In all this time I had never considered myself an ecumenicist before but I have to tell you all this finger pointing has made me want to take stand on the neutral ground of Switzerland and put up my ecumenical flag. Call me naÃ¯ve, but I struggle with the concept of an Independent Baptist Church I know (no names, I'm not that petty) who is unable to extend an invitation to their conference to their Baptist Union brothers and sisters.
I think it would do our egos a lot of good if we acknowledged that all of us are bound to get it wrong somewhere and a lot of issues are blown completely out of proportion. It's quite like how the homosexual tirade has been raised to the point of a dividing issue (in the secular and even bleeding into the Christian circles) when we really should be saying "who cares?" and "get over being offended already".
By all means hand over that Bible and say "this is what Scripture says about [insert issue here]" and be done with it. That doesn't mean you are compromising (I think it's good to have strict definitions of what sin is) but it just means you're sick of talking about things that get you nowhere but further dissension.
How Narrow is the "Narrow Way"?
For the record, I have yet to find one Christian leader that hasn't made some doctrinal (or simply a Christian living) error. Discernment is a spiritual gift that can be cultivated but most people nowdays either don't have it or care about it and without it the Holy Spirit isn't going to give you a tug as if you were on a leash and stop you from going the wrong way. We're human… we err and we may as well deal with it. The church, which means every single denomination, needs teaching not separation.
This will be unpopular but I see baptising babies and being slain in the spirit as having no justification in Scripture (and both of them kind of ridiculous in their own way) yet so far I haven't been kicked out of a Anglican or an ACC church for saying "that's stupid" (which I suppose is subject to change after this article). FYI, I also find the church dress code also has no justification as people in New Testament times met in houses and were unlikely to be donning their "Sunday Best" – just saying.
But I don't mind the shoe being on the other foot. I like Christian Hip Hop which some of my more conservative friends consider me a borderline heretic for. Call me stupid for that or for believing in a post-tribulation rapture or for boycotting Christmas but let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind [Romans14:5]. It's all about being humble and admitting as long as everyone is persuaded in his own position we have to see that it doesn't mean that position is necessarily correct.
We've got to get over ourselves. Keeping ourselves unspotted from the world does not mean shunning our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. It means banding together to fight the evils of the world and casting petty controversies aside.
"If You're a Christian and You Know it Clap Your Hands"
In China there are only two denominations – the Catholics and the rest of us. Sure some worship in an underground church and some in a state run church but because Christians are the minority (though a growing minority) a Christian is a Christian. You find that often in Chinese churches in Australia. They're banding together under one language (technically two since they usually offer both Mandarin and Cantonese services) but not separating under theological differences.
I miss that. It was awesome to be in a country that didn't ask me what church I went to and that would ask me to go and worship with them as soon as they found out I was a Christian (not even thinking that I could be a –gasp!- heretic), having the chance to bring new ideas to the table for each of us. It's how it should be. Woe to us and our "Christian" nations for closing ourselves off to other Christians.
When C.S Lewis wrote Mere Christianity he wrote a preface stating that he tried to get away from any sort of denominational issue saying "the questions which divide Christians from one another often involve points of high Theology or even of ecclesiastical history, which ought never to be treated except by real experts". But then he went further to say that what he was doing was leading readers to a hall of Christian belief and they would have to try their own doors to pick a denomination. "The hall is a place to wait in, a place from which to try the various doors, not a place to live in."
But I disagree. Let's throw open those doors and settle in the hall. We could sleep there, have slumber parties and learn from each other… well, in an ideal world. But this is not an ideal world, it's fallen and it's evil and it sucks. Dissension is the status quo. So while I'm stuck in the hall twiddling my fingers the rest of us are sticking our heads out of different doors to throw rocks at the other doors.
My point is that we shouldn't be overly choosy when it comes to a church. We should be able to feel welcome in any church that loves Jesus Christ – that is Jesus Christ as defined in Scripture, not cult Jesus or alien Jesus or Brazilian soccer player Jesus or any of the rest of them. Yes, some of us in the congregation or the leadership will be stupid or overly legalistic or stubborn but we're a work in progress. Forgive us… and Jesus forgive us for all this dissension.
Can I get an "Amen"?
Bridget Brenton has spent seven years in China and currently lives on the Gold Coast with her husband Steven. Over the last decade she has been studying all things philosophy, apologetics and the supernatural and now is endeavoring to put that knowledge into ministry. She writes a blog on the paranormal and it's relation to practical Christianity.
Bridget Brenton's archive of articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/bridget-brenton.html