A Religious Liberal Blog

This site hopefully can provide some vehicle by which I can comment, complain, and once in a while praise the state of religion in this country and around the world from a liberal protestant perspective.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Christianity Today is wrong concerning the breakup of the mainline. Their article argues that the unity the NT calls for is found in the commonality across denominations. "Nothing in John 17 nor the rest of Scripture suggests that oneness demands institutional unity." But it's primarily through institutions that one is in a position to live together, impact and influence one another.

And if the only people who are doing that are those that fully agree with us, then we have no one who is in a position to question and challenge us. And it is primarily through such differences that God is able to expand our sense of the world and each other. Otherwise we've just created a mutual affirmation society

Groups in society are based on such a premise. They have a list of common beliefs they organize around. But supposedly the church is different. In the church, God calls us, so that what we share is a mutual calling to live together, to respond to God. The phrase the Disciples use, "No Creed but Christ" takes shape in such an account.

It's not that we don't have creeds or even common beliefs, but it's not the principle of the church nor the basis of union, ideally. Rather it's God's saving work in Christ that provides the bonds of affection. The church is different from the society, ideally, because it calls all of us with the amazing breadth of differences to the same table.

What makes for effective societal groups in the end makes for a lousy church. In Christianity Today's vision the church becomes just another place to find those that will agree with us, like any other group, feeding into the balkanization which seems to define our world today. I don't think that is the vision of unity found within the NT.

I do agree that if people depise one another, it is not possible to live together. But it's a tragedy, not a good or a movement of God that we could be in that place. There's no point in "forcing" people to live together who can't. But what if it's possible to imagine that the other has something to teach us about God? I think we'd be in a better starting place then where CT would have us be.


At 11:37 AM , Anonymous Tim said...

What I find interesting about that CT article is the appearance of this sentence:
> But surely the authority of Scripture, the meaning of salvation, and the integrity of the church are not small and trivial.
right after the talk about homosexuality.

Otherwise, it has a few things right, I think. No doubt, historically, many denominations have been founded based on acrimonious separations, but by and large I prefer to think of them as useful signs by the door for what to expect inside. Maybe there is a case for saying they're delineating the wrong things.

What I think a lot of people don't grok about the nature of the homosexual debate is that one side is not "pro-gay" or something, but rather "pro-unity" while the other is quite definitely trying to pull away. The point at which you part company says something about both parties' faith and commitment to unity, and I do not envy those leaders who have to decide what their entire church is doing. Ultimately I think division for theological reasons is an unstable evolutionary strategy for a church, however, and that unity-with-differences is a far better position.

At 11:43 AM , Blogger Alan said...

Though I agree in the abstract that it is important for the mainline denominations to stay together for all the reasons you stated, I'm still not convinced that it is either practically feasable, or practically desireable.

When we're spending more time, effort, and money on fighting than on mission, when we've lost the ability to even pretend that we like each other, and when a large portion of the church is standing in the way of justice, then perhaps separation isn't quite such a bad thing.

In the Presbyterian church, for example, we've separated over racial issues, woman's issues, and a host of other issues (there's a reason why we're called the mixed P's after all.) However, many of those splits have been healed and they've eventually brought the church further along on the path towards justice for all its members.

And no amount of spin can cover up the fact that the conservative wing of these denominations simply wants the liberals out, while the liberals have not asked the conservatives to leave. This is indeed about inclusion, but only one side sees it that way, unfortunately. In the PCUSA, it has been the conservatives who have, again and again, offered "amicable separation" overtures to the GA...basically "take your church and leave" overtures. That's never been the case with the liberals.

At 1:45 PM , Blogger Dwight said...

I agree with both you guys on this. Certainly it's been a one sided campaign to split the church, ie coming from the right. And if one side is bound and determined in that manner one can't stop it from occurring.

But I'm not keen on Christianity Today's position that this represents something of a good. It's a failure on the church's part. A failure to imagine that the other has anything to contribute to our understanding of God.

I think the Anglicans, for instance, could stay together if Akinola believed that Robinson had something to teach him about God, that Duncan could learn from Bennison, etc. but because that is not the case, the church won't be reconciled, it will split.

I do look forward to the end of fights and tearing each other apart as well, but i'd prefer that'd happen because all sides want to live together, learn from each other, provide some space for diverse responses and understandings, not because all the folks who disagreed with me left the church and therefore it's now easier to get along. Unfortunately the first route is not a likely one.

At 2:33 PM , Anonymous Chris T. said...

I actually find myself agreeing with the CT writer. Maintaining institutional unity is costing the church a huge amount of money, energy, and time. And what's worse, the fights have risen to a level of acrimony that makes us look like infants to the rest of the world.

Dialogue can be found outside of institutions--look at Wesley Blog for an example, where few of its readers are necessarily Methodist. The reason dialogue flourishes there is that Shane and the other conservatives honestly do believe they have something to learn about God from liberals, and that it's worth teaching us the things they believe we can learn from them. It's in the choices made by individuals, not in the institutions themselves.

As for the people in the institutions looking for a split (whether there'll liberal or conservative), I say shake the sand of your feet, give them whatever church property they ask for, and leave. Search out the places where loving interactions aren't precluded by people's attitudes.

At 11:51 PM , Blogger prodigal sheep said...

Unity is a difficult question. I agree to some extent with both sides of the argument, although I definitely feel that denominational fragmentation is not a good thing for the church or society. I dream of a plurality to be found within a unified church, but agree with Dwight that this can only happen to the extent that all 'sides' develop the ability to listen to and learn from one another. Sadly, this does not seem to be part of the worldview of the majority of conservatives (and quite a few 'liberals'). The struggle for orthodoxy so easily overwhelms the call to live out the gospel. The church should be different, but often isn't.

At 1:28 PM , Anonymous John B said...

I'm one of the conservatives advocating for separation and I don't believe it's because I don't want to learn from my liberal sisters and brothers.

"No creed but Christ" is a good starting point for any dialogue. Where I have a real problem is when some liberals reject Christ and still want to be considered Christians. I have far more in common with my Catholic, Lutheran, Baptist, etc., friends who believe in the diety of Christ, His atoning sacrfice, His resurrection and His return in victory, than those who bear the name Methodist and don't beleive these things. I think that was the point the CT article.

I'm glad to think and let think, but with Wesley, I believe there are essentials to the Christian faith, (see above). If a person rejects these, then that person is the one who is causing disunity and should leave.

As I see it, the liberals don't need to ask the conservatives to leave, because so many already have. There's a reason there are so few mainline mega-churches. Those who were not being fed spiritually, because the pastor has no depth of spirit, or who have tired of the liberal political agenda of mainline churches have gone elsewhere. Those of us that remain are fed up with people being driven away and want to bring revival to the church. And the only way I see that happening is if there's a split.

At 2:23 PM , Blogger Alan said...

John writes, "Those who were not being fed spiritually, because the pastor has no depth of spirit, or who have tired of the liberal political agenda of mainline churches have gone elsewhere. Those of us that remain are fed up with people being driven away and want to bring revival to the church. And the only way I see that happening is if there's a split."

Unforunately for both of us John, I couldn't agree more, if you just substitute the word "conservative" for "liberal". The difference is who we see is being driven away.

At 11:37 AM , Blogger Dwight said...

John B
I do believe that God through Christ working for our salvation is key basis for union in the church, but I wouldn't want to have a definite list of exactly how that is done, a specific atonement theory, etc. as the defining mark, which is where I think we differ.

I agree..the religionless rate has doubled in 15 years and I don't think it's accidental in terms of the rise of the religious right in this country...I see it all the time in my corner of the Bible belt that a good number of people who could find a place in the church would never step near one because the way the church is being presented to the greater society today.

At 11:42 AM , Blogger Chad Chambers said...

I think we all need to remember what is says in Matthew "But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven." If it is true we are all Christians (Sons and Daughters of the Holy God) then why so we have to choose to be a conservative or liberal. We should start with Christ and his beliefs, not us and our beiefs. We want to make the argument about which fallen, sinful man (because that is what we wll are) is right, instead of looking to our Savior for the answer. I know it can be fun to argue the differences in our views of the scripture, when it comes to social policies, but to argue the basic tenets of our faith is wrong. There is only one way to heaven and that is Jesus Christ, and if we want unity we need to start with agreement on that one issue. The rest we should hammer out behind closed doors, so that the lost world does have another reason to disregard us.

At 12:47 PM , Blogger Dwight said...

Though I would just assume that our differences were hammered out in the public and that we interacted with each other with such good will, etc. that we become a model, a witness to the greater society in the ways we deal with disagreement. Unfortunately today we're not a model of anything, merely a reflection of the same win at any cost, conquer mentality that marks much of the world.


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