scholar, and professor.
Christianity is a Straightjacket — belief in absolute truth is an enemy of freedom—it endangers our civic freedom because it divides rather than unites—it stifles creativity and growth— “Christianity looks like an enemy of social cohesion, cultural adaptability, and even authentic personhood.”(p. 37) So run the complaints of many in our educated skeptical age. Tim Keller, in Ch. 3 of The Reason for Godsuggests that “this objection is based on mistakes about the nature of truth, community, Christianity, and of liberty itself.”

Keller makes several good points in this chapter – truth (some idea of truth) is unavoidable; community cannot be completely inclusive —and no community is; Christianity is not culturally rigid—already most Christians live in Asia, Africa, or Latin America; and freedom isn’t simple.
Let’s consider but two of these – and related ones at that.
Every community holds its members to standards of belief and behavior —our freedom, our liberal democracy, depends on a shared and required set of beliefs and practices: most importantly the sanctity of personal choice and autonomy, a belief not shared in much of the world. A community should not be judged because it has standards for its members, rather a community should be judged on tests such as:

Which community has beliefs that lead its members to treat persons in other communities with love and respect – to serve them and meet their needs? Which community’s beliefs lead it to demonize and attack those who violate their boundaries rather than treating them with kindness, humility, and winsomeness? We should criticize Christians when they are condemning and ungracious to unbelievers. But we should not criticize churches when they maintain standards for membership in accord with their beliefs. Every community must do the same. (p. 40)

Wow — this is a telling indictment of much of our church isn’t it?
Christianity is not a cultural straightjacket – rather, founded on a set of core beliefs, Christianity is and always has been adaptive of diverse cultures. Cultural diversity is built into the Christian faith from the Acts of the Apostles, the epistles of Paul and on to today. We worship one God, one risen Lord, but retain our cultural differences – every tongue, tribe, people, and nation. Greeks need not become Jews, Africans need not become Americans, Republicans need not become Democrats.
So… This leads me to ponder:
What are the key beliefs and practices – the foundation required for membership in the community?
And
Should a Christian community maintain standards on nonessentials? If so – how?
This last is a tough one – as I am convinced that our stance on nonessentials hurts the church and hurts our witness to the unchurched. It is hard to be an effective light to the world when the light observed from the outside is the glow of a fire that burns individuals within the church.

  • http://www.bible.luiscorreia.com/our-reasonable-faith-4/ Anonymous

    Our Reasonable Faith 4

    [...] Alex Carpenter wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerptCultural diversity is built into the Christian faith from the Acts of the Apostles, the epistles of Paul and on to today. We worship one God, one risen Lord, but retain our cultural differences – every tongue, tribe, people, and nation. … [...]

  • http://communityofjesus.blogspot.com/ Ted M. Gossard

    Great post.
    I wish we would minimize all differences and be open while at the same time being thankful for the foundations we have. Like in the Evangelical Covenant denomination we have a strong foundation with an emphasis in testing all things according to God’s Word, and emphasizing the importance of a personal walk with Christ and accountability for that- good. But we also allow for alot of latitude in what we consider nonessentials. This is healthy, and I think the more we can see ourselves and live out our faith in a more international context, the better we live out our true identity as the one nation under God in Christ, the holy nation in Jesus we are, scattered all over the earth.
    A hasty reply and I’m out the door!

  • http://danbrennan.typepad.com/ Dan Brennan

    RJS,
    Thank you for this. Great questions. Hard questions with no simple answer. The standards on nonessentials for community and individuals are doctrinal or confessional beliefs and moral behavior and expectations. As you know, I am working on a book on male-female friendship. On the one hand, I don’t want to bring gender into this thread, but on the other hand, I do, because there are contemporaries who believe the Christian God oppresses women, etc. So, it is a relevant subpoint I see to your question.
    Part of the perplexing and challenging issue along these lines is Jesus’ own model who flat out challenged the social approval of longstanding wisdom by engaging women and befriending them. While Jesus calls us into faith communities that have social boundaries on nonessentials, his shrewd acts of resistance against contemporary standards and wisdom in his day has implications for us. Especially if we think the community is always wiser than individuals or paired friendships. Christianity is not only adaptive to cultures, but individuals God himself anoints (the greatest example of course, is the incarnation).

  • http://rhymeswithplague.blogspot.com Bob Brague

    I always try to remember that the body is made up of differing members–eyes, ears, arms, legs–and that each one has a different function, and that all work together for the good of the body, and that the parts not displayed receive greater honor and care.
    Call me crazy.

  • http://danbrennan.typepad.com/ Dan Brennan

    RJS,
    Thank you for this series. Great questions, no simple answers. Christianity is not only adaptive to diverse cultures primarily because of the incarnation. Jesus himself, the individual resisted the social wisdom and social approval of his immediate community and culture at many levels. So, the “nonessentials” not only pertain to theological beliefs communities embrace but also wise and moral behavior.
    Obviously, since I am working on a book on male-female friendship I see this in Jesus’ engagement with women in his day. For those who think community has the trump card on wisdom on nonessentials, Jesus’own life suggests a much deeper invitation of dialogue between community standards and the authentic personhood.

  • http://danbrennan.typepad.com/ Dan Brennan

    Sorry,
    I always get into trouble when I cut and paste an then post because I am doing other things. My comment should have looked something like this: Christianity is not only adaptive to diverse cultures but to the individual too, primarily because of the incarnation. Jesus himself, the individual resisted the social wisdom and social approval of his immediate community and culture at many levels.

  • Scott

    I don’t object to the objections of the skeptics here–it may not be the whole story, but if we look at Christianity as a whole historically these characterizations do fit. They ARE a decription of Christianity in practice for much of its history, esp. in the West, and in America.
    It can be argues that,in the West,that the openness of Christianity culturally and politically has due in large measure to the Enlightenment–Christians were too busy killing and persecuting each other in Europe in the name of Christian Truth to embrace Jesus’ commands. It was the free thinkers and skeptics who had to be the conscious in this context. The Puritans who wanted freedom were known to kill people who didn’t agree with their vision of the “beloved community.” And the Church’s sometimes tacit and other times outright embrace of racial and ethnic bases ideologies in its mission is something that impacts us to the present, so much so that it is difficult to have real conversations about this in Christian churches. In some ways this goes back to the earliest church and Paul’s fight to define the Jesus movement as an wholly inclusive communion of Jew and Gentile, which ran into problems from those in the church who has problems with this vision. This was the defining issue in the earliest church. One can say in this regards that Paul was a “failure” since the movement since eventually there was “Jewish flight” in the church. Let’s bring this out of the theoretical level and look at history and actual practice, that which really matters to Jesus,who said “not everyone who says ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven but only those who do the wlll of my Father…”

  • http://homewardbound-cb.blogspot.com/ ChrisB

    What are the key beliefs and practices …
    Beliefs? I’m tempted to say the creeds, though I wonder if we can simplify it further. “Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures … he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures”
    Practices? Love(“Love the Lord…,” “Love your neighbor…,” and “as I have loved you, so you must love one other”), evangelism (“go and make disciples of all nations…”), baptism, and communion.
    Am I oversimplifying here?
    Should a Christian community maintain standards on nonessentials?
    To some degree we have to. For instance, take infant baptism. I am a credobaptist very sympathetic to paedobaptists, but I cannot imagine how one could run a church that was either-baptist.
    What would a Church of Christ/Baptist or Pentecostal/Methodist fusion look like? We believe what we believe for good reason (at least in some cases), but we can be civil, loving, and supportive of believers with theological differences. (Coincidentally, I’ll be posting about this on my own blog later today.)

  • http://homewardbound-cb.blogspot.com/ ChrisB

    Scott (#7), as Keller will point out later, the problem with Western (or any other) Christians killing each other is because they weren’t Christian enough. His point is that people who disobey Christ do not disprove Christianity — in fact they only highlight the truth of human depravity.

  • http://mikerucker.wordpress.com mike rucker

    my thoughts on this chapter are here if you need help getting to sleep tonight…
    my only comment here is that we’re mistaken when we look at what an individual has to do to be allowed “in.” i believe that we’re all in, but some elect (yeah, i probably could have picked a better word…) to go their own way. the prodigal decided to leave home, but the Father never disowned him. in fact, He sat awaiting his return.
    the secret handshakes and creeds to which we pledge allegiance are man’s inventions – and, granted, probably a necessity since we have to work within the confines of the “church” as an organization and tax-free institution.
    mike rucker
    fairburn, georgia, usa
    mikerucker.wordpress.com

  • http://www.theupsidedownworld.wordpress.com Rebeccat

    It is my firm belief that an insistence on cohesion on non-essentials is particularly destructive to the long term well being of the believer. When we conflate non-essentials with the true faith, we put our faith in danger of failure should the non-essentials fail. The best example I can think of this is those churches which insist that faithful Christians must be literal creationists. For many people, when they are faced with facts which undermine creationism it can be hard to reject that non-essential while holding onto the essential truth of the gospel.
    BTW, for ChrisB, our family attended an Evangelical Covenant Church for quite a while where they would do infant baptism, infant dedication, or adult baptism. There is scriptural evidence for all, so they did all and members were free to handle it according to their best understanding.
    Finally, on the issue of what is essential, I would say the apostle’s creed myself as well as a commitment to sacrificial love, service and moral behavior. I believe that having a set of essential beliefs and standards is not repressive, but allows us freedom to live life more freely. I think that when we try to “free” ourselves from beliefs and standards, it is like taking a raquetball game onto a tennis court. While in the confines of the raquetball court, there is room to play hard, take off in different directions and even make mistakes without taking yourself out of the game altogether while looking for a lost ball. While a tennis court appears to free us from the hard boundaries of a raquetball court, we must either learn to play in a much more conservative, restricted manner or risk losing our ball altogether. IMO, this is exactly what has happened to our culture.
    So there’s my (long) $.02 :)

  • RJS

    Rebeccat,
    There are essentials – and I think that most here would agree with that.
    Do the essentials fill a big bag or a small bag?
    Do essentials include paedobaptism? Credobaptism? Calvinism, Weslyanism, Lutheranism, Creationism (i.e. YEC) …
    And – is it ever right to refuse to be in communion with brothers and sisters over non-essentials?

  • Rick

    Keith Drury’s description of essentials is great:
    “The creeds show us what is worth dying for. The creeds remind us what we are willing to die for. …we would die before rejecting Jesus Christ as God. The church writes some things in pencil—they are easily erased by the nest generations. Other things are written in ink—they are hard to erase because our church believes them so strongly. The creeds, however, are written in blood. The martyrs died for these beliefs. We would too. The creeds do not change with the winds and whims of the times. If thousands of martyrs have died for these beliefs, we at least can take some time to study them.”
    I also appreciate Dan Kimball’s comments on essentials and non-essentials, especially the importance of having a Christ-like tone when dealing with them:
    http://www.dankimball.com/vintage_faith/2007/04/more_ephesians_.html
    His mentioning Ephesians 4:29 brings up a question regarding the last point RJS made when she wrote:
    “I am convinced that our stance on nonessentials hurts the church and hurts our witness to the unchurched.”
    Is the problem the stance on the non-essentials, or is the problem the approach many take when discussing non-essentials?

  • Nancy

    Mike #10 – Clicked on the hyperlink. Is that Van Der Graaf Generator you have listed?! I loved “Hydrogen to Helium” and hardly know a soul who is familiar with this band!!!
    Sorry…off topic but had to express my delight. As usual, excellent discussion going on here. : )

  • http://mikerucker.wordpress.com mike rucker

    to nancy (#14)…
    Fishes can’t fly, fishes can’t fly,
    fishes can’t and neither can I, neither can I

    and they say the Bible is inspired:)
    mr

  • http://theupsidedownworld.wordpress.com/2008/03/06/beliefism-is-poison/ Rebeccat

    RJS, I think of pretty much all of the “isms” as non-essential. As far as beliefs goes, I think that anything which does not put someone into the category of “non-Christian” is probably non-essential. For example, I might believe that someone’s theology on the method by which salvation is granted, is wrong or even bad or harmful. However, I can still recognize that person as Christian. If this is the case, then although may hold fervently to my belief on that topic, I need to move that issue into the category of “non-essential”. OTOH, it is my opinion that someone like Bishop Spong who does not believe in the divinity or death and ressurection of Jesus holds beliefs which put him outside of the realm of Christian. Therefor, I would put issues such as the divinity of Jesus, his life, death and ressurection into the category of essential to the faith. I hope I’m making some sense; I’m writing with a 3 year old hanging off of me.
    I think we need to keep a couple of things in mind when discussing what is essential or non-essential. Non-essential is not the same as not important. For example, our hands are not essential to life, but that hardly means that they are not important. Yet we do not deny someone missing a hand or two a seat at the table of life.
    The other thing we need to remember is that being right is not the most important thing. We have gotten pretty far down an unfortunate road which places proper belief in the place which Jesus alone should occupy. After all, believing the right things is not the source of our hope – Jesus is. It’s like a friend told me when I first got married: “sometimes you have to ask yourself, ‘would you rather be right? Or would you rather be married?’ Because you can be right all the way to divorce court.” Too often, as a church we’ve answered that we’d rather be right than maintain the unity which our creator so clearly desires for us.
    Again, I hope this makes sense. I’ve now added a 2 year old hanging on my back to my list of human ornamentation!
    BTW, if anyone is interested, I wrote a blog post related to this issue a while back about an article on The Ooze which discussed “beliefism”. If you click my name above, it will take you to that post.

  • http://plukevdh.wordpress.com Luke vdH

    I think the idea trying to define the “non-negotiables” is either far too difficult to do without over-reaching the bounds of what Christianity may actually be or is simply not an issue that we need to deal with. Do we actually need to lay out the core belief set we hold to as Christians? Some suggest that its not about a “believing all the right things” definition of Christian community but rather deciding what you won’t deny. The difference is then that you no longer have to worry about people who may have no idea what the trinity means or how the virgin birth works, but they wouldn’t deny it if they did understand the teachings about those things. Not sure what I think of this yet…
    I really like what NT Wright had to say in a posting about God and injustice and what he thought about the Christian response to it: “…I don’t think there is such a thing as ‘the answer’, but – the matrix of thought and life within which God’s people are called to continue to grapple…” [N.T. Wright - "What it Looks Like When God Runs the World"]. Maybe there are no absolute “non-negotiables” but rather a larger umbrella under which we are still acceptable as Christians.
    The real trick, as some of you have mentioned, is when we run into these different communities that all define it a little bit differently. Christian truth seems governed then by the communities in which it is centered in. Thoughts?

  • http://abisomeone.blogspot.com/ Peggy

    RJS,
    You ask “Do the essentials fill a big bag or a small bag?”
    I have to say that the essentials fill a smaller bag than most think … especially if one has to carry that bag around with them at all times and in all relationships. ;)
    And then, “Do essentials include paedobaptism? Credobaptism? Calvinism, Weslyanism, Lutheranism, Creationism (i.e. YEC) …”
    I think the “isms” are the bags we carry the essentials around in … do we judge by the bag we carry or the good news shared from it?
    Finally, “And – is it ever right to refuse to be in communion with brothers and sisters over non-essentials?”
    Lord help us if we refuse to love each other over non-essentials. This is, IMO, the worst source of hypocrisy those who are supposed to follow Jesus exhibit to those to whom they should be bringing the good news of adoption into the Family of God. Who wants into a family feud?
    Such great conversation going on here! :) Thanks, RJS!

  • RJS

    Non-essential is not the same as unimportant?
    You know – the older I get, the less convinced I am that this is ultimately true.
    I am an evangelical Christian and a scholar – but – I would not teach at an evangelical Christian institution with a restrictive statement of faith beyond essentials, even a statement of faith with which I currently agree. I am also ambivalent about church membership in any restrictive denominational church, despite the fact that I think we must affiliate in local congregations. We are called to be part of the body of Christ – the Church.
    Attaching much importance to nonessentials sets a bar for Christian fellowship beyond Christian faith. I think that this has at least three, and probably more, truly negative impacts.
    (1) It divides Christians, despite the fact that we are called to unity.
    (2) It leads many to an unhealthy ironic faith (borrowing Scot’s term) where one may not really believe that to which one gives nominal assent.
    (3) It prevents many of us from ever feeling truly secure in Christian fellowship.

  • http://www.rachelheldevans.com Rachel H. Evans

    Distinguishing the true fundamentals of the faith from the ones we have invented along the way is truly the great struggle of the Church. It always has been, I suppose.
    Having grown up in a famously “fundamentalist” town in East Tennessee, I’ve been wrestling with that term and what it implies for several years now. Recent responses on my blog to posts about religious pluralism, exclusivism, and inclusvisim remind me that a lot a evangelicals hold to a pretty lengthy list of “non-negotiables” that include everything from young earth creationism to biblical inerrancy to the eternal damnation of the un-evangelized.
    It seems to me that when Jesus was asked (rather directly) about the fundamentals, He responded with a pretty clear answer: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and Prophets hang on these two commandments.” It would be nice if the only doctrinal statements we had to sign involved a pledge to try and do that as best as we could.
    That being said, Christian communities will inevitably maintain standards that are nonessentials. Perhaps the key is to distinguish between “community standards” and “spiritual (or Christian) standards.” For example, a reformed church might require that its leaders or its members subscribe to covenant theology/Calvinism. If it is made clear that this is a “community standard,” not a standard that implies superior faith or spirituality, perhaps the denominations could live in peace.
    This worked at the Christian college I attended, where the student life staff made it very clear that the “community standards” at the college (about dress code, drinking, smoking, etc.) were not intended to be legalistic ways of making students more spiritual, but simply lifestyle standards for this particular community of people.
    I think the problems start when the idea that a certain theological position or tradition is “more biblical” or “more Christian” sneaks into a faith community and becomes a universal standard rather than a community standard.

  • mariam

    My essentials:
    1. The existence of God
    2. the historical fact of Jesus
    3. the divinity of Jesus
    4. the Jesus Creed Part I
    5. the Jesus Creed Part II
    I’ve always believed in 5, even when I was an atheist.
    I started off my faith journey by adding 2, and then added 3,1 and 4 – in that order. I put off baptism for 2 years while I worked my way through the issue of forgiveness and being able to say the Creed without crossing my fingers. That was my own decision. My faith community would have been happy to celebrate my baptism with only a commitment to 2 and 5 and an openness to sincerely exploring the rest. For that I am grateful because initially I didn’t know whether I could ever take those steps and it was good to know that I would be welcome regardless. It is this sense of community that I love about my particulary church – that they truly believe that we are all equally loved by God and welcome to his table, whether we have washed our hands or not. It is as if they approach God with the orphan or the outsider and say, “Lord, please welcome Mariam. She’s with us and we know you won’t mind that we’ve brought her along.” That approach has brought me much closer than a more rigid statement of beliefs would, but I recognize not everyone is comfort with that level of ambiguity.
    I see the Apostle’s Creed as probably as close as we can get to an institutional declaration of essentials – that is what it means to be a Christian church. I think that individuals can be “Christians” without accepting the creeds in their entirety. Jesus did not demand an immediate acceptance of such a creed in order to be called his followers. What he asked was much more difficult – complete repetance and submission to the will of God, to forsake everything else to follow Him. When we consider judging others on how “Christian” they are, we should look at how well we are doing on that front.

  • Nancy

    mike r. – This particular song is the one that just nailed me and the interesting thing is that about 26 years later, I can still relate to it:
    “So here we are, or rather, here I am, quite alone,
    I’m seeing things that were shared before, long ago …
    my memory stretches and I am dazed: you know I know
    how good the time was and how I laughed ..
    Times have changed, now you’re far away, I can’t complain:
    I had all my chances but they slipped right through my hands – like so much sand;
    I know I’ll never dance like I used to”

  • Mark Z.

    Rachel Evans #20: Perhaps the key is to distinguish between “community standards” and “spiritual (or Christian) standards.” For example, a reformed church might require that its leaders or its members subscribe to covenant theology/Calvinism. If it is made clear that this is a “community standard,” not a standard that implies superior faith or spirituality, perhaps the denominations could live in peace.
    This makes some degree of sense, assuming the existence of “community standards” of this kind. What I’m not seeing, though, is why any Christian community should adopt such a standard. It seems like a way to sneak tribalism in through the back door. How can we recognize others as our brothers and sisters in Christ, and then tell them they’re not welcome?
    This worked at the Christian college I attended, where the student life staff made it very clear that the “community standards” at the college (about dress code, drinking, smoking, etc.) were not intended to be legalistic ways of making students more spiritual, but simply lifestyle standards for this particular community of people.
    If the standards aren’t intended to make you better people, why bother with them? To make your parents happy? To encourage you to graduate quickly? Just to be different?

  • Brian

    As I see it, the NT authors would view most churches (as we know them) as schisms. We have largely lost the role of geography in defining what a church is. In most places there is very little sense of The Church at Rome, or at Colossae, or at My Town. Sure, there can be groupings within a locality as we see in Corinth, but there is still a broad local identity across which there are to be no divisions.
    The apostolic tradition has been fragmented to the point we have difficulty agreeing on what it looks like. And there is inertia maintaining the divisions as they are. If we could recapture the geographic element in defining the church it would force us to at least deal with the differences rather than accept them as they are.
    But how can that happen when the leaders often have a stake in the status quo of division? Progress in any of this must start with addressing the leadership issues.

  • Brad Cooper

    Excellent discussion! I wanted to affirm so many of the comments that I have forgotten most of them (i.e., too many to remember)….
    But I will have to say Rebeccat (#11 & 16), you got me laughing about your “human ornamentation”….blogging with a 2 and a 3 year old hanging on you and still remaining cohesive, now that’s talent that puts us all to shame! :) Somehow you managed to say several things that we’re both meaningful and intelligible….
    Also, I have to respond to Mariam (#21),
    You have such an excellent way of speaking truth that strikes at both our hearts and our minds. God has truly blessed you with that. Thanks for sharing that gift.
    I agree with what you say to a great degree. There needs to be room within a fellowship for people to grow. And I think that there must be a list of essentials for people to grow towards.
    I think, also, that Paul gives a bare minimum starting point for Christian faith in 1 Corinthians 15:1-5:
    “Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.
    For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared….”
    He also gives some great guidance on how to deal with non-essentials in Romans 14:1-15:7. It starts off: “Accept him whose faith is weak without passing judgment on disputable matters”…..and ends: “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.”

  • RJS

    Mariam,
    Great summary and reflection. If only we could all take the approach of welcoming and including everyone.

  • RJS

    Rebeccat and others,
    My kids are now 12 and 16 – so they value separation not ornamentation.
    One of the books I am currently reading is Robert Webber’s “Ancient Future Faith.” He has a great paragraph in this book – Ch. 8 p. 73:

    When I turned from a sectarian view of the church to embrace the whole church with all of its triumphs and failures, I sensed a belongingness to this vast community of people. I also experienced a connectedness to history that broke the arrogance of my sectarian attitude and created a humility that allowed me to be defined by the church as the worldwide community of people to which I belonged. This means that I am able to affirm the whole church in all the various paradigms of history.

    I do not agree with Webber on everything in this book – and I don’t really think that the ancient church was any “purer” than the present church. The letters of Paul seem to demonstrate conclusively that human failings were present from the very beginning. But … I also find that Webber here describes the path that I have found the only viable approach. It seems to me that the only way to embrace Christianity is to embrace the whole story and the whole church, from the beginning. Either we have the whole church – or no church, no Christian story. This doesn’t mean that everyone is right or that all is relative. But it does mean that the essentials can be held in a small bag – a large bag will undoubtedly contain much baggage and some garbage in addition to the faith. We need a little humility, and perhaps a realization that all the little details we fight over may not be all that important from God’s perspective.
    …some thoughts continuing to be refined.

  • http://julieunplugged.blogspot.com/ Julie

    We need a little humility, and perhaps a realization that all the little details we fight over may not be all that important from God’s perspective.
    My aunt, who is a longterm professor of religion at UCR, likes to say “God seems a lot less interested in certainty than we are.” :)
    I agree with that idea.
    When I think of faith, I think it has to mean big tent because faith is the substance of things NOT SEEN. So that means all of us are operating without much light…
    Good series RJS! Scot will be proud. :)

  • Timothy Keene

    There seem to be three issues relating to boundaries. There are (1) the issue of defining who is a Christian, (2) the issue of defining what our church stands for; and (3) the issue of defining who belongs to our church. The first issue needs to be taken out of the question of boundaries. There is a most helpful essay on the Category Christian in Paul Hiebert’s Anthropological Reflections on Missiological Issues. There he argues that a Christian is not to be defined by boundaries at all but by its centre, its relationship with Christ. The other two issues need to be distinguished. A church can define where it stands on various issues, baptism, church order, various doctrinal issues such as Calvinism/Arminianism and baptism of the Spirit and to expect that those who take part in the leadership of the church adhere to these stands. This would still permit churches that take different stands to meet together from time to time for common worship, as is quite common here in the UK. Thus Baptist churches and Episcopal churches often have united services. Where individuals wish to worship at a church and have fellowship at a church even though they do not tick all the right boxes, I think they should be welcomed by the church and for the church even to welcome the questioning of their various stances by the incomer as long as this questioning is done in a respectful manner. Indeed, the church also needs to conduct its espousal of its norms in an equally resfectful manner. So to give one example; if a believer at a church rejects the Calvinist line adopted by the church (s)he attends, (s)he is entitled to raise the issue but only at appropriate times and in appropriate ways and the church needs to respond accordingly (welcomingly, respectfully and informatively). If the believer eventually finds the church stance intolerable, (s)he can usually find an alternative. As longs as a church does not treat its norms in a harsh and judgmental way, most ‘dissidents’ can function happily even in disagreement. This is necessary in any missionary context (i.e. any church context) as converts will often have preconceptions and ideas that fall outside the church norms but it would be a disaster if such people were excluded on those grounds. But this does assume that such people do not have a role in church leadership, for the church has established its stances and these stances should be adhered to as long as the church as a whole agrees. It seems to be perfectly reasonable to me that someone can belong to a church, take part in the worship and in sacraments on the basis that one belongs to Christ but for the church to exclude such a person from leadership in the church.


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