Thursday, January 19, 2012

How Did We Get Here? (Part 2)

So, if you are reading this, you either strongly agree with what I am saying so far, or you are angry at me, or you are not sure yet how you feel.  Whatever the case may be, thanks for coming back for part 2.

Things have gotten ugly within conservative, Evangelical Fundamental Christianity.  And my heart is broken over it.  In Part 1, I began by saying that one of the worst feelings in the world is when you are driving your car on the highway and suddenly thing, "How did I get here?"  While driving safely for perhaps a mile or more, you realize you were daydreaming.  Has that ever happened to you?  Very unsettling feeling.  As I look around the Body of Christ, especially those dwelling in my same theological camp, I feel like I am having the same unsettling feeling of "How did we get here?"  Why have things turned so ugly.  I mentioned in Part 1 that one issue is found in a lack of education.  By that, I mean we absorb ourselves with people who agree with us that the other side is bad, but we never actually learn what the other side believes.

I am not perfect in this area and still have a ways to go, but I know where I stand on the Calvinism debate, but I also know why the other side believes what they do.  I know where I stand on the issue of speaking in tongues, but I know what and why the other side believes as they do.  I feel it is unbiblical for a woman to be a pastor, but I can articulate the argument for the other side, perhaps better than many of them can.  Knowing their position does not mean I am soft on mine.  I think that is where we get sidetracked.  I can understand why people want to go get drunk on a Friday night.  That doesn't mean I want to do it, think it is a good idea, or advocate it at all.  But understanding the why helps me not berate the person who does.  It helps me to both speak the truth and to speak it in love.

However, the "cliffhanger" to Part 1 was that there was a second issue at work.  And it is bigger than the education issue.  As I read the "debates" regarding all of these secondary issues, what I do not see present is love.  There is no joy.  Certainly no peace.  Impatience with each other.  In no way kind.  In no way gentle.  Hmm...those sound pretty familiar.  In Galatians 5, those are listed as the fruit of the Holy Spirit.  In other words, those should be present wherever the Holy Spirit is working.  If the Holy Spirit is not a part of it, Galatians 5 also tells us what to expect: strife, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions and things like these.

We defend ourselves in our loyalty to Jesus and faithfulness to His Word.  Do you see the problem?  How does loyalty to Jesus and faithfulness to His Word happen with a neglect of the Holy Spirit?  If I am wrong, why is it that I am afraid to even comment on the whether on Facebook without being condemned for my stance for or against Calvinism.  And yes, I have seen that debate directly linked to innocent comments about the weather.  If you are in an atmosphere of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, and gentleness, you do not feel like you are walking on eggshells.

Am I suggesting that they stop taking these theological issues seriously or stop defending our position on them?  No.  Am I suggesting that we compromise the Gospel?  Never!  But I am suggesting a bit of grace for the person who only gave 98% of the Way of the Master presentation - the person who talked about sin, hell, the cross and resurrection, the need for repentance and faith, but who forgot to use the phrase "Judgment Day."

I have met Christians who differ from me on an issue like the end times or an issue like women in ministry or even people who may reference The Message.  While I strongly disagree with them on those points, for those particular people I have in mind (not giving a generalized endorsement), I cannot doubt the fruit of the Spirit at work in and through them.  They are my brothers in Christ and I need to treat them and talk to them accordingly.  We can talk about those disagreements, but they should never turn ugly.

So, to all my conservative Evangelical Fundamentalist brethren, I commend you on your earnestness to study and know pure doctrine and to observe right practice.  However, the tone of our debates lately has left me wondering how we got here?  If we are so right, why is the fruit of the Spirit not present in our conversation?  Why has it gotten so bad that some are now wondering if the Gospel can really unite us?  The most amazing times of fellowship I have had with other believers is when I had no clue where the person stood on those issues.  We all just rallied around those 5 fundamentals.  When did they stop being enough?  If we are as right and faithful to the Word as we think we are, shouldn't our dialogue on these matters reflect the beauty of Christ?  Shouldn't they be talks marked by the fruit of the Spirit?  And shouldn't there be some of the issues that we are content, for the sake of the unity of the Gospel, to keep between ourselves and the Lord?

Are there Christians out there who need to buckle up on their theology?  Without a doubt.  But we need to do some buckling up of our own.  We may know Scripture better than others, but it is humbling to realize that those others may just know Jesus better than we do.  We both have something to work on.

Let me close this rant with the following point.  I'm sure most of us experienced the heart-break of being dumped in high school.  Sure enough, the day comes when you see your ex-girlfriend with her new boyfriend and it drives you crazy.  They are two days into their new romance and showing all the signs of puppy love.  We think, "Hey, I dated her for 4 months.  I know her better.  I know her favorite color and favorite song.  he doesn't know those things about her!"  You're right.  You know more about her.  But he has the relationship with her.  He will get to know those things over time.  Sadly, your heart will drift further and further from her.

Consider the church in Ephesus (Revelation 2:1-7).  They were bold for Jesus (v.2), they stood against evil (v.2), they tested every teacher they heard (v.2), they were not ashamed of the name of Jesus (v.3), and they hated the work of false teachers (v.6).  That sounds a lot like many of us who are conservative Evangelical Christians.  But so does verse 4, "But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first."

Is it possible that we've been so consumed with studying theology, researching false teachers, investigating politicians, following the money trail to Planned Parentood, that we have been daydreaming at the wheel - that we have lost site of Jesus?  Have we become the bitter ex-boyfriend?  The lack of the fruit of the Spirit suggests, to me, that there is something wrong in our relationship with Him, as solid as our theology may be.

What made me change my stance of some of these issues?  Someone who calmly and lovingly helped me look at my position from a Biblical perspective.  They left out the personal attacks.  They did not give in to stereotypes and generalizations.  They never called me a heretic or a false convert.  And having seen that my positions were clearly not in line with the Word of God, I submitted my convictions to the authority of the Word of God.  However, I have sadly failed myself to take the same approach with others.  I have been rough and calloused.  I have wounded.  I have attacked.  I have seen my own face in the mirror of the church in Ephesus.

Maybe you are keeping it all in perfect balance.  Praise God.  But, perhaps, you are like me.  It is painful to be humbled.  We think that if we admit we were wrong in how we defended our position that we are giving ground to the other side.  I have to be honest, as I think about the tone of online debates, I keep imagining how people may respond to this article.  I can hear it now, "He's gone soft!"  "He's become a liberal!"  "He's a universalist!"  "He's a heretic!"  I promise you, I am not calling us to lock arms with Rob Bell.  I have not changed my theology.  I am just calling us to stop separating our love for God from our love for people, especially those who are still actually a part of the body of Christ.  Yes, the first commandment is to love God with heart, soul, mind, and strength while the second greatest is to love our neighbor as ourselves.  But Jesus did say, " and the second is LIKE it."  You feel that the person who disagrees with you on Calvinism is not holding to the authority of the Word and God.  But is your abusive tone with them reflecting the authority of the Word of God?        

Let's keep pressing forward.  But let's snap out of our daydream and get our eyes on the road and keep our focus on Jesus.

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