A Single Thesis on the Church Door

I have called a heretic, labeled a fool, told that I am obviously too simple to understand the errors in my thinking, and virtually challenged to a duel by a self-proclaimed expert on Reformed theology. I have seen others abused, taunted in verse and lyric, and categorized as clowns for their theological positions. The overall tenor of debate over matters theological is becoming more and more rancorous and divisive with one recent posting labeling all of those in Christ’s church who don’t believe as the writer did as “deceived” and headed to Hell. This atmosphere has caused me to sharply curtail my posting in recent weeks as I reevaluated any contribution that it might have to greater work of the Church.

 

And then I reread a favorite quote by Annie Dillard…

On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest ideas of what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews.

Pride abounds in certain theological circles with much chest pounding among writers over sudden revelations in life that cause them to suddenly pledge allegiance to one systematic way of interpreting the Bible or another. Where Pride rules, charity vanishes and it has become de rigueur to label any other theological system heretical at worst, and childish and misguided at best.  We would do well to consider the many who came before us who were martyred as heretics only to be exonerated with the passage of time. Where would the English speaking world be without the first steps of William Tyndale?

I would implore those who judge another Christian’s belief to consider what spiritual gift they have been given that allows them to peer into the heart of another man and discern the work that God is doing there. Is it a biblical gift? Can you provide others with chapter and verse so that we might study it? Until such time as you are absolutely certain that one position is correct and another is not (and remember, one rapidly growing church gains assurance of the correctness of their theology through a burning in the bosom), we would all do well to remember the Lord’s words in John 17:

My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

To paraphrase Miss Dillard, remember who it is we write about so blithely…

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11 thoughts on “A Single Thesis on the Church Door

  1. Gotta love Annie Dillard. Gotta love that quote. I agree with you – the rhetoric on the web can be atrocious. I hate to troll, but we are having a little discussion on my blog – talking about Calvinism. Seems that you are fairly educated on the pros and cons – I am not. I would invite you to join our discussion, I think you could be enlightening. I promise civility and cordiality.

    http://sharpiron.wordpress.com/2007/09/18/gods-pick-in-the-election/

  2. Quote: “I would implore those who judge another Christian’s belief to consider what spiritual gift they have been given that allows them to peer into the heart of another man and discern the work that God is doing there. Is it a biblical gift?”

    I think I understand where you are coming from, but your comments seem misguided to me. A Christian should be ready to give a clear reason for their hope in Christ. They should also hold firm to the truth of God’s word and not be captivated by the false teachings of some who call themselves “christians”.

    In fact, we can ascertain from the word of God what claims to truth really are biblically sound. My point is, don’t begrudge Christians their God given right to test all doctrines and teachings against scripture, for there is only one truth and that is contained in the holy word of our Lord.

    Anyone can claim they have “truth”, but if what a person says can’t stand the test of scripture, then it is rightly shown as false. Of course, one may be tempted to argue about interpretation, but I am confident that most churches today are still correctly teaching the core doctrines of authentic Christianity. Even in the face of the fads like “post-christendom” and “emergent”.

  3. Thanks for your comment Jim, particularly where you aver that I am misguided. I was purposely vague in my words so as not cast aspersions on any particular doctrine or group but they should not be read as a tolerance for unorthodox doctrine or belief. Yes, we should be prepared to give an answer, supported by scripture, that leads to a doctrinal conclusion different from an others. Unless this conclusion contradicts the essentials of the faith, Christians must be charitable toward one another in allowing for differences of interpretation. When one interpretive body constantly castigates, berates, and belittles the theology of another part of the body that it disagrees with (cf: Calvinism versus Arminianism) it creates an unchristian schism in the body. In light of the darkness of our times, presenting this divided face to the world hardly seems Christlike.
    Pease

  4. Hiya Pastor,

    I heartily agree, we should not be thinking that we understand the motives of anybody nor be able to assess the condition of their soul.

    It seems as though that we must listen to what people are saying, though, and assess it Biblically. Occasionally all the names and unfortunate theological categories must come out, don’t you think? Say for instance a person holds to the idea that there is no final judgment, or that Jesus is not God, or any number of other ideas. In order to not lie to other people, as well as to the person who esposes the ideas about who God has said he is don’t we need to say something to the person? Truly, even then we’re to use the labels only tentatively and only applied to what the person is saying. And after much teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness don’t we eventually need to deal with it more strongly?
    Shouldn’t I want someone to do this for me and to me if, Lord please forbid, I should ever slide into a pattern of false teaching?

    I have too often come to a person who says that they are called of God but then moves on to Matthew 7:1 in a contextual bubble before anything else, which is not what you are doing, don’t misunderstand me. In fact, to me your postings elsewhere seem to be very much starting with the word of God, because what else do we know? (Other than the Psalm 19:1-6 and Romans 1:20 knowing, which doesn’t sound like it helps people in the way they think it does). This is why I am asking. How do you handle the person who proudly goes off the worldly wisdom high dive and starts teaching and speaking that which the Bible slearly forbids? It doesn’t seem Christlike to tacitly endorse lying about Jesus so that people think we are getting along.

    Just lookin for wisdom in a very complicated matter.

    Thanks.

  5. Quote:”When one interpretive body constantly castigates, berates, and belittles the theology of another part of the body that it disagrees with (cf: Calvinism versus Arminianism) it creates an unchristian schism in the body.”

    False teachings are to be corrected. That is our duty as followers of Christ. Yes, we should speak the truth in love, but we should not abandon the truth for unity.

  6. And Jim, I don’t believe anyone here has advocated abandoning truth for unity. What is the truth in the debate that I used as an example in your quote above? If I had used the belief that God was once a man like you versus the uncreated God of all Eternity there would be not trouble at all discerning the truth. What of the Cal/Arm debate?

  7. Jason, perhaps my prose was not as clear as it could be. As I just wrote to Jim, I am obviously not advocating an undiscerning approach to theology or the pastoral care of our flocks. Perhaps an example will demonstrate what I am referring to. Read the post and the comments on this blog http://exagorazo289.wordpress.com/2007/09/11/arminian-grace/.

    It is clear that the author does not understand the theology of the Christians that he is belittling so casually. None of the cutesy little verses that he so blithely places over one of the most revered and treasured hymns of all of history reflects the beliefs of the Wesleyan/Arminian church. Notice that when pressed for details on his assertions he simply vanishes. Note also the pejorative comment that follows from a purported brother who felt that the prose was so clever that he linked it for more eyes to see.

    What do you think of that?

  8. Hiya Pastor,

    I am unclear on your point. What does what that guy said have to do with what those who desire to be faithful to Christ need to do regarding false teaching, if anything? The quote from Ms. Dillard seems to be speaking to the necessity of pursuing pure Spirit-led fidelity to the truth in our teaching, which is more related to my question.

    For instance, recently a person who denies the Godhead of Jesus was involved in a debate, don’t we have an obligation to call it what it is, at least at times?

    thanks.

  9. Pastor Warren:
    I’ve been away for a while and am just now catching up on some blog reading. Caught this post and wanted to reaffirm my mutual concern regarding charity in theological discourse. We have differing views on predestination, election, etc., yet I’m glad we have been able to chat about these issues with civility and in a spirit of Christian brotherhood. I trust that we will continue to do so. It grieves me that any “Calvinist,” who should realize the depravity of his own heart and the enormous depth of God’s grace, would act and speak in a prideful manner. In my estimation, such folks have “head knowledge” that needs to sink down to their hearts. Of course, it grieves me also when “Arminians/ non-Calvinists” speak so much about love and grace and then show none for their Calvinistic brethren.

    May we continue to exalt Christ and proclaim His redeeming work to the world!

    James

  10. Jason, I’m grateful for your comments. I’m a bit confused though. I was not commenting on those (you and I included I assume) who stand up for orthodox Christian belief. What I was referencing in the link that I gave you was the obvious lack of love, powered by pride that permeated the post and the thousands of others like it. If you find Arminian belief to be heretical, then I suppose I can understand your misunderstanding, but if not – is this what Jesus prayed for in John 13?

    These intramural debates (Calvinism/Arminianism, Spirit Baptism, etc) that divide the Body in such rancorous ways affect our witness to the world. We cannot be lulled into thinking that those still outside of the Church don’t notice those things and judge us to be no different than anyone else.

  11. It’s good to hear from you again brother James. The 12 inches between the head and the heart sometimes seems to be as far as the east is from the west. When that chasm is not crossed, the ‘we’re in and you’re out’ mentality colors all of our interaction with a lost and dying world. We will continue to be in prayer.

    God bless

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