Fightin’ Words

A Facebook acquaintance posted a link to this blog post commenting on this fascinating little news story from near my home town.  It’s regarding several churches of various denominations in a ritzy area of town that are all doing a specific sermon series to help differentiate Biblical Christianity from Progressive Christianity.  I could make comment on the blogger’s post, but that’s really less interesting than diving into the details of the actual story.  I’ll simply say that the blogger’s aghast horror that people who call themselves Christians might not think that others who want to call themselves Christians really are Christian  is very, very unBiblical.  Departures from the historic faith as described in the Bible is hardly new, and the early Christians understood just how very, very important it was to stay focused and unified around the witness of Scripture (which was only the Old Testament initially) and the testimony of the life of Jesus as passed on orally and in written form by those who had been closest to him (or, like St. Paul, had encountered him divinely).

So it is that St. Paul can say with vehemence:  “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.  But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.  As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.  For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God?  Or am I trying to please man?  If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” (Galatians 1:6-10)

Them’s fightin’ words, for certain.

The question becomes whether or not the blogger’s horror is justified because what is at stake is not the gospel, or whether the blogger – and many, many, many, many other Christians, need to be reminded that “not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21)   And citing one example of religious violence from seven years ago as a “history of violence directed at liberal churches” seems more than a bit extreme to me.

The story itself is fascinating.  Eight pastors in Fountain Hills is banding together to offer the same sermon series at each of their congregations.  Included is an LC-MS pastor, in addition to Baptists, Charismatics, and Presbyterians, according to this letter to the editor.  The sermon series purports to differentiate between historic, Biblically-based Christianity and “progressive” Christianity.  This in itself is rather curious but also exciting.  Churches of various denominations and backgrounds uniting around something they share between them – an insistence on the Word of God as the normative definition of the Christian faith.  The series addresses three major questions – how are progressive and Biblical Christianity different, do these differences matter in our cultural climate of relativism, and how can someone discern the proper Christian belief.  This sounds fantastic!  What a timely and necessary topic!  I think that I’ll look into this to find out if I can get material to offer it to my congregation!

But things get interesting because there is a Methodist church in the area that considers itself progressive, and is viewing this coalition as an attack.  Curious, since this congregation is mentioned nowhere in the letter to the editor.  Nor could I find any other documentation – other than the Methodist web site and the blogger – where this connection is made.  I find it fascinating that the Methodist church can feel free to advertise their openness to various beliefs and practices, and yet this is not considered an ‘attack’ on the other congregations in the area who don’t believe and do the same things.  However other congregations who assert their beliefs are viewed as being aggressive.  Is it the number of congregations involved?  Would it not be an attack if it was just one, or only four?  I don’t get it.

The news story is fascinating.  The Methodist pastor asserts that these other churches are trying to “discredit one other way of thinking”.  Isn’t that what he and his congregation are doing by teaching a radically different doctrine?  How are their stances not offensive?

Who controls the word progressive and its meaning?  This is not the name of the Methodist church, and nowhere on their home page do they make use of this term other than in a link to a group they are associated with.  Yet clearly they feel that they are progressive, and that the other congregations are not, and therefore that this is an attack on them.  How is it that the Methodist pastor can assert that non-progressive Christians (again, what does that mean?) necessarily “deny science”, “hate their gay neighbor”, and “abandon their rational mind” and this is not an attack on these congregations?

At best, perhaps this should be a wake up call for the Methodist congregation.  I will presume their pastor is fairly set in his beliefs and isn’t open to reviewing them.  But I pray that the members (and the pastor) will begin to question what they preach in light of Scripture.  This is not an isolated prayer – every congregation, every pastor needs to constantly question and analyze what they preach and teach in light of Scripture.  Challenging one’s Biblical interpretation is not an act of war – or at least it shouldn’t be.  Ultimately it should be an act of love, of concern that a brother or sister has received a “different gospel” that could prove dangerous to them.  Or perhaps, that we ourselves have, unwittingly.

The truth remains that Christians assert, on the basis of the Bible, that Truth exists.  Our attitude or awareness of that Truth does not alter or eliminate it.  We may not like the Truth, but the Truth is not changeable based on our feelings.  I may not like the fact that fire burns me when I stick my hand into an open flame, but this does not prevent the reality of the flame from burning my hand.  Christians are charged with sharing the most wonderful, incredible Truth the world has ever known.  We did not create this Truth, and we are not capable of altering it – only distorting or misrepresenting it.  Because we are broken and sinful and finite, this is inevitable to a certain degree, and we trust in the grace of God to welcome us into his arms whether our understanding of the Eucharist is more or less accurate.

But there are some teachings that set one outside the pale of Christianity.  We may not like it when someone tells us that, but it remains true, and our duty is together to seek to cling as tightly to the Truth that has been revealed to us by the Word of God in Scripture and the Word of God made flesh as possible.  To reject this effort, to claim exemption of it for any reason, is not simply unBiblical it is very, very dangerous.  I pray that those eight congregations go about this process in genuine love and concern for their own members and for other Christians as well as those being brought into relationship with Jesus Christ.   Being right is just as damaging as being wrong if it isn’t conditioned by love!

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