For as long as there have been people faithful to God, there has been discussion and disagreement about what that looks like, what beliefs you have to have, what actions will be pleasing to God, etc. This is nothing new. Even the disciples have this discussion with Jesus. “Teacher,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.” “Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us. “ (Mark 9:38-40) Now, to me, this settles the vast majority of modern theological differences, but it seems that I am in the minority. Let’s put this into a few modern situations so that we can better understand what this situation could look like today.
Imagine, if you will, a non-denominational mega church pastor who happens to be a complimentarian thinking that women should not be in ministry, allowed to teach men, etc. Now imagine one of his disciples relaying to him the story of how they approached a female pastor and those who supported her telling them that they should stop because they did not believe like them (them referring to being a coimplimentarian). The response that Jesus would seem to prefer here is the same one that He gives to John in the Gospel of Mark. What happens instead is condemnation and the claim that this is a part of God’s intent from creation, and not a matter for Christian liberty. From that perspective all female pastors are willingly living in unrepentant sin putting their souls in danger. Do we really believe that God is going to condemn female pastors for preaching the good news? I should hope not. Be careful what you elevate.
Imagine, if you will, a church teaching that a tithe is the minimum Biblical command for giving. It should not be to hard to imagine that really. If God’s command is for ten percent, then anything less than that is contrary to God’s commands, and thus is sin. Having heard the teaching, giving anything less than ten percent is living in unrepentant sin putting your soul in danger. Do we really believe that God is going to condemn a person because they only gave nine percent? Be careful what you elevate.
Imagine, if you will, a church that holds “believer’s baptism” by immersion to be the only valid baptism and teaching that you must be baptized to be welcome into the Kingdom. If you were sprinkled as a baby, it simply doesn’t count. Do we really believe that God is going to exclude people from His Kingdom because of when and how they were baptized? Be careful what you elevate.
There are so many more beliefs that this could apply to easily enough depending on which faith tradition that you adhere to. The question ends up being simply what is really required of us? What are the things that we must believe and do? The three great creeds of the church seem to be a simple enough basic belief structure. If you are within those then you are in the tradition of the church catholic, and shouldn’t that be enough to call one a Christian, at least so far as belief is concerned? If I am feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, setting free the prisoner,and caring for the widow and orphan, shouldn’t that be enough of a minimum, at least so far as action is concerned? I ask this because in my experience, it has not been so.
The theological traditionalists that applaud my strong stance for a traditional sexual ethic in the faith, condemn me for supporting legal civil same sex marriage in the public sphere as a matter of equal treatment under the law. The progressives that applaud my strong stance for caring for those who come to this nation, whether legally or illegally, and treating them with human decency and respect, consign me to the hell they don’t seem to believe in for recognizing the right of a nation to set it’s borders and have a reasonable immigration policy. The examples continue. The truth is that while I am instructed to not forsake the fellowship of believers, as all Christians are, I am often not welcomed.
I want to finish up with a thought on communion. Traditionally, our communion liturgy includes the following phrase: “Christ our Lord invites to his table all who love him, who earnestly repent of their sin and seek to live in peace with one another. Therefore, let us confess our sin before God and one another.” Here’s the rub. If the tithe of God’s minimum command for giving, and I am not tithing, then I am in sin. To repent of sin would be to begin to tithe. If I am unwilling, or unable, to do this, then I an not in a state of repentance, so I am not welcome at the United Methodist Churches famous open table. Another example if you will indulge me. If I were to find myself in a more progressive UMC that teaches anything less than “full inclusion” is a sin, and I am unwilling to embrace that, then I am in sin, and unrepentant sin at that. I am again not welcomed at the table. I am not perfect far from it. I fail tremendously to be frank, but I think that I do ok, but as I have been looking at things, I realize that so much has been elevated that it seems I am not. What we choose to elevate, will be the standard of who it is that we exclude not only from our fellowship, but also from feeling able to approach God. Be careful what you elevate, because it might just exclude me from the table of Christ, and though I am not perfect, I am pretty sure I am welcome at least there.