18 November 2008

"Deep Rooted" Follow-Up 1: Could there be any good in all the different churches?

A variety of great questions arose after the November Summitview Leadership Training Class ("Deep Rooted") on the "The Local Church."  This is the first of 5 posts aimed at addressing these questions.

QUESTION: In your message you say it is a good thing for local churches to have distinctives in regard to values and doctrine? Isn't there one truth on every issue and shouldn't that one truth unite us? Aren't you, by saying that multiple local churches with different doctrines are good, just saying that Truth is relative and therefore left to interpretation by each church?

MM:  This is a great question!  Doesn't God view all matters in one way?  Isn't there just one faith?  Isn't that Paul's point in Ephesians 4?

There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.  (Ephesians 4:4-6 ESV)

Aren't all these denominations and different movements just an indictment on the lack of unity in the universal church?  Isn't that counter to the prayer of Christ in John 17?  

“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me." (John 17:20-21 ESV)

Maybe, but I also believe God is sovereignly working something good in the midst of it as well.

Let's consider the following categories of disagreement described in the New Testament.

Category A - Here we have a disagreement on issues similar to those of diet, holy days, etc. listed in Romans 14 where the instruction is clear.  Don't cause your brother to stumble in matters of conscience on these issues .  Don't make it a big issue.  Love them by letting them stand before their own master.

One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God;
(Romans 14:5-10 ESV)

Category C (I know its out of order but it's on the other end of the spectrum from Category A) - These are disagreements regarding the very gospel Paul preached (i.e. the basic beliefs required in every Christian). On these issues Paul was clear:
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.
(Galatians 1:8-9 ESV)

A quick review of the book of Galatians reveals this gospel that Paul preached.
The sin of all mankind and its imprisonment to sin (exposed by God's law):
But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.
(Galatians 3:22 ESV)

The substitutionary death of Jesus Christ (fully the one true God and fully man) for our sins:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
(Galatians 1:3-5 ESV)

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”—
(Galatians 3:13 ESV)

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.
(Galatians 4:4-5 ESV)

Faith in Christ's death alone to atone for sin is a requirement for salvation.  Nothing else can save me.
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.
(Galatians 2:20-21 ESV)

I cannot claim fellowship as a Christian with someone who doesn't believe the basics of human depravity, the wrath of God toward sinners, the exclusive substitutionary death of Christ for sin and salvation by grace alone through faith in Christ alone.  Christ's own words and the Law of Non-Contradiction prevent me from believing that Christ died for sinners but there are many ways to God or that Christ is one of many "gods."  Here the disagreement doesn't have to result in rude distain, but it cannot result in claiming common fellowship (the Church) under a common name (Jesus Christ).

Category B - This category is gray.  I AM NOT SAYING THAT THE ISSUES HERE ARE NOT CLEAR IN SCRIPTURE.  What I am saying is that these issues can be disagreed upon among children of God.  If I hold a complementary view of gender roles (which I do), I can strongly disagree with someone who holds an egalitarian view (which I do) and yet still enjoy a common salvation and worship of Jesus Christ with them if they believe the fundamentals of the Gospel.    A variety of issues ranging from the age of the earth, to charismatic gifts and eschatology may be places where redeemed, going-to-heaven believers may disagree.  In these areas Paul provides some instruction and example.  Basically the instruction is to bring biblical opposition those who think differently and trust the Lord with the results.  Don't be quarrelsome and antagonistic over these issues.  They have the Holy Spirit, trust in him to convict and bring repentance.

Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.
(2Timothy 2:23-26 ESV)

Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.
(Philippians 3:15 ESV)

Nice categories, right?  There is still a problem.  How do I have fellowship with someone who disagrees with me on something I believe is plain in the Bible?  Can a complementarian submit to a pastor who is egalitarian?  Should he?

Or maybe start with this question: What would need to happen to create a unity in a church with a variety of opinions on Category B-type issues?  I believe that eventually you would have to avoid them for the sake of unity.  Slowly the teaching of the church would be neutered.  There would be no sharp, distinctive points of doctrine and no teaching on family, biblical inerrancy or eschatology, which is exactly what the author of Hebrews hopes to do to see his audience grow into maturity.

Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings,the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits.
(Hebrews 6:1-3 ESV)

In short, if I had to find a way to get along with all the Cat B perspectives out there, most likely truth would be lost. It is the very ability to be able to part ways and pursue God with a clear conscience that preserves the truth.  

Think of the first church parting with the Judiazers.
Think of Council of Nicea parting with Arius.
Think of Luther parting with the Catholic Church.
Think of the pilgrims parting with the King.

In all these instances (and many more) truth was preserved.  This is the good I am referring to in having multiple local churches with slightly different takes on issues in Category B.  Some sharp edge of truth may be preserved in my church or in another church because we do not force the issue into a constant quarrel or unity by neutrality.   The remarkable thing is that, as a result, I have seen (within the Fort Collins Church Network) a growing sense of unity among churches and church leaders.  The distance that allows churches to pursue Category B issues under common leadership with a clear conscience allows for unity under the common banner of Christ and the Gospel.  

Is it perfect?  No.  But the church never has been perfectly united.  Perfect unity, in answer to Christ's prayer, seems to be something that we will see in the end when all souls are sanctified and everyone shares a common, Christ-exalting perspective.  

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
(Revelation 7:9-10 ESV)

I for one believe that the Father will answer Christ's prayer from John 17.  I look forward to that day and pray in the meantime for wisdom to see the different categories of my disagreements and what is the best way to address them.


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