Friday, December 02, 2011

The assumption of disunity

Trevin Wax has posted a series of reviews derived from a book, Four Views on the Spectrum of Evangelicalism that are worth reading. The book features four representative figures from the world of evangelicalsm:

1. Kevin Bauder (Fundamentalist)
2. Al Mohler (Confessional Evangelical)
3. John Stackhouse (Generic Evangelical)
4. Roger Olson (Postconservative Evangelical)

All three speak to their understanding of what it means to be an evangelical and they also respond to what has been posted by the other authors. It is an important conversation. The term “evangelicalism” is so misused and confused that while it gets thrown about a lot, almost no one knows what it means. Within the church it means one thing within Christianity, it means something entirely different to those outside of the faith (and it means something generally negative, associated mainly with politics, militancy, money grubbing televangelists, etc.). Even within the church, there are camps that use "evangelical" as a pejorative, from being too conservative (mainline denominations) to being too liberal (White Horse Inn types).

Here are his four posts...

What Is an Evangelical? 1: The Fundamentalist View

What Is an Evangelical? 2: The Confessional Evangelical View

What Is an Evangelical? 3: The Generic Evangelical View

What Is an Evangelical? 4: The Postconservative View

The reviews are interesting and I think all four men have important points they have made (at least based on Trevin’s review). All that being said, something troubling runs through the four views: a common theme of assumed disunity. All of these conversations invariably work within a framework where the church has just decided to shrug our collective shoulders, throw up our collective hands and just accept disunity and assume it is normal and unavoidable. While the conversations revolve around defining evangelicalism, one of the key ways evangelicalism is defined is by determining who is and who is not part of this sub-group in the church.

I am not na├»ve. Certainly there is plenty of evidence for this being “the way it is”. The church has created all sorts of structures and traditions to exclude some Christians from full fellowship in a local body: formal church membership, denominations, closed communion. I also realize that for the vast majority of the church, this is not only just the way it is, it is perfectly acceptable or even celebrated. As the years turn into centuries and roll on by the church becomes more and more disunfied and the most common reaction is a shrug and “What are you going to do?” dismissal.

I reject this. I don’t reject it because I think it is not the reality on the ground and has been for centuries. I reject assumed disunity because it is something that the Gospel simply demands that we reject and overcome. There is simply no way to read the New Testament and come away with practices that lead to a disunified church made of up thousands of competing local churches. The New Testament spends a ton of time breaking down the walls between believers and we have promptly spent the last two thousand years building them right back up in new, innovative ways.

“Evangelical” is just another label, another divisive subgroup that distinguishes whether a fellow believer is the right sort or the wrong sort of Christian. I am not an Evangelical. Nor am I an Anabaptist. Or Reformed. Certainly I am not Emergent. I am just a Christian and I am just seeking others who have been sought out by Christ and are following Him.

5 comments:

abnormalreaction said...

Nail

Head

You hit it.

Tim A said...

I might be off beat on my placement of blame for all the sectarianism among believers but I think it flows from the assumptions that make up the institutionalized form of church. Most specifically it's use of "giving" to buy special buildings, and hired experts to dominate the expression of truth for the believers who "give" the money. When we take 75 - 86% of our giving and pool it for our own interests, we corrupting our stewardship and everything else. We are now trusting in horses and chariots to advance the kingdom of God rather than the Holy Spirit's design to flow through every member of the body in "one another" dynamic. Once we set aside the basic functions of our spiritual identity as members of one another and full participation, we will set aside almost anything else that is by faith and act only on that which is by sight.

Sectarianized forms of faith are a way that men can seek to set up their own hierarchy and gain for themselves a special title, a pay check, and establish what they consider to be a new improved variety of faith. They can now line up others to follow their unique path and enlarge the number of those who show their brand name. What an ego rush that is.

Another flesh oriented power driving the disunity approach to building the kingdom of God is that the approach is the only example that has been set in the past, (except the Apostles and Jesus) so everyone just follows the old trail and habit patterns. It does work in creating a sectarian form and brand name. This approach demonstrates a failure to have a "nobel" faith like the Bereans, who examine what they are told with the scriptures to see if it's true. Acts 17:11

So my first step in solving the problem is to shine the light of truth on institutionalized forms of faith and show them for their self centered flesh driven substitutes for God's design that they are. After this first step there will be others. Once the muddy water of institutionalism is cleared out, we will see other areas to clean up. To me, it's the biggest idol in our high places.

God's grace is amazing that he can accomplish the building of His kingdom to a certain degree with all of the earthly kingdom mud mixed in. How much greater could be the building if the mud were cleaned out.

Aussie John said...

Arthur,

Dr.Martyn Lloyd-Jones made these points in his book"What is an Evangelical", a subject on which he addressed the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students Conference in 1971. Addressing the institutionalizing of evangelical churches, its embracing of liberal theology, he quoted the words of Dean Inge, "institutions tend to produce their opposite.":
He made these points regarding the answer to the question, "What is an Evangelical":
1. the preservation of the gospel
2. learning from history
3. maintaining negatives
4. allowing no subtractions from or additions to the gospel

These are some evangelical priorities he lists,including:
1. Submit yourself to the Bible.
2. Christian faith comes before denomination.
3. Be watchful to maintain purity of doctrine.
4. Keep reason and scholarship in their place.
They are useful tools, but must be subservient to Scripture.
5. Take a critical view of tradition and history.
6. Act on your beliefs.
7. Maintain unity on essentials, and allow liberty on non-essentials.

Jonathan said...

Agreed!

If we wait for institutional leaders to unite, we may be waiting for a long time.

But I don't believe it is up to the institutional leaders to decide if we are united or not.

I believe it is up to Jesus.

I believe he sees us as One body. Some of us just don't see it as clearly as he does.

When I view church as simply people of Christ, and whenever they gather it is easier to visualize unity.

Church unity is not about uniting all the denominations and schools of thought - but simply each of us being in Christ and recognizing Christ in each other.

Good thoughts! God bless!

Arlan said...

I don't think God ever calls us to reject reality. We may have to see it differently, through eyes of faith, but not reject it.

I don't think it's necessary to reject the division the church has been putting up because the church hasn't been doing it. Notwithstanding that there are always some believers involved in any particlar sin or error, Jesus made a promise and statement of fact when he said "my sheep hear my voice." Looking around you today you find Christians who are friends across denominational lines. I don't have the wherewithal to prove it but I'm inclined to think it's always been this way. Even in the violence of the reformation I am sure there were those who sheltered, encouraged, and helped "the enemy" because they recognized a fellow servant of Christ.

Christ is not up there wringing his hands wishing we would stop being divided. He Is. Not. Divided. You don't need to make unity. Seek to see who he is and how he is living in his people.