Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Peace, Purity, and Unity?

Recently, I ran across a couple of different blogs discussing some loosely related topics.

The first was an article on rampant Calvinism popping up in historically non-Reformed and non-Calvinistic churches which you'll find here.

The second article was a response of sorts to a pastor who thought himself slighted by Carl Trueman and Todd Pruitt in their light-hearted prodding of Baptist ecclesiology.  You can find that here.

In short, I found these two articles quite unfortunate in their tone and substance because I believed they had their good points.

Just for some background, one of the highest charges of a pastor is to keep "the peace, purity, and unity of the church".  That's because this is Christ's church.  He's the head, the King, and the church is His bride.  Hence, to divide the bride of Christ is an unacceptable outcome for any pastor.

The problem is, things get complicated when dealing with people.  Sometimes the lines between dividing the church and keeping it pure can be muddled.

One may have the motive of keeping pure the church as a reason for division.  Others may understand that their sense of unity is so precious that it can cause friction among members who wish to seek change.  It's an unfortunate reality that is seen quite frequently be it among 1st generation churches or established American churches or any other church in the world.

To the first article's point, there is a lot of wisdom in understanding the context of a church and it's history.  Just because you go to a Methodist or Presbyterian church doesn't mean you can teach whatever you want.  In fact, that's why confessions and books of church order are important.  They provide the rubric with which one must take vows and have a clear guide as to what constitutes their understanding of Biblical teaching contra what would be considered anathema to them.

On the other hand, there are many good people who cause a stir in their churches because their view of what is "biblical" has changed (Read Rachel Held Evans and Anthony Bradley's response for more).  We live in a postmodern and post Christian culture after all.  Now, I don't know how rampant Calvinism is in non-Reformed churches (Frankly, it's a problem I wish we had in the Bay Area and Chinese churches in general), but I do know that Calvinism doesn't simply comprise of the Canons of Dordt.  In fact, John Calvin gave us a pretty thorough work on the subject.... The Institutes of the Christian Religion.

Why bring this up?  Because I agree that people need to know.  Knowledge is a powerful thing.  And along with great knowledge and power comes a great responsibility.  In the church, that can either mean that you can't teach a convictions because it'll divide your church, or you gotta leave it to join the part of the body of Christ that you're in agreement with said convictions.

Granted, you will never fully agree with the teaching of the church... or any church.  That's a sub point to the 2nd article.  Every church wishes to do their ecclesiology "a little" differently... because they're different people.  Do I necessarily agree with this?  To an extent no (Note:  My above point with confessional theology).  A little can mean various degrees to various people.  To that, I leave pastors to their use of wisdom in such matters.

However, when things are clear they're clear.  If you're serving in a church and there's a line you can't cross... don't cross it.  If you HAVE to cross it due to your convictions, it's time to weigh that conviction.  Is it something to divide the church over?  Will you stumble others and cause damage to the attitudes of faithful servants and community?  Is it worth it?  To you, maybe it is... but at the end of the day you can't expect a church to change the confession they believe in.  The pastor is still God's man.  Maybe it's time for you to leave in peace.  I know I've had to make such decisions while in pastoral ministry.

But that's why we complain about these "labels" within the church, isn't it?  Sorry Tom Chantry if I offend you, but in all seriousness, if your denomination allows for elasticity in the way you conduct your church business you must grant the same on the other side.

Everyone thinks they're an exception to the rule.  But, exceptions do no make the rule rather they are under the rules... and if your church falls under them and the claims against them are rooted at those rules then they are fair.  The question is, whether or not that is the case.

To be sure, pursuing this idea of the peace, purity, and unity of the church is not easy business.  I do not envy the task of such people as I who are called to navigate these waters.  But let's be careful how we do it... or at least try.  There's only one Savior King of the church after all... and that certainly isn't you or me.

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