Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Time of Exile

The question has been asked recently what tradition could best serve the church in the United States during its time of exile. The idea is that the Christian church is about to be pushed to the margins of our culture and we need to ask how to weather this storm and what tradition will help us. Others have disagreed with the question by calling for a return to basic Christianity that crosses all the traditions. But I believe we are still asking the wrong question. So though I am somewhat behind the curve, I would like to make a few comments.

The modern Christian church in the United States has commonly trusted in gimmicks, in organization, and in programs; trust in a tradition seems a step up. But I question whether any tradition has everything exactly right. We suffer from the sin of Corinth, of dividing into factions, often over names and minor points (1 Corinthians 1:10-17; 3:10-23; 4:1-5). We have also followed them in thinking we know all the answers and everyone that disagrees is clearly wrong (1 Corinthians 1:18-25; 3:18-20; 8:1-3). While I believe there are issues we divide over that are important, I am convinced many of them have little or no basis in Scripture. But while I have a certain degree of sympathy with C. S. Lewis' "mere Christianity," I am afraid I cannot follow him all the way. I do believe there are important issues involved in the Protestant Reformation. And I do believe there need to be boundaries somewhere (Jude 3; Romans 16:17; 1 John 4:1-3). But while I have a definite opinion where those boundaries should be, I cannot expect everyone to agree. Therefore, I am skeptical of coming up with a definition everyone could agree on.  As a result, while I am in favor of breaking down the various denominational divisions, I am not optimistic on eliminating all of them.

But I am convinced this is really the wrong approach. The problem with trusting in current traditions, broad or narrow, to bring us through the time of exile is that this implies that it depends on us. Rather, God is the One who is at work building His church (Matthew 16:18; 1 Corinthians 3:6,7; Colossians 2:19). Therefore, we need to trust in Him and His power and not the other things we are prone to trust in (Psalms 127:1,2; Proverbs 3:5,6; Isaiah 31:1). Now He has not promised we will necessarily be in charge of our culture (John 15:18-21; 16:1-4; Matthew 10:17-22). And frankly, I am not convinced that the demise of cultural Christianity in this country is necessarily a bad thing. It will cause people to consider what they really do believe. And while I hope that the current situation might force us to reconsider the petty things we divide over, I see no guarantee of this. But even in our current divided state, God will bring us through.   

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