We are not the church together

church minecraft

I am not generally a fearful person. I have seen a good bit of violence and believe myself capable of handling most things and have no issue trusting God with the things I can not. (Note: none of this applies to large bodies of water which I have a completely irrational fear of. ) I am no stranger to fights of the violent or verbal kind, I simply prefer to avoid them. I try, to the best of my limited ability, to avoid unhealthy and argumentative conflict as I find it generally rather distasteful. Conflict of ideas is a good thing in general (iron does sharpen iron and all that) but just fighting to fight doesn’t help anything. There is however a time for everything under heaven and that means a time for fighting as well. The Byrds may have been right when they sang “A time of peace, I swear it’s not too late!” but it does not hold true now. There is no longer a time for peace. Not anymore. Not with the progressives in the UMC.

(See this post by Joel on his views on the 8 points)

My concerns with the progressives in the UMC have been documented in previous blogs and have outlined some of the concerns I have with the groups that represent their goals to some degree. I have taken issue with things that the IRD has said and done and been more than willing to assign blame equally to the “right wing” as to the “left wing”. I was wrong. There is hope for the UMC, but that hope can only be realized with out the militant progressive system of belief that has infected, perverted, distorted and twisted the teachings of scripture to such a point that it can not be called Christianity any longer. Dress it up all you want, say all the nice things you want, pick all the pretty language you want, but progressive “Christianity” is little more than an excuse to question everything without having to believe and stand for anything…unless ‘anything’ counts as hating and insulting anyone who actually believes in something contrary to the non belief that they have, then that counts as something…lost in doublespeak yet? Good because they want you to be. There is no belief except the belief that if you are not “one of them” then you are the enemy and subject to ridicule, insult and all manner of slander and/or libel (not in the legal sense, in the definitions of the words) that can be leveled against you.

I have spent some time trying to understand the idea of progressive non belief in the attempt to find some common ground theologically. There is none. I have attempted to engage progressives in public forums via social media, private chats via social media and in person to find some common ground in how we think and believe we should go about doing things. There is none. We do not have a common theological understanding of scripture. We do not have common ground in the way things should be done. Progressives value orthopraxy but ignore and try to be rid of the orthodoxy that leads to it. You can not have right action without right belief. Progressives often describe Christianity as something that you do, not something that you believe. Scientologists do as well. I dare say that any faith that shares similarities with Scientology in it’s core tenet is not only dangerous, but decidedly not Christian. I am sorry that you do not like orthodoxy, but Christianity is an orthodox faith. You don’t have to like it or even follow it, but you can not properly claim it if you are not. Your faith may properly be described as ‘progressive’ but should not be properly described as ‘Christian’ in any sense of the history of the definition. You have succeeded in reviving all of the fun heresies of pre-Nicene Christianity and I must say that I pray often for the next Irenaeus to write and rail against them.

There is little doubt that this will be misconstrued to be some sort of statement about a specific issue etc, but it really isn’t. This is not about one issue, misunderstanding, or social ill. This is not about LGTBQ inclusion, racial tensions, etc. This is about God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit and how you dishonor and disgrace the three in one by your faulty understanding of them. Yes, I do believe that you can stand for LGBTQ inclusion and be a Christian, but no, you can not deny and dispose of everything that has defined Christians since the time of Christ and be one. You can call yourself as you will, but do not ask me to. Incidentally, yes, I realize that this is a judgement and I will be judged by the same standard. I am ok with being judged by grace through faith, a belief in the creeds and the church that Christ came to build. That is the standard and it always has been.

You have lost me. It seems like a small thing really and in the short term it probably is, but in the long term it is a sad and dangerous development for you. If you have lost me, you have also lost the church. The church believes in the standard that orthodoxy has set. You do not. You have scared me. Not because of what it is that you believe, but because you have crafted a system of questioning that requires no belief. You have taken the beautiful statement “when Christ calls a man he bids him come and die” (thank you Dietrich Bonhoeffer) and turned it into “when whatever you want to believe in calls you, that great something out there bids you to ask some questions but never believe”. You have disgraced and dishonored the martyrs throughout history that have died for the Truth and for the faith. You have perverted the beauty and love that is the resurrection of Jesus Christ and turned it into a vulgar display of violence more sensationalized that Mel Gibson could have dreamed.
You question everything and hold nothing as a core belief and in that have no identity that is immutable. This is contrary to everything the church and scripture teaches. We in the church know (or should know) who we are.We know we are royal priests, we know we are living stones and we know we are co-inheritors of the kingdom. We know we are brothers and sisters in and with Christ, we know we are mystically grafted onto the line. We know we are purified, justified and crucified with and in Christ. We know we broken and flawed and will one day be made perfect. We know we cry now but one day will not, we know that there will come a day when there is not suffering, pain, hunger and war and we know that we should work for it now so that Christ can complete it when He returns. We know we are tested and tried, we know we can resist temptation, we know that we are being refined by the fire and will come out the other end more beautiful than any of us could imagine. We know we are one body, one faith under one Lord displayed in one baptism. We know we are the sons and daughters of a loving God. We know we are the church. I can not say that about you, and that frightens and saddens me. I have tried, and I am sorry, but I simply can not risk dishonoring God any longer by calling progressive “Christians” the church.

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60 Replies to “We are not the church together”

      1. The specific teachings I take issue with are the 8 points of progressive “Christianity” (found here for simplicity http://progressivechristianity.org/the-8-points/ , but repeated and endorsed by progressive pastors and authors in some way or another), and the stressing of orthopraxy (right action) as more important than orthodoxy (right belief). That leads to a works based faith instead of grace through faith. There is a difference between liberal Christianity, which is to say there are those who confess the creeds but would fall toward the “left” of center on many ideas (say full inclusion as an example) and progressive “Christianity” which throws out every belief of the Christian church for the past 2000 years or so (the authority of scripture, the divinity of Jesus, the trinity, etc). While I have differences in belief from those who would be described as liberal Christians, we share a common faith. Progressives and I, and in fact any Christian, do not share a common faith. As to the heresies of the early church that have been re-birthed by the progressives, I shall provide a short list so that you can know specifically some of the things that I was referring to: Pelagianism, Marcionism, Antinomianism, Sethianism, Psilanthropism, Arianism, Adoptionism. While not exhaustive, that should provide enough specifics. They also engage in something very similar to the counter reformation movements of Erastianism, and Josephinism as well as numerous medievel heresies as well.

        1. How many UMs actually hold those beliefs? 2. I’ve known plenty of people whose beliefs are perfectly orthodox who were, nevertheless, as mean as they could be.

          1. We have been through this in another forum already, so I don’t feel the need to completely rehash it here. What I have commented on is the stated beliefs of the progressive “Christian” movement in relation to the orthodox church which is the large majority of Christianity and has remained the standard for Christianity for 2000 years give or take then said that they can not exist within the same structure. Anything other than this is little more than smoke and mirrors that gets away from the topic at hand and does not contribute anything useful for discussion.

  1. I don’t get it. The complaints are so “global” and non-specific I don’t know what the writer is complaining about. Is there a specific person or specific teaching you are talking about or is this just the same old, same old rant about “libruhls”?

  2. I taught a liberal-minded Sunday School class of about sixty people for several years. I am moderately conservative. My teaching was always done with the intention of pointing people to the cross of Christ. Though I disagreed with much of their theology, I was able to find common ground with them for the most part in our creedal foundations. It was a challenging time for us all. Definitely a struggle as times – even loud. But the love of God drew us together in the end. If you, Scott, don’t see any results from your work, don’t fret. Our Lord God is changing hearts – both theirs and ours – to be more like Jesus. Continue to stand for the truth as it is in Jesus. And know that you are not alone. May God bless your work for Him.

    1. Thank you. I wouldn’t say it is so much the liberal minded folks that I have issues with. Joel, for example, is fairly liberal in a lot of his thinking and we get on well. It is the actual progressives, which from experience I now separate from those more liberal minded. You can have ideas and positions that would fall into the category of liberal Christianity while still maintaining belief in the core tenants of faith as outlined in the creeds, but the progressives simply destroy any and all of the things that have defined us as Christians.

  3. Would you say, Scott, that you are aiming at anyone who sees little legitimacy in ancient authority structures that have been disproven or are irrelevant in other areas of learning?

    It seems to me the divide is along the lines of those who want to cling to 4th century Roman ways of thinking and those who feel a need to find new understandings/bases of authority for the truths they experience. While I know there’s bias in the description, this is essentially the two sides you’re painting.

    Also, fwiw, I went back and am (slowly) looking up some of my notes about the Nicene Council…I stand by what I said based on what I’ve read so far…maybe a little over-reaching, but within the cynical bounds of what I’m reading.

    1. Mark,

      That is still a poor Brown-esque description of orthodoxy. I can’t answer the other questions for Scott, but as someone who has come the other way, I find it sad people cannot dig through actual history to understand the development of doctrine before the 4th and after the 4th, only to then cast their own experiences upon it.

      1. The fact that something is “historic,” may make it interesting, if one is historically minded, but it doesn’t make it authoritative. WHY are the historic doctrines of significance NOW? More significant to the point of this piece. What actual harm do these supposedly “non-orthodox” people or beliefs do?

        1. I don’t see progressive Christianity (as usually defined by those 8 points) as non-orthodox. I’d go so far as to say they are anti-orthodox.

          What makes something authoritative for Christians is the Spirit – and for some reasons many deny the Spirit at work in the early church but think that somehow they – so far removed – have a clearer image.

          There are no real historic doctrines. There are only the doctrines of the Christian faith.

        2. Considering that the tenants of progressive Christianity can be found among the heresies before and around the 4th century, they are also ‘historic’, as are many of the popular ideas which float around in progressive circles. The difference is that one set of beliefs (orthodox) has been examined over the past 2000 years plus or minus a few hundred and found to be inspired and true, the other set (heresies) have been examined over the past 2000 years plus or minus a few hundred and been found to not be authoritative and in many cases completely opposite of what Christians have believed. You treat progressive “Christianity” as if it is something new, but it is not, it is something very old.
          As far as what makes it dangerous, Christianity is a faith that is best and properly expressed in the community of believers. The harm comes when beliefs that are so far outside of what is accepted truth to the church start to take root and divide those who believe. Of course we are not going to agree completely on to best approach the wide array of issues that face the world (I believe that private charity can do and does the best job of caring for the poor, others believe that governmental systems do, still others believe that a mix is required) but we see them as issues that require the care and attention of Christians so in that we stand united. When you start to get into the all roads lead to Rome approach to faith as an example, then there is serious division and conflict of belief that focuses on not only an essential, but the essential namely the identity of Christ. Those are just two examples of difference, one where there is not harm and one where there is serious harm.

    2. I am targetting, with this, progressive “Christians” and the points of blief that they ascribe to. In a larger sense, it does speak a bit to the importance of orthodoxy (big surprise lol).
      “anyone who sees little legitimacy in ancient authority structures that have been disproven or are irrelevant in other areas of learning?”
      I am not overly certain of what you mean here but I will take a stab and if it doesn’t answer, let me know. Of course authority comes ultimately from scripture and I think that we can agree there, so it seems a good starting point. For me, if these (the scriptures) are indeed the faith once and for all delivered to the saints, then it’s meaning is the same today as it was in it’s time. Now, by meaning, I mean the larger sense of the world. People can quibble between evolution and 7 day creationism, but the meaning is that God created, so quibbling over the process He used is not only silly but not productive. Of course, the predominate understanding of the time of the creeds was a literal creation of 6 days plus the rest and now many, and I dare say most, believe in some form of an evolutionary process set into motion by God. So can our understanding of certain specifics change as we learn more as a species? Of course we can. Do we need a better understanding of the culture in which Christ was born and that he spoke in so that we can better understand what is being said? Certainly. The basis behind those “details” if you will can not change however. Now yes, I do believe that there are certain things that are eternal in so far as what a Christian believes, and I find those things in the creeds, of which I find the Apostles the best and most easily understood example. I would never say that there is anything wrong with questioning faith, that is how we grow after all, but there are things that stand beyond question as immutable truth for a Christian.

  4. I love posts by “Christians” questioning other “Christians” and discrediting the faith of “Christians” with whom they disagree. I also like using quotation marks when referring to groups of “Christians” I disagree with because it somehow validates my superior ways.

    In all seriousness though, I believe there are progressive, liberal, moderate and conservative “Christians” faithfully attempting to find the balance between orthodoxy and orthopraxy. While each group doesn’t see eye to eye, the agenda of discrediting another’s faith seems counterproductive.

    Maybe instead of spending our time and energy proving ourselves to be right and others wrong, we should be searching for common ground.

    1. The point of all of this is that there is not common ground between progressive “Christians” and orthodox Christians. It doesn’t exist and any attempts to find it are fruitless. It is sort of like riding off into the sunset on a unicorn. Sure it sounds nifty and fun, but that doesn’t mean it can happen. There are, I imagine a great deal of causes that we can support together and work together in, but there is no common ground theologically. Since that is the case, it would be best to not pretend that there is so that each can follow their path and where those paths intersect in the mission field work together for the common good while not harming each other any longer in our theological differences. I will help an atheist feed the hungry happily as that is a noble cause, but I will not pretend that the atheist and I have any theological common ground. It is not so much about who is right and who is wrong as it is about the reality that we can not function well together. What progressive “Christianity” asks those who prescribe to it to believe, an orthodox Christian can not allow to go unchallenged. and vice versa. The two are like the two poles of a magnet. If sufficient pressure is applied from the outside, the two can indeed touch, but the moment that artificial pressure is removed, the magnets revert to their natural place opposite each other. It does not make one magnet good and one bad, etc, but it does separate and define them. The same is true of progressive “Christianity” specifically as it stands in opposition to (opposition being used here in one of it’s definitions relating to logic meaning the relation between two propositions in virtue of which the truth or falsity of one of them determines the truth or falsity of the other) orthodox Christianity. The two poles of progressive “Christianity” and orthodox Christianity simply can not occupy the same theological space at the same time as they, by their beliefs, deny the validity of each other. I would love for there to be common ground there, but, after exploration into the matter, there simply is not.
      As to the usage of the quotation marks, anyone who believes that Christianity has an exclusive claim on salvation by grace through faith, can not recognize progressive “Christianity” as a valid expression of Christianity as it does not recognize an exclusive claim on salvation by grace through faith. Their use is not meant as offense, but rather as an expression, commonly meaning ‘so-called’ as that is the only proper way for me to refer to the movement using the word Christian while not providing legitimacy to the claims that they support I hold to be false.

        1. It is not eagerness nor do I desire to “farewell” anyone that I agree with or disagree with. I am however a pragmatist and understand that progressive Christianity (which for the umpteenth time is not the same as a different interpretation of scripture such as Joel would have on some issues.) can not exist with orthodox Christianity because they are so different in beliefs and philosophy that they could easily be called two entirely different faiths. There is simply not even one core belief that I am aware of where orthodox Christians and progressive “Christians” believe anything similar enough so as to have the slightest basis for a shared faith, and without a shared faith there is no church.

  5. Scott, it sounds like you have come to a conclusion very, very similar to that of John Machen that he spelled out in a little book, “Christianity and Liberalism,” that he wrote in the 1920’s. If you’re not familiar with it, you can probably find a free download online. Of course, Machen was dealing with issues related to modernity rather than postmodernity, but there is much overlap. You’ll probably find it quite interesting. Nice article, by the way!

    1. Thank you. I did find a copy and have downloaded it to add to my ever growing list of books to read. 🙂 I appreciate the suggestion.

  6. How prevalent have you found the strand of progressive Christianity that you are writing about Scott? Most of the socially liberal folks here in the Virginia UMC are, as much as I have seen, mostly orthodox. But we are still part of the SEJ 🙂
    BTW I loved this line, both because of its cheek and its accuracy: “You have succeeded in reviving all of the fun heresies of pre-Nicene Christianity and I must say that I pray often for the next Irenaeus to write and rail against them.”

    1. What I think has happened Andrew Book is that many socially liberal folks end up throwing their hat in with progressives, or identify as progressives because of social issues without actually knowing what they are getting into and before you know it, you are a part of the progressive camp. I personally know of 8 practicing pastors in the UMC that are 8 point progressives, the most notable of them is probably Roger Wolsey whose new book has some popularity. I imagine there are several more as this is the new (well old) fad. He also suggests that if you are looking for a progressive church within the UMC to look for RMN or other ‘affirming congregations’ as they often adhere to the progressive ideals. How true that is I am unsure. I would guess that most of the affirming churches (those that desire ‘marriage and ordination equality’)have people in leadership, whether pastoral or laity, that are open to progressive values, and about half of the other churches do. I also think that among rank and file laity it is an idea that is easy to accept as it requires little in the way of belief so it is appealing. I know that in my church, which is relatively conservative, has a fairly large contingent of progressives in board positions and even were in some teaching positions. I think this is more of a problem in larger churches as it is easier for things to slip through the cracks.
      I do want to say that if there were something genuinely new that the progressives brought up theologically I would be positively giddy to talk about it and examine it, but for all the clamoring over a new way of thinking, they are just rehashing old and discounted ways of thinking.

          1. The whole point of the post is, Scott can’t call progressive Christians, “Christians”. So what? Other than his complaining about what he can’t do, it really doesn’t impact anyone. Someone else (progressives, Liberals, whatever) will call themselves “Christian” if they want, regardless of what he thinks. Other than basically being scared, and complaining about it, there is no persecution in it. Now, if he says progressives or liberals need to be excommunicated, that is a different story. But at least for me, I would not consider that persecution either. I certainly don’t want to be anywhere, where people don’t want me there. So I would simply leave. An individual’s existence, does not depend upon an organization’s existence. Last time I checked, there are plenty of churches to migrate to, if a person doesn’t fit their old church’s definition of Christian. Their loss, not mine. Maybe the UMC ought to adopt the old Jewish custom of separation. Men on one side, women in the peanut gallery. This time, it’s orthodox in the main sanctuary. Liberals and progressives up stairs, in the gallery. Then the two groups don’t have to see and sit with each other. Or just have schism, and get the darn thing over with. It does no good to whine about it all the time.

          2. And, I might add…
            http://www.cnn.com/2015/05/12/living/pew-religion-study/index.html

            Maybe people are leaving churches, or not becoming members, because they are tired of other people in the church telling them what they should, or should not, be doing. Or what they are, or are not. I was attracted to the UMC because their communion is open to anyone. They use the NRSV. They don’t tell people from the pulpit that they are going to hell. That’s good enough for me. Other than that, I keep me mouth shut in church. Everyone gets along just fine. It seems to me, that the problem with the UMC, is these damn conferences. Everyone that goes to them seem to hate what everyone else is doing, and think that it is their business to tell them what to do, both liberals, and conservatives. I wouldn’t go to one of these conferences for a million dollars.

      1. I followed Roger’s stuff for about a month a couple years ago–but haven’t looked at it since then because it is so over the top. I would love to see GC clarify that our doctrinal documents are not just “historical” and make clear that when we say “dissemination of doctrines contrary to the established standards of doctrine of The United Methodist Church” is a chargeable offense that we are talking specifically about is the Articles of Religion &etc. I actually put together a proposal which combined making those clarifications with allowing local churches to choose to accept LGBT pastors. The later is, in my mind, a non-essential issue. Orthodoxy is not! [FWIW Joel was about the only one who liked my proposal and it was probably too complicated to get anywhere at GC so I have not tried to push it]

        1. I am with you. I will freely admit that most people who have read this of course take issue and many claim that the 8 points do not represent progressive Christianity, but when pressed on what does there is never a distinct answer that does not refer back to the eight points.

  7. There comes a point where the progressive Christian “progresses” right out of the the fold of orthodoxy.and into the lap of Baal.(and his “good intentions”).
    Elijah successfully confronted the same problem on Mt. Carmel. Though his road immediately afterwards was not easy or pleasant. If I recall correctly, he was led to and ultimately found rest and peace and comfort in the “bosom” of Sinai.

    1. Agreed, so long as you are not comparing me to Elijah. I barely manage being Scott. We do not share a common faith. The fear that I have is not of progressive Christians rather it is for them. That gets lost in all of this I suppose, but it is none the less there.

  8. Scott, after reading everything that has been posted here, I must say it has devolved to the place where such conversations seem to always go, which is name calling, first by progressives as a general rule, followed by retaliatory vaunts, though a bit more tame, by those in the orthodox camp. That is to say, while from what I can tell in your post, I hold more or less the same views on historical Christian faith as do you and tend to agree with you that progressive “Christians” hold little in common with orthodoxy, I am not as sure as you seem to be that there is a need for breaking communion in order to remain strong and faithful. I, like you, have engaged many times over the past few years with all sides in this conversation (yes, I know it is more war-like at times than it is a dialogue), and what I have come to see is that when there is participation by at least one individual on each side that can remain in the conversation without buying in to the hate-charged rhetoric that introduces itself virtually every time there is public debate, people’s hearts can be softened, if not changed. Something God has been really working on me about (particularly surrounding the issues we are dealing with in the UMC), is that the issues (or challenges) the Church has faced since the moment of its genesis, have never been the “real” issues of the Church. So much of what has been faced over and over in all of salvation history has been less about following legal understandings of the faith, and more about how believers come to the table to solve issues that you correctly point out are the same old same old challenges repackaged for a new day over and over again. Truly there is nothing new under the Son, but if the faithful hold on to their Spirit-led convictions, there is real power in speaking the Word and standing by it when we do so with the same love Jesus has for us. Call me naïve, but standing firm may also require standing with our cheeks turned outward for another slapping. Anyway, I appreciate your sentiments, but wanted to offer these thoughts as a bit of an alternative.

    1. I appreciate your thoughts and had many of them myself until recently. What I see as the hope of the church and of any denomination, in my case the UMC, it is the shared faith. While I am not so naive to think that we will ever agree on everything, it seems to me that we need to be able to have some standards of belief that all accept as the basis of truth and faith so that we can actually move forward instead of being stagnated bu a continual disagreement over those things which the church has seen as the standard for it’s history. I will examine those thoughts again and again as I continue I suspect and they are of course prone to change as they did in this instance. If someone were to point out to me how it is practical to have a denomination without any standards of faith move forward I would be more than willing to listen.
      Thank you for your thoughts 🙂

  9. I don’t claim to be a (capital P) Progressive Christian; however, I do consider myself progressive merely because I am growing into a theology that our faith and theology is headed somewhere and not stuck in the past.

    Saying that, please understand I’m a student (BA Purdue) and lover of history. It’s not an anti-history or tradition element; rather, it’s a stepping back and seeing a progressive revelation of God throughout history.

    I believe God is doing something new in our time. This is always challenged and considered dangerous. I get that.

    Actually, as a student of history, I smirk a bit at the simple reading of history that theologians seem to take when reading about these councils. Politics, power, and economics were more influential than good intentions for a good share of them. It’s shocking that we could base our entire faith forever on a council funded and decided by an emperor with less than altruistic motives.

    I question, not the sincerity of faith or good logical development of their theology. I question the naivety of those who can’t see the mud in the water, and they continue building houses on muddy foundations…

    1. It’s shocking that we could base our entire faith forever on a council funded and decided by an emperor with less than altruistic motives.

      Me too! Glad that never happened except in the minds of conspiracy theorists!

    2. Congrats on your education and I hope it has gone and continues to go, well. I will ask you the same question that I have asked many…what new is God doing in our time that does not revolve around LGBTQ? I am familiar with many have said is new on that topic, so I feel as if I do not need a refresher there.
      Also, what is it that you find so wrong about the creeds as they pertain to Christian faith? I have not yet heard anything new around this subject, only the same old and rehashed heresies. That is nothing new, just a different old that is not and has not been supported by the church.
      As to your assertion that “It’s shocking that we could base our entire faith forever on a council funded and decided by an emperor with less than altruistic motives”…it is shocking to me that it is so easy to believe that the entire history of belief of Christians is completely wrong and influenced not by God, but by Constantine, and that the Christian church has been wrong for 1700 years give or take rather than to believe that the Christian church has been correct.

  10. You say ‘conspiracy’ but I’m referencing historians, philosophy of religion, and even some church historians. Scholars of history would not see the Council of Nicaea as a neutral church event. The emperor called it to be his crowning jewel of imperial unification of the empire. It failed, but that was the intent. By the time of Nicaea powerful bishops had mansions, wealth, influence in governance. Who do you think gave them that power and wealth? How does the Church go from not being allowed property to having temples…big ones…within a hundred years? Why would Constantine want a standardized text in 50 copies sent around the empire? He is using the church as a tool for unification. He has bought some of the clergy, and he is forcibly removing the diversity of the church to accomplish his goals. In addition, the clergy are suspiciously fawning of his intrusions, leading some to suspect they are corrupt. These are some of very clergy that are invited to Nicaea and play important roles. These corrupted clergy are not the ones we want determining the future of the Church for all time.

    You ask, “How can the Church be wrong for 1700 years, and only just now we are figuring these things out?” This is a nonsensical statement/question. The Church is expansive and diverse. I would point out that several groups throughout time have challenged the institutional/empire-nature of the church. The empire church’s history is full of people being burned, beaten, excommunicated, deemed a heretic, etc. in the name of authority, political power, and orthodox theology. I’m not siding with all those abused by the institutional church, but there has been a very consistent critique of the political influence on the institutional church’s practice and theology. I would suggest that the Church has been critiquing the bastardized empire church for that 1700 years. Only recently has the empire church been broken enough to be openly, freely, and consistently put on the defensive.

    Lastly, the God of Scriptures (not creeds) is a God of new things. Isaiah boldly asserts that God is at work doing new things…even new things contradictory to how the people of God understood the Divine in the past. Institutional orthodoxy is always looking for a static deity because institutions are about control and stability. As such an institutional orthodoxy’s nature runs counter to a God of the Scriptures who changes, moves, and does new things. The Church must be flexible and Spirit led enough to move with God.

    I’ve actually asked some professors at Duke and other universities for books on the subject of Byzantine religion and political intrusion. I ordered more books because I’m not the kind of person who always assumes I’m right and continues to bash away in potential ignorance. I plan on writing out some of my conclusions with citations, and I will share what I find.

    I am glad you are writing on the issue because it’s important that people see the inadequacies of institutional orthodoxy to be the solution to problems the Church is facing today. They can, however, be used within their context to help us understand and resolve our current issues in light of what God is doing in the world.

    Aside: (Joel, I’ve never read Dan Brown. You know, for an academic, the ad hominem attack seems to be a crutch for you. I hope it doesn’t show up in your work.)

    1. I will restate the questions I asked that your response, while interesting, did not answer. 1. What is it in the creeds do you find disagreeable?
      2. What, specifically, is new. The scriptures do also say there is nothing new under the sun after all. I am not denying that there was influence on the council of Nicaea etc. I am asking what it is that you find objectionable in the creeds. Yes, the church has been challenged, those challenges were examined and discounted. If not, say the apostle’s creed since you have such issues with anything from Nicaea, what is then the base line for Christian faith?

      1. You could start with the trinity. I wouldn’t say it’s disagreeable. Just rather hard to swallow and still be a monotheist, considering it was a compromise to make everyone happy. Jesus is human, Jesus is Divine. God is the Father. God is the son. Don’t forget the Holy Ghost. A clear compromise to try and align all the scriptures, even the ones that were clearly pseudo authorship. I’m not saying I don’t believe in the trinity. Just that the concept was man made to satisfy the creed crowd. Jesus never sat down and taught the basics of Trinity 101 to make it clear enough for any reasonable person to actually understand it. If you want to say you accept it unquestioningly, good for you. But I am not so inclined, without questions. And no one currently alive can provide reasonable answers to make sense.

        1. No one has completely explained the Trinity. It is one of the mysteries of faith. Faith does after all mean belief based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof. By the same token Jesus did not sit down and explain a lot of things that we accept as true. Jesus never explained why heroine was bad for you, etc. A lot of those things are easier to understand than the triune God, but if we could know and prove everything, it would not be called faith. I certainly question how the trinity works and the like, what I do not question, and what I find dangerous, is questioning the existence or reality of the trinity itself. That is where I think we go out of bounds and get ourselves into trouble.

  11. Gary and Scott, if I may briefly interject: the real problem (as I have already stated) is not the issues here, but the way we come to the table to discuss them. You are both arguing your points well, and I commend the civility. But the first thing you must both acknowledge if the dialogue is to have any meaningful exchange is 1). Scott, you are approaching the conversation from a faith based understanding of Scripture as authoritative, and Gary is approaching it from the perspective of modernity (or post-modernity if you wish), which does not grant without question the authority of Scripture. And 2). You must acknowledge that reconciling those two mindsets are going to be very difficult at best. Which, by the way, I will be the first to admit speaks to your (Scott) conclusion that there cannot be a unified communion (my words) with two such opposing idea-sets.

    But I would contend that bringing the two ideas under one roof is not (and should not be) the goal of either side, assuming everyone is expressing their views from a stance of strongly held convictions. If you look at the history of the Church, the reason it appeared to have such a unified, one-Body façade over the 1300 or so years preceding the Reformation, is that the no one really questioned the authority of the Church, but rather fought over the authority of Pope’s, diocese, renegades, heretics, and other arguably ancillary issues of the day. Splinter groups have broken from the Church fairly regularly throughout its history, but never gained much stature, Eastern Orthodox aside (I consider that split simply a replication rather than a new communion), until Luther and his followers significantly transformed the way people celebrated and worshipped the Lord and more or less legitimized “anti-(C)hurch” sentiments over the next few centuries.

    Gary, when you question the Trinity (which is just a word by the way. Jesus clearly demonstrates the oneness of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit throughout the Gospels – but I won’t try to argue that point here), and when you question the way the Church came to understand and explain Jesus status as fully human and fully divine, you are essentially speaking to what will ultimately be a question of semantics, and in the end bear little in the way of carving out new salvific understanding of Christ as Lord. Again, I could argue the validity of those creedal statements, but let’s just agree that without a fairly long and in-depth conversation we will likely end up agreeing to disagree on their merits.

    And Scott, when you argue the “mystery of faith” and accepting something as true “on faith,” you are speaking to a subject that I am assuming Gary is not on board with, at least not under the same assumptions as you (or I for that matter) approach it with. I am not in that statement speaking to the merits of either way of understanding, that’s a topic for another conversation, simply stating what I think is fairly obvious. Therefore, your argument is going to fall flat because you both just approach the subject from a different bent.

    Speaking from my own biases Gary, I can tell you that my own lifetime of study and subsequent Seminary training and preparation have only reinforced for me the fact that the canonization of Scripture was Spirit-led, giving it the full authority of a divine text. And I can follow that declaration with allowing that I did not always have the affirmation of the Holy Spirit on that matter and spent about 18 years looking for intellectual answers as to why the Scriptures were so meaningful to the Body of Christ. Long story short, while my intellectual pursuits never confirmed divine authority, they never dismissed it either, which led me to deeper and deeper faith, and ultimately to the point of understanding, even if it is an understanding that incorporates the fact that some of that understanding is indeed mysterious.

    I share that testimony only to say to both of you (Gary and Scott), any conversation between disparate parties, such as you two obviously are on the issues, requires acknowledging those biases up front and understanding that you are likely not going to change the other’s minds. The long term goal should not be to change minds, but to change hearts, through a loving and sincere dialogue that all sides should hope will lead the other closer to Jesus Christ.

  12. Ted, appreciate the advice. “The long term goal should not be to change minds,”…
    To be realistic, the only reason I get involved in these discussions, is it forces me to look up scripture, AND commentary, and avoid Alzheimer’s and mindless TV. I don’t have any more deep-seeded goal. To be honest, it is fun to debate. Forces me to drag out the books.

  13. Scott, I have answered your question in another thread, but I will answer it here again:

    I don’t find much objectionable with the creeds. I do have questions with the ‘substances’ language, Light from Light, the ‘ranking’ of the persons in the Trinity, etc. And to be honest, I don’t have problems with 4th century Greek thinkers saying these things. I have problems with 21st century leaders demanding we think in these terms.

    As I have said here and will continue to say: These should not be our epistemological standards of faith. They were fantastic understandings of God written in their time. They are important for study. They are not vital for faith.

    It is up to us to understand God within the context of our time. Yes, we use the Creeds and church history to inform us; however, they are not our Scripture…they are not our tablets. Using the Creeds as laws of orthodoxy seems to be an undoing of much of the NT, which was relinquishing people from the 613.

    I absolutely agree with Ted in that we are working with different philosophies of understanding/epistemologies. Here is why I have concerns with how people like Scott and others approach this discussion: They have been openly attacking the faith and identity of followers of Jesus because they don’t agree in belief systems. I don’t think this is helpful. Calling people names on FB and twitter is not the way followers of Jesus discuss disagreements, and that is how I first entered this on-going discussion about a year ago. I simply ask for space to work out questions and new ways of understanding faith. I fail to see the need to constantly call RHE or Rob Bell names or judge their faith in Christ.

    This article was one of the better ones, so I am thankful for a blunt, yet open dialogue. I still think we can all do better loving each other through these questions.

    1. First, if I have called someone names I am sorry for that. I have on occasion lost my cool and tried to make amends for that. Let’s be honest about this, we all have so it is not a Scott and people like him thing, it is a human thing. To say anything other than that is disingenuous. Secondly, “I still think we can all do better loving each other through these questions.” I don’t know what this actually means, but if the insinuation is that speaking truth is somehow not an expression of love, then I don’t know what is. My issue with 8 point progressives has nothing at all to do with a lack of love. You are also correct, we are very much approaching this from different places and I would not say otherwise. What we will disagree on is that my questions have been answered in any substantive way.
      If by attack, you mean I have leveled severe and harsh criticism against a group of people who are outside the boundaries set by historic Christianity, then yes, I have done that and will probably continue to do so. To the best of my knowledge, I have not called anyone names, or attacked anyone’s identity, outside of making a true statement, which is they are outside of what is orthodox Christianity. I have also said numerous times that if orthodox Christianity is not acceptable to be the standard, then what is? How far can you stray from the identity of Christ and still be a Christian? Those are questions that no matter how we approach the faith, or what our tradition is, are important to be answered. You speak of faith traditions as if it is as simple as denominational differences when it is not. The LCMS for example is much more conservative than I and makes exclusive claims to truth, but it does not seek to redefine what Christianity actually is at it’s core. The ELCA while much more liberal than I am as a general rule, but again they do not try to redefine what Christianity is. The differences are on matters of theology and interpretation, but not on the core of what it means to be Christian. The 8 points however are a completely different ball game as it seeks to dismantle what Christianity is.
      On a smaller level than this, those who follow the 8 points actively hold a faith contrary to what the UMC believes. Any organization, and let’s be honest, the church is an organization in it’s corporate structure, has a basic set of beliefs that represent it. Yes, it is to be expected and even encouraged that not everyone toe the line of all of those beliefs, but there is always a base line that defines them. When you find yourself at odds with that baseline, then at what point are you no longer a part of that organization even if you still claim the name? For the UMC that baseline I will defer to the UMC website in support of this. (http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/foundational-documents)
      “Just as creeds such as the Apostles’ Creed summarize the belief of all Christians, the Articles of Religion of The Methodist Church and the Confessions of Faith of The Evangelical United Brethren Church form a foundation of doctrine for United Methodists. They, along with Wesley’s Sermons on Several Occasions and Explanatory Notes Upon the New Testament, are “standards” of doctrine for United Methodists.” It goes on to talk about also the articles of religion and the confession of faith of the EUB. While you would say that I am attacking those of a different tradition of faith who are followers of Jesus, I would say and have said, that they are not followers of Jesus as has been defined by the church historically, or more specifically, within the UMC which I am a part of. So, I will ask again, if not the apostles creed, and in the UMC the articles of religion and confession of faith, what should the standard be?

  14. I actually disagree with This. I have been a part of many different denominations and switched back and forth from this to that, and it wasn’t until I actually Obeyed God one day and tried really hard to follow Christ in all ways that I felt a glimpse of the Holy Spirit. And you know what it said to me. That Christ wants all of us to be One in him. You say your church is the True Church, that you are to be heirs of the kingdom of Christ, but that I am not because I do not belong to your church? Even the church I go to I do not believe and agree with everything everyone thinks and preaches.

    We as true believers of Jesus and Christ should pray day in and day out that All be found in him and if it be his will saved by and through him. But if we as believers and churches stand divided against ourselves because of small disputes or views how are we to all be One Body and One Faith and One baptism, One anything in Jesus.

    I do not believe that Jesus only died to save “his”church alone but all who are found and call upon him. Have you read John where Jesus prays to Our father in Heaven that we may all be Found in him and that someday we will believe the message spoke of by his disciples of unity in Faith?

    I do not agree with you sir I hope that you pray about this also and that I must also pray diligently that I am not trying to make you an enemy, we were all made with choice and forcing people to believe this way or that is never right. I am simply asking a question… Why can’t we all be united as one body of believers in Christ Jesus who was and is and is to come? He even says himself when he comes back to earth will he find True Faith?
    Cora Lee

    1. Core,

      You write,

      You say your church is the True Church, that you are to be heirs of the kingdom of Christ, but that I am not because I do not belong to your church?

      But that is not true. Further, you have not addressed the points of the article.

  15. I actually feel as if you are attacking what I believe not me attacking you. Why must I conform to everything you believe and feel, for you cannot save anyone not even yourself only by Jesus great grace and love and mercy can we as believers be saved

    Cora lee again.

      1. Why would I not accept them? You mean the people who move forward with the message? I am not saying if you don’t join you are not a part of the true faith. Then I would be making you conform, which I don’t want What I am trying to say is we as believers should at least agree we are the same in one way which is through our savior. Our only way to salvation.I did not come though and comment to argue with you just to say that I do not wholly agree with you in your viewpoints. But that I do agree with you in that we have the same savior Jesus Christ and in him we are One.

          1. No I wasn’t no one can even see what my site is on my comments except you thanks. And I just read what u wrote and disagreed that’s it.

            Your the one who requests our website on your form. So if u didn’t want it why ask?

        1. “What I am trying to say is we as believers should at least agree we are the same in one way which is through our savior.”
          I agree completely. Problem is that most progressive Christians deny the need for salvation, and the 8 points which I reference do not require a savior either.

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