Monday, May 16, 2011

Hiding our sin behind religious talk

While I am not involved in the somewhat unique world of the Southern Baptist Convention these days, I do keep an eye on the goings on there. My wife and I came to Christ in a Southern Baptist church and most of our church experience up until recently has been in the SBC. So I read with interest a very good post by Trevin Wax on the relationship between the Southern Baptist Convention and the rest of evangelicalism, Being Southern Baptist Among and For Evangelicals.

The entire post was an interesting insight into Southern Baptist polity and culture. I found this paragraph especially interesting and more than a little sad:

There are evangelicals who do not subscribe to our confessional distinctives and therefore cannot be part of the Convention. But if we as Southern Baptists are right on the gospel, then we should be free to strengthen others who are also right on the gospel. Evangelicalism needs a resurgence of attention on the evangel. Confessional Southern Baptists can and should play a key role in that discussion.
This is where the distinctives become a problem. They are not merely “This is what we believe” but also “If you don’t hold these distinctives, our fellowship and cooperation is limited”. For all of our talk about being united in the Gospel, we all too often end up being divided by our distinctives. We hide behind religious talk to cover up this sin but the ugly truth is that many of our most cherished doctrines, traditions and distinctives are serve as excuses for the sin of disunity.

When you have the largest denomination and arguably the most conservative among the major denominations that is inherently divided from other groups that are in lockstep in the Gospel and mainly in lockstep on the distinctives, it really sheds light on the depth of the problem. It is hard enough to get meaningful cooperation between local churches that are in the same denomination much less among those from similar but different denominations. Men from churches ranging from Presbyterian, Baptist, non-denominational, Lutheran, etc. will get together for conferences like The Gospel Coalition or Together for the Gospel and sit next to one another, sing praises to God with one another, take notes alongside their brothers but when the conference is over and they return to “real” church life, they are just as disunited and splintered as ever.

Sometimes even the most well-meaning and seemingly pious actions can have unintended harmful results. That is on full display in the church with denominations, confessions, creeds, etc. used to distinguish one church from another. While touted as a valuable and even essential means of ensuring orthodoxy, the real result is more often plan old fashioned division. Plenty of churches that jumped the heresy shark a long time ago still claim to adhere to one of the old confessions and that hasn’t helped prevent heterodoxy and apostasy. Meanwhile the vast majority of Christians are divided from one another by boundaries of denominational affiliation, formal church membership, secondary doctrines and a whole litany of other ways that we use religious language to excuse our failure to be united as one Body of Christ.

Claiming unity in the Gospel in word but refusing to live it out in fellowship in deeds is nothing more than a lie.


Debbie said...

Arthur, I understand that you are saying that disunity in the church hinders the gospel, but I don't understand how you think it should change. I know that you're not saying that worship style shouldn't separate different groups of Christians - you've been quite clear that you are separating from the "in a church building" style! :)

We work with other groups of Christians in the pantry, but I'm not going to agree with one group of them that we should baptize infants (or about transubstantiation, or...). So while we work together in areas we share a focus in, I don't participate in those specific areas of their beliefs/worship.

I respect and agree with another group of Christians in many areas, but I feel pretty strongly about the Bible's stand on homosexuality, so I'm not going to align myself with them since their recent decision that practicing homosexuals can serve in church leadership.

Where is the line between promoting unity and taking a stand for what Scripture says? What does it look like?

I suspect that beyond specific ministries - to the hungry, orphans, crisis pregnancies, etc - where people from many denominational/distinctive backgrounds work together, it will be hard to define what unity looks like. People who are like-minded in various interpretations of Scripture are naturally going to be drawn to worship together.

Can you draw a word picture of what you think better unity would look like?

Arthur Sido said...

Debbie, your area is a little different because unless something has changed Grace is the only evangelical church around. I am NOT saying that you should be in unity with the Roman Catholic church in town (I am actually writing a post about Rome right now) and I was and remain concerned about partnering with them for the pantry. Nor am I saying that you should compromise the Gospel by cooperating with those who deny basic tenets of the faith. What I am saying is that many, many Christians in more populous areas have lots of other churches around them but don't associate with them at all even though they agree on the Gospel and lots and lots of other stuff. They allow secondary issues, like baptism or worship style or eschatology, to be barriers to fellowship and as such are talking unity in theory but not practicing it in reality. We try hard to maintain fellowship with other Christians in our area who meet in more traditional churches even though I disagree with that because they are still my brothers and sisters in Christ. So we visit their church services in their church buildings from time to time. We find ways to spend time with these believers outside of Sunday mornings. I toy with the idea of meeting in a simple church group at some time other than Sunday morning so we can reach out to other Christians in our area, Of course mercy ministries are likewise a great way to be unified with other Christians. In fact in terms of unity and cooperation, it seems that groups like rescue missions, food panties, orphan care groups, crisis pregnancy centers, etc. that go out of their way to avoid specific denominational entanglements function a lot more like the New Testament church in many ways than the average local church does.

I don't claim to have all of the answers or even many of them but I know that how we live as the church traditionally makes a mockery of unity in the Body of Christ and is a sin.