Friday, March 19, 2004

Good Discussions Become Stale Positions
Vigorous and timely Christian dialogue that leads to an incarnational practice of faith daily is essential to having a relevant message. I might even characterize that discussion as argument or debate, as long as the spirit is irenic. There is nothing ungodly about believers engaged in a desperate search for the meaning of faith in our cultural context, and in a lively discussion of the possibilities as long as grace and love pervade the exchange. But, of course, such is so rarely witnessed that many will likely doubt that it could even exist.

I describe the practice of faith which we seek as "incarnational" because it must be the authentic presence of the Divine within historical circumstances. We are concerned with our historical circumstance, and should be. This pursuit of the incarnation of faith in the "flesh of our time" will be an attempt to interpret the nature of God in normative ways for our behavior, priorities, relationships, and congregational life. When done well, these discussions result in teachings about the truth of God's own revelation of Himself which frankly and perceptively address our context. The debate is vital and necessary for Christians of a specific time and place to proclaim a relevant message of hope and conviction, and for their working out of faith daily to be true salt and light.

The problem is that when the fleshly context, the historical reference of a discussion ceases to exist, or changes either dramatically or slowly over time, often the doctrines remain. Those untethered teachings which once had immediate relevance to the daily life of certain group of God's people often take on a life of their own. They are no longer incarnational teachings, but ethereal statements of belief. Once a fleshly context no longer anchors the teaching to a specific daily practice which has a immediate relevance, they become stale positions and intellectual posturing. Often, these morph into tests of orthodoxy, now in a theoretical way - far different from the circumstances of their formation.

Undoubtedly we all carry with us the baggage of some of these stale beliefs. We cling to these in the false notion that thinking the right thoughts on these subjects, which have little or no bearing on our daily attempts to live like Jesus, is somehow important to God. What would be the change if we resolve to discuss, debate, pursue, and teach no thing but that which directly involves our daily walk of faith? How many subjects would languish undiscussed for lack of any immediate relevance? How many questions would not be pursued because how we live to love God and our neighbor on Monday is not affected? Think of the Christian unity that would result.

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

I believe that our sense of being related to one another as Christians in the world should consist of being conscious of two things. First, we should have a sense of belonging that is based on the daily, face-to-face relationships we have with other believers. These fellow travelers share our journey, and we enjoy an intimate and immediate fellowship in love which is the joy of a spiritual relationship. Our relationship is based on our daily walks together.

The other consciousness I believe we should have is an awareness that there is a universal, invisible church that spans all places and time. My relatedness to that vast body of fellow travelers include that 'great cloud of witness' from history and the millions of other contemporary believers in Jesus. I don't have face-to-face relationships with this numerous congregation, but I have a sense of belonging that I am in the midst of that God-led, Spirit-filled throng. I should be conscious of a relationship with them by faith, if not by the personal experience of interaction.

There is a third consciousness that I once had, but don't have now, and which I believe I never should have had. That was a sense of belonging to a numerous group of believers with whom I didn't have immediate or intimate relationships, who included more than those Christians with whom I regularly shared life, but a group smaller than the church universal. My relationship with those people was only theoretical, based on the impression that we shared certain practices and beliefs in common. That group was my denomination - a group encompassing less than God's church, but more than those with whom I walked daily. With my denomination I felt a special bond. Very long ago, that denomination was synonymous with what I thought was the church universal.

When I came to see that God was doing more in this world and had children beyond my denomination, I nonetheless held onto my denomination as people with whom I felt a special affinity. I esteemed them over other believers. Being in a group of them was better than being in a group of "other believers." The real test was when I was driving on long trips. Invariably I would pass numerous places of worship. Whenever I saw a building with "our name" on it I felt a certain closeness to the people who gathered there, even though they were completely unknown to me. On that same trip I would drive past other places of worship with other names, and though I would acknowledge in my mind that believers met there, that they were people saved by grace, I would nevertheless think of them as "of other groups." I acknowledged that they could be children of my Father, but I didn't feel as close to them as those who had "our name" on their building. I was denominationally minded. My mind divided the Christian church into denominational camps.

I had no reason to think those with "our name" would somehow be warmer, more loving, more accepting, more godly, or more anything else good than those under "other names." But I had a predisposition to those with "our name" - my sense of belonging was not in God's universal church, but in my own denomination.

I have heard people justify the existence of denominations, but I no longer can. For me the journey has been long, but I am convicted that I should only be conscious of two ways of being related to other Christians in this world: 1) the Christians with whom I share my daily walk and 2) all other Christians in equality. I am repenting of there ever being a third group - larger than those who love me personally and daily, and yet smaller than all believers who are accepted by God.