Hostility, Humility, Grace, Truth and the EFCC

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Society’s Mistrust of Religion

Recently I read a great article in Leadership JournalIn it, John Dickson, co-director of the Centre for Public Christianity in Australia, recounts a recent TV talk show in his native country.  The discussion revolved around the problem of drugs in the culture, yet one of the hosts declared:

Let’s put this in perspective.  Drugs have not killed anywhere near as many people as religion.  Religion is far more damaging to society than our drug problem.”

Wow!  That is some hostile view of religion — and if you have read Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris (or others) you recognize that when “religion” is portrayed as an evil influence in society, the examples given for the claim are often from Christianity.  Before we write this off as merely unfair criticism from the radical fringe (or just Australians, atheists, the intelligentsia etc.), we would do well to ask how widespread this sentiment is, how it came about, and what our response as Christians (especially as EFCCers) ought to be.

First, I am going to simply state that this sentiment is more widely spread (among ordinary Canadians too) than we care to admit.  I do not have space to justify this assertion – I simply urge you to conduct a little survey among your neighbours (especially those between the ages of 18-30).  Our children seem to have learned to distrust those who exercise power (of all sorts) and are suspicious of people who claim to know the truth (and want others to believe and live by it).  Unfortunately historical examples of crusades, inquisitions and the like don’t help Christians here.

The End of Modernism

How did this come about?  To answer this, go back with me to the dark ages…20-25 years ago.  In 1988-89 I was a Christian learning history and philosophy in secular universities.  It was a time when Marxists ruled — at least in terms of the interpretation of history.  Marxists ruled because their theory passed itself off as science – and in the “modern world” (influenced by the Enlightenment as it was) scientists were the only people who could discover truth.  All other disciplines either framed their work in scientific terms (ie. historians wanted to be social scientists) or risked being viewed as merely speculators in opinion.  Hence, respected historians viewed people in Marxist terms — as agents whose ideas and actions were primarily determined and/or motivated by their socio-economic status.  Likewise, Feminists borrowed Marxist language and just changed the categories from economic class to gender.  So for instance, historians such as Christopher Hill viewed Puritans as folks whose religious ideas were simply a function of their middle class, bourgeois economic class.  They were attracted to ideas that justified their economic goals and attitudes. Then in 1989, the Berlin wall fell, followed by the entire “iron curtain”.  Communism (and by implication, Marxism) was viewed as unworkable — as merely a “system” used to oppress people.  Coincidently, scientists were also viewed as one more group who could use their “dogma” (truth) to oppress people and 20th century history was full of examples of how that could happen.

The Ascent of Postmodernism

And so, “postmodernism” matured in the early 1990s…in some ways this was good for us as Christians since people were open to the reality of spiritual ideas and beings.  However, relativism, hostility to dogma and the elevation of a new definition of “tolerance” was ushered in and seems to be here to stay.  So what should our response in the EFCC be?  In a phrase:

“Unity, Charity, Jesus Christ”.

While we are still people who believe in truth, there needs to be a new humility that accompanies how we speak of and live out that truth.  Our culture is inherently suspicious of those who claim to be the only ones who know truth (they fear we will impose that truth on others) and so our old style “Evidence that Demands a Verdict” apologetic often answers questions that nobody is asking or, worse yet, comes across as an arrogant desire to control the beliefs and actions of others.  This is not always a fair take on Christians by our culture, but as we know, perception is 90% of reality.  And so, my recommendation is this: in the same way that Jesus came to this world as the One “full of grace and truth”, so we too must humbly approach our culture with grace and truth. I believe that the EFCC ethos which encourages a certain hermeneutical humility (which says that there are essential truths we must all hold to if we are to be part of the EFCC family but also that there are other very important issues that we can not only tolerate, but encourage charitable disagreement/debate over) is well suited to communicate with our culture.  Additionally, our emphasis on the centrality of the person of Jesus is so important: we ask our neighbours to embrace the One who is the Way, Truth and Life — not our dogma!

How We Proceed from Here

We will likely have to answer a new set of questions — our neighbours’ questions are different now than they were back in 1988.  They will probably be even more impressed by how we live out the truth we say we believe than in how well we explain it. This is good news, because I believe it is easier and more effective to imitate the humility our Saviour manifested (Philippians 2) than it is to memorize countless answers to hypothetical questions.  May we in the EFCC be known as those who are full of “grace and truth”!

24 replies
  1. Communications
    Communications says:

    The word religion is a touchy one, even amongst Christians. Witness the whole Jeff Bethke video controversy that flared up about a month ago. (If you haven’t seen it, his piece was called “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus”.)

    I knew that the iron curtain event was significant, but I was too young to know why. Now I get it: it was the juxtaposition of the Marxism in the West with the demise of communism in the East. It threw deeply-held assumptions on both sides into question.

    What I appreciate about Bill’s treatment here is that it shows postmodernism to be a force for finding and reversing oppression of all forms. Modernism, despite its highest hopes and best efforts, ended up being pretty oppressive. By questioning authority and systems of every kind, postmodernism has charted a new course.

    Postmodernism gives us the opportunity and the challenge to live into our beliefs in a way that is humble, authentic and inviting.

  2. Baker
    Baker says:

    Thanks, Bill. These are exciting times to follow, share, and live out the person and work of Christ. The western cultural environment today as seen on T.V., the internet and as taught in schools in many ways seems similar to the time of Christ and the Apostles (culture predominantly being non-Christian but spiritual). I appreciate knowing that the EFCC is going in a direction that will help the seeds of the next generation of children in our churches be relevant in the fields that their faith comes to fruition in. Great topic.

    It would be great to see some more dialouge on the topic of truth. You said “However, relativism, hostility to dogma and the elevation of a new definition of “tolerance” was ushered in and seems to be here to stay. So what should our response in the EFCC be?”

    I see so much “cultural truth” as relative, liquid and changeable… this seems to cause great conflict between some generations in our churches (and those wanting in). Christ is absolute truth and our multiple (sometimes conflicting)evangelical dogmas are simply relative products of past generations and their cultural interaction with the reality of Christ. Theological dogma is subject to Christ (the truth) not the other way around. I think if we want our churches to be robust and vibrant communities of discipleship again we need to revisit the past dogmas and question them, interact with and if needed modify them so they can become our own through the conversations that once formed them.

    I think some generations see this idea as heresy because they misunderstand where our “dogmas” have come from. Any ways it would be pretty cool IMO to see some dialogue on how the church forged dogma in the past and how that is relevant to our local churches today.

  3. Art Wiebe
    Art Wiebe says:

    May i please ask for some clarification. We are starting to hear some shocking news of subtle manifesttions of mysticism entering our local churches in Alberta. Is this part of what you call post modernism? Maybe it is time that we take a stand on this. It’s fine to say that – we are preaching truth and grace, but what if other things are being added to the worship time. There are spiritual Lutherans and Anglicans too, but where might we really be headed. This is simple straight talk as I’m not a theologen.

    • Communications
      Communications says:

      Thanks for sharing your concern, Art.

      Before we can answer it, though, we need to hear what you mean by ‘mysticism’, and specifically what part of this is concerning to you.

      The word mysticism can be used to describe an apparent system of control, where humans claim that their spiritual acts will produce predictable physical outcomes. For example, I in my own imaginings could tell a woman that if she said a certain prayer five times, then she would be healed of cancer. But that isn’t typically the way God works. That comes down to the clay telling the potter who’s boss — it’s against the Bible.

      But mysticism can also mean seeing that there is a supernatural element to our world that exists outside of scientific measurement. It seems to me that our entire faith has this built into it at the core. For example, Jesus was fully God and fully man, which is a mystical belief. Any belief in miracles is also mystical. There are too many mystical tinges to our Christian faith to name right now.

      But for the sake of your comment, I guess the difference between these two definitions is being aware of supernatural forces on one hand versus claiming to control them on the other. Or perhaps there’s a third that you’re concerned about?

      At its core, postmodernism basically means “question everything”. Within Christian circles, this gives us a great opportunity to correct imbalances. In some cases, postmodernism may be seen to initiate a pendulum swing when a new idea is presented, especially if was previously repressed for some reason. But in due course, with further prayerful investigation, postmodernism tends to draw people back to the centre.

  4. Able Baker
    Able Baker says:

    Art most evangelicals who seem to be dabbling in “post-modernism” are actually attempting to live out the phrase “in essentials unity, in non essentials liberty in all things Jesus Christ” in the following way (much more could be added to this list).
    1. Jesus is absolute truth.
    2. Jesus is a person not an idea,culture or way of behaving.
    3. The person and the work of Jesus is the Gospel.
    4. The process of sanctification is actually the formation of Christ in his followers not a theological system.

    When this is being practiced to some it looks like “new age mysticism” but for most evangelicals it is not. There is much false information out there about this topic you might find this article helpful… http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2007/february/11.35.html?start=1

    That’s just my 2 cents Art. :)

  5. Alan Harstone
    Alan Harstone says:

    Dogma, as I’ve always understood it, has been the cementing of certain religious tenets (truths) in the face of cultural opposition and/or doubt. The Creeds and Councils, for example (including the one in early Jerusalem – Acts 15), were formed as a response to the growing confusion in the community of faith, and the increased hostility from without. Rather than reducing their beliefs to a minimilist ethos they hammered out the great truths of the Bible to affect and inform all Christians in all areas of life and faith. Dogma was seen as a guide, a touchstone, and an anchor in the Christian’s ever-changing culture, not a stumbling block like some leaders think it is today.

    I’m a Free Church fan; have been for years. I love that we can agree to disagree, and still love and serve each other. But I must admit that I’m concerned that we are continuing to reduce our belief system in the EFCC. First we stood firm on 12 points of doctrine, then it became 10. We once stood firm on the issue of ordaining women, now that seems to be changing as we seek to be relevant to the culture and accommodating to our brothers. Next, I’m afraid, we’ll be reviewing the ordination of gays and lesbians in our quest for theological minimilism and the ability to engage our culture and celebrate diversity.

    I think the statement that “Jesus is a Person, not an idea or a behaviour” is an interesting contribution to this. It leaves a lot of room for diversity in behaviour and thought, doesn’t it? But I’d like to suggest that while the statement is true, it’s not entirely true, as Mr. Baker’s next statement clearly shows: “the process of sanctification is actually the formation of Christ in his followers.”

    Sanctification, of course, is Christ-driven and Christ-like behaviour, as God expresses Himself in thoughts and action through each of His blood-bought children. One assumes that these thoughts and actions will be consistent in each of His children, since He is the one doing it. This, then, means that the Person of Christ DOES inform and regulate our behaviour. And dogmas and doctrines, when properly arrived at and properly used, can lend themselves well to informing and guiding the Christian and his culture as to what “Christ-in-us” behaviour actually looks like.

    Now, should the Christian’s life (or the Church’s for that matter) revolve around dogma? Of course not. We should revolve around Christ-in-us, embracing and living out the sanctified behaviour He is forming in us. But let’s not discard or hide our doctrines and dogmas. They are a legitimate expression of Truth as we understand it, and while they may differ somewhat among denominations, they generally have more in common than not. This, then, serves very well to inform both the Church and the world what the Kingdom of God and the mind of Christ really look like.

    Our neighbours may not buy into absolute truth, but we do. And we ought not be embarrassed or timid about it.

    • Communications
      Communications says:

      Thanks for engaging this issue, Al.

      I hear your cautions, and I appreciate where they’re coming from.

      I want to point out that the new 10-article Statement of Faith is actually longer, and more clear than the previous 12-article statement was. That is to say, it tightens up more than it loosens. In that light, the discussion on ordination of women is a separate matter altogether, and is being held on its own terms. I hope that’s reassuring!

      I like what you put about the Christ-in-us perspective, and I also appreciate that you’re saying that’s more important than dogma and doctrine. We don’t have to look too hard to find ways that dogma is, or has been, problematic. But we need sound doctrine to help us communally define orthodoxy and orthopraxy, that’s very important.

      I’m interested in your take on absolute truth. I agree that God is truth, but we are repeatedly told in the Bible that we are not capable of seeing it fully. (eg God’s ways are higher than our ways, the foolishness of God is greater than man’s wisdom, and now we see in a mirror dimly.) Do you see where I’m coming from? What that means to me is that there is leeway for different interpretations on several of these issues based on our different personalities, influences and perhaps even revelation — as long as we aren’t challenging the essentials.

      This is why it’s so important to have a grasp on the agreed-upon essentials, and the rationale for why the EFCC Conference chose them in particular. For that, I was reminded that Bill wrote a blog post a few months ago on the subject. (4 Key Indicators to Define Essentials.)

      Thanks again, Al. I appreciate your sensitivity to these concerns!

  6. Scott Myers
    Scott Myers says:

    Interesting debate and I’m glad to see that Alan has brought to the surface some issues which can be taken for granted, but ought not to be.

    When you speak of absolute truth, are you folks speaking about ‘objectivity’ in the sense that there is one true objective interpretation of all of Scripture? If it is this sense, then yes, truth is absolute because God is truth – absolute truth is intrinsic to his very nature and to have differing interpretations is to divide God, something Scripture is adamant cannot be done.

    I say this because just the other day I spoke with a professor here in Victoria – he is absolutely convinced that when truth was used in relation to God and specifically Christ, it was used in the metaphorical sense. He argued that while truth does exist, we cannot know it absolutely, for we are all biased by our personalities and circumstances. He used 1 Corinthians 13: 12 in the very same way it was used in this blog – we are incapable of seeing (knowing) fully.

    A couple of observations – this passage when considered in full does not place the emphasis on our knowing or ability to know so much as it places the emphasis on God, his grace, and the fact that there is an intimacy and immediacy of God’s knowing which if we are his, we will share some day because of our conformity to Christ – our righteousness, sanctification and glorification are found only in him.

    I say this, because while we may state we only need unity in the essentials, and allow for difference in which is non-essential, the person of Christ (Logos) and his work in our lives is under debate in evangelical circles and should not always be assumed. I’m thinking particularly of the difference between N.T. Wright and John Piper over how we are to handle doctrines such as justification as related to Paul’s N.T. teaching. Certainly justification is an essential, but their respective exegesis differs considerably.

    This is to say, that while we recognize that our understanding of Scripture as it relates to the formulation of our doctrines is necessarily limited and perspectival, not all formulations are equal, or have an equal place at the table. One is necessarily more correct and closer to the mind of God than the others.

    • Communications
      Communications says:

      Welcome back, Scott.

      Oh, now I think I’m beginning to understand why this stuff is of such grave concern for you. You are asserting that a difference of opinion divides God. But if we say that a different interpretation would divide God, we are putting God on a human level. God is superior to our human thought, so our wondering, probing and understanding are not threatening to God in any way. If I thought my ideas were threatening to God, I’d work very hard to make sure I didn’t have any! :-)

      Now let’s flip it around, and look at the point your professor made. He’s saying that human beings aren’t capable of grasping absolute truth — it exists in a different dimension, if you will. Paul’s writing agrees with him in several places (I particularly love 1 Corinthians 1:20-25 for this). As you’ve said, Christ is the embodiment of the Truth. But check it out: how many times did the disciples miss the point? These were the guys with him physically day-in and day-out, and even they didn’t perfectly grasp everything he said or did. How much harder is it when there are roughly 2,000 years separating then from now. If we claim to understand absolute truth with perfect clarity, then we elevate ourselves to God’s level. In John 9:41 Jesus makes it sound far more attractive to not claim that kind of certainty.

      I agree with your last paragraph in principle, and there are sure some weird ideas that pop up that we can abandon without too much fear or pain. But this is where the problem comes in: what do we do with two understandings of Scripture that both line up with the Bible remarkably well? Not having read their particular pieces on this matter, I can still safely assume that John Piper and NT Wright have both arrived where they are through rigorous study of Scripture. In this case we cannot claim an objective perspective, but, if we are honest, we must say that our choice is subjective. We choose the way that feels right, despite the fact that the other opinion has biblical support, and may even be logically sound.

      I don’t say that to advise against making choices. Choices are good, and even boldness is good. But we also need to recognise that by making a choice, we are taking on the risk of being wrong. So humility is good, too.

      Now drawing it back to the essentials conversation — it is appropriate that if we’re talking about justification as an essential, we don’t go too far defining it through our own chosen paradigm. It is appropriate to point someone to the source of truth we have, the Bible, and let the Holy Spirit illuminate it how he sees fit. That takes trust in God, but I’m okay with that — I’ve discovered that my trust is better invested in God than in me. :-)

      I truly hope this helps, Scott.

      As we prepare to honour and celebrate Easter, may the Lord illuminate afresh his faithfulness and grace for us all!

  7. Able Baker
    Able Baker says:

    Alan, many church leaders today do not have a problem with dogma as much as they do with those desiring to replace the formation of Christ in a believer with dogmatism. Dogma is the end result of something formed through conversation, evaluation (etc). Dogma cannot regenerate or create sanctification unless one believes that the sanctification process is a mechanical process of head knowledge or facts. As Christians we should be a people known by our love for those within and without the faith… not our dogmatism. In my mind dogma is a lot like traditions. Traditions are wonderful but spiritually deadly when they replace Christ. Jaroslav Pelikan wrote “Tradition is the living faith of the dead; traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.”

    Alan you said… “We once stood firm on the issue of ordaining women, now that seems to be changing as we seek to be relevant to the culture and accommodating to our brothers. Next, I’m afraid, we’ll be reviewing the ordination of gays and lesbians in our quest for theological minimalism and the ability to engage our culture and celebrate diversity.”
    With tremendous respect for you Allan your comment about woman and homosexuality might come across as bit insulting to women. You have minimalized the issue of women’s ordination and tied it to the logical fallacy of the slippery slope that leads to the sinful act or practice of homosexuality. This would be similar to saying “we once stood firm on the issue of ordaining women, now that seems to be changing as we seek to be relevant to the culture and accommodating to our brothers. Next, I’m afraid, we’ll be reviewing the ordination of FAT PEOPLE in our quest for theological minimalism and the ability to engage our culture and celebrate diversity.”
    First, the Homosexuals I know and pray find Christ are homosexual by nature and by choice. The same reason I am 70 lbs overweight is the same reason a person may wrestle with homosexuality… by nature and by choice. A Christian who wrestles with homosexuality wrestles with a sin nature and a corrupt or fallen volitional. The same thing that makes me a (hypocrite) or fat pastor (who is working on losing weight). Let’s not link gender issues to homosexuality because it is not a sin to be a women with pastoral or leadership gifts.
    Second, I do not see the EFCC moving to ordain women in the name of “minimalism” or “diversity celebration” unless you minimalize the issue and put it in the slippery slope frame your putting it in. The EFCC seems to moving away from some past dogmatism that is the result of simplistic hyper pragmatic biblical eisegesis and moving toward the exegetical conversation of how we should handle some really, really complicated cultural and theological issues for the sake of and in light of the Gospel. I applaud the EFCC churches for their introspection concerning the essential issues it can be humbling and difficult to grow. I know it has been for me.

    Alan you said as well… “I think the statement that “Jesus is a Person, not an idea or a behaviour” is an interesting contribution to this. It leaves a lot of room for diversity in behaviour and thought, doesn’t it? But I’d like to suggest that while the statement is true, it’s not entirely true, as Mr. Baker’s next statement clearly shows: “the process of sanctification is actually the formation of Christ in his followers.”
    The position that I am coming from here is based on the fact that everyone ages and matures at different rates and in different ways. They see truth differently at different points in their lives. Just like my young children. I would not scold my two year old for stealing candy at the store the same way I would my seven year old because discernment is partially the gift of age and experience. So when you say… “One assumes that these thoughts and actions will be consistent in each of His children, since He is the one doing it”… this becomes much more complicated based on the context of the person God is sanctifying. I agree with your statement “Sanctification, of course, is Christ-driven and Christ-like behaviour, as God expresses Himself in thoughts and action through each of His blood-bought children.” However, Christ in me looks different than Christ in you. We are not automatons we are persons the Spirits sanctifying work in us is a personal and relative work not a robotic and systematic process. When God draws sinners to himself it is messy process not clean and uniform.

    Alan I see these two of your statements that seem to be working against each other.

    First, “But I must admit that I’m concerned that we are continuing to reduce our belief system in the EFCC. First we stood firm on 12 points of doctrine, then it became 10. WE ONCE STOOD FIRM ON THE ISSUE of ordaining women, now THAT SEEMS TO BE CHANGING as we seek to be relevant to the culture and accommodating to our brothers.”

    Second, “NOW, SHOULD THE CHRISTIAN’S LIFE (OR THE CHURCH’S FOR THAT MATTER) REVOLVE AROUND DOGMA? OF COURSE NOT. We should revolve around Christ-in-us, embracing and living out the sanctified behaviour He is forming in us.”

    Christ in me is what is causing me to reexamine some of my past doctrinal and cultural issues. I am changing, evolving, moving growing as the result of sanctification and I am thankful for that.

  8. Alan Harstone
    Alan Harstone says:

    Thank you for your comments, Able. Having studied logic, may I remind you that the Slippery Slope argument is not always a fallacy, but is considered accurate when it is demonstrated how “A” leads to “B”?

    While it is true that reviewing the theology of women in ministry does not necessarily lead to reviewing the theology of gays in ministry, it certainly opens the door wider, since the motivation is usually the same — to quote you: “handling some really, really complicated cultural and theological issues for the sake of and in light of the Gospel.”

    Before I say more, let me assure you that my comments have nothing to do with prejudice — only biblical truth. Some of the most gifted people in my church are women, but I don’t believe the Scriptures allow them to be ordained pastors (and up until recently, this was the decades-old understanding of our denomination, and many others, as well). May I also say that I have homosexuals in my family whom I deeply love, but would never allow to occupy my pulpit — again, for biblical reasons.

    Let’s be honest, our denomination is late to the table on the ordination issue. Most, though not all, denominations who once stood firmly against this for theological reasons, long ago reviewed and changed their theology to accommodate a determined culture. And it’s interesting to me that most, though not all, are now currently reviewing their theology about gays in ministry. Why? Because the culture is demanding it. And I fear we will do the same somewhere down the road.

    It is certainly not foolish to suggest that once we re-adjust our theology on one issue to accomodate the demands of the culture, we will find it easier to review and adjust our theology to meet other demanding cultural issues as well. And I, for one, must admit that I am increasingly troubled as I watch more and more conservative Christian groups caving in to this pressure instead of standing up to it with a firm and holy “NO!” I believe if Tozer could see what’s happening to the evangelical movement today he’d be on his knees at the foot of his bed weeping. He’s probably just rolling over in his grave instead.

    I’m also sad when I see comments like “past dogmatism that is the result of simplistic hyper pragmatic biblical eisegesis”. Words like these tend to insult what our forefathers often wrestled long and hard for as they diligently studied and prayed through God’s Word.

    As for your “wide-is-the-road” understanding of sanctification, Able, may I humbly refer you to a wonderful book on this important subject by J.C. Ryle — “Holiness: It’s Nature, Hindrance, Difficulties, and Roots”?

    Blessings,
    Al

    • Communications
      Communications says:

      Al, I’m asking this entirely as discussion moderator: you are picking up on Able’s assertion that we “[handle] some really, really complicated cultural and theological issues for the sake of and in light of the Gospel.” How would you express that differently?

  9. Marshall Janzen
    Marshall Janzen says:

    Hello Al,

    I’m wondering if it might be useful to take a step further back in this supposed chain of causation. Most denominations that have reconsidered their position on women in ministry leadership or ordination have previously reconsidered their position on interracial marriage and also on women wearing head coverings. Does that mean that permitting interracial marriage or not mandating women’s head coverings leads to women’s ordination? Or, conversely, does that mean if a denomination does not allow women to be ordained or lead ministry, they are on the slippery slope towards banning interracial marriage and enforcing head coverings for women?

    If we’re going to bring slippery slopes into this, don’t we need to consider that there may be more than one direction to the slope, and believe it or not, we might not currently be at the summit of perfection?

  10. Able Baker
    Able Baker says:

    ALAN YOU SAID…
    “THANK YOU FOR YOUR COMMENTS, ABLE. HAVING STUDIED LOGIC, MAY I REMIND YOU THAT THE SLIPPERY SLOPE ARGUMENT IS NOT ALWAYS A FALLACY, BUT IS CONSIDERED ACCURATE WHEN IT IS DEMONSTRATED HOW “A” LEADS TO “B”? WHILE IT IS TRUE THAT REVIEWING THE THEOLOGY OF WOMEN IN MINISTRY DOES NOT NECESSARILY LEAD TO REVIEWING THE THEOLOGY OF GAYS IN MINISTRY, IT CERTAINLY OPENS THE DOOR WIDER, SINCE THE MOTIVATION IS USUALLY THE SAME — TO QUOTE YOU: “HANDLING SOME REALLY, REALLY COMPLICATED CULTURAL AND THEOLOGICAL ISSUES FOR THE SAKE OF AND IN LIGHT OF THE GOSPEL.”
    My Response…
    A slippery slope argument is NOT considered valid when it is taken into consideration that there is middle ground and when there are already certain existing relationships between A and B. The slippery slope case does not work when these two extremes are being compared. This is not the case when these two extremes are being compared. I appreciate the fact that you see that it is “TRUE THAT REVIEWING THE THEOLOGY OF WOMEN IN MINISTRY DOES NOT NECESSARILY LEAD TO REVIEWING THE THEOLOGY OF GAYS IN MINISTRY,”
    Allan I have tried to show you that there is middle ground. I believe the middle ground is a less polemic and more irenic place to be Christ like on many of these issues.

    I am confused by this statement however… “IT CERTAINLY OPENS THE DOOR WIDER, SINCE THE MOTIVATION IS USUALLY THE SAME — TO QUOTE YOU: “HANDLING SOME REALLY, REALLY COMPLICATED CULTURAL AND THEOLOGICAL ISSUES FOR THE SAKE OF AND IN LIGHT OF THE GOSPEL.”
    How is my statement connected to “opening the door” and “the motivation”?

    I am also confused by what you mean by Gays in the ministry.
    1.Do you mean a Christian minister who is openly homosexual and without apology practices a homosexual life style?
    2. Do you mean a Christian minister who openly wrestles with homosexual desires but sees them as wrong and does everything necessary to whats right.

    YOU SAID…
    BEFORE I SAY MORE, LET ME ASSURE YOU THAT MY COMMENTS HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH PREJUDICE — ONLY BIBLICAL TRUTH. SOME OF THE MOST GIFTED PEOPLE IN MY CHURCH ARE WOMEN, BUT I DON’T BELIEVE THE SCRIPTURES ALLOW THEM TO BE ORDAINED PASTORS (AND UP UNTIL RECENTLY, THIS WAS THE DECADES-OLD UNDERSTANDING OF OUR DENOMINATION, AND MANY OTHERS, AS WELL). MAY I ALSO SAY THAT I HAVE HOMOSEXUALS IN MY FAMILY WHOM I DEEPLY LOVE, BUT WOULD NEVER ALLOW TO OCCUPY MY PULPIT — AGAIN, FOR BIBLICAL REASONS.
    LET’S BE HONEST, OUR DENOMINATION IS LATE TO THE TABLE ON THE ORDINATION ISSUE. MOST, THOUGH NOT ALL, DENOMINATIONS WHO ONCE STOOD FIRMLY AGAINST THIS FOR THEOLOGICAL REASONS, LONG AGO REVIEWED AND CHANGED THEIR THEOLOGY TO ACCOMMODATE A DETERMINED CULTURE. AND IT’S INTERESTING TO ME THAT MOST, THOUGH NOT ALL, ARE NOW CURRENTLY REVIEWING THEIR THEOLOGY ABOUT GAYS IN MINISTRY. WHY? BECAUSE THE CULTURE IS DEMANDING IT. AND I FEAR WE WILL DO THE SAME SOMEWHERE DOWN THE ROAD.
    IT IS CERTAINLY NOT FOOLISH TO SUGGEST THAT ONCE WE RE-ADJUST OUR THEOLOGY ON ONE ISSUE TO ACCOMODATE THE DEMANDS OF THE CULTURE, WE WILL FIND IT EASIER TO REVIEW AND ADJUST OUR THEOLOGY TO MEET OTHER DEMANDING CULTURAL ISSUES AS WELL. AND I, FOR ONE, MUST ADMIT THAT I AM INCREASINGLY TROUBLED AS I WATCH MORE AND MORE CONSERVATIVE CHRISTIAN GROUPS CAVING IN TO THIS PRESSURE INSTEAD OF STANDING UP TO IT WITH A FIRM AND HOLY “NO!” I BELIEVE IF TOZER COULD SEE WHAT’S HAPPENING TO THE EVANGELICAL MOVEMENT TODAY HE’D BE ON HIS KNEES AT THE FOOT OF HIS BED WEEPING. HE’S PROBABLY JUST ROLLING OVER IN HIS GRAVE INSTEAD. ”
    My Response…
    Now this is a place where the slippery slope SHOULD work and to be honest I am surprised it has not. If we allow SLAVES the right to choose to be free like everyone else than what will happen next? WOMEN’s rights? I am actually confused why you’re not on this slippery slope? A should actually lead to B on this one. I actually have hard solid bible proof that slavery is acceptable and that running away or rebelling against your owner is wrong. Alan you have slid from this principle and adjusted to your culture and have made exegetical adjustments to hold the same view that I do on slavery because culture (Christian and secular) has made a change so have you. Why have you not allowed the same process to take place with women? (A) should logically lead to(B) here.

    YOU SAID…
    I’M ALSO SAD WHEN I SEE COMMENTS LIKE “PAST DOGMATISM THAT IS THE RESULT OF SIMPLISTIC HYPER PRAGMATIC BIBLICAL EISEGESIS”. WORDS LIKE THESE TEND TO INSULT WHAT OUR FOREFATHERS OFTEN WRESTLED LONG AND HARD FOR AS THEY DILIGENTLY STUDIED AND PRAYED THROUGH GOD’S WORD.
    MY RESPONSE…
    Wrestling over, praying over and diligent study does not equate to sound doctrine. If it did Mormons, Jehovah witnesses, Muslims and Buddhists would have sound doctrine as well. My comments were not geared at their character only the product their environment produced. Again I quote Jaroslav Pelikan wrote “Tradition is the living faith of the dead; traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.” The faith and work of those who have gone before us is their living faith but it is not my faith because they are not living in my world.
    YOU SAID…
    AS FOR YOUR “WIDE-IS-THE-ROAD” UNDERSTANDING OF SANCTIFICATION, ABLE, MAY I HUMBLY REFER YOU TO A WONDERFUL BOOK ON THIS IMPORTANT SUBJECT BY J.C. RYLE — “HOLINESS: IT’S NATURE, HINDRANCE, DIFFICULTIES, AND ROOTS”?
    RESPONSE…
    In an earlier response to you is said “I agree with your statement “Sanctification, of course, is Christ-driven and Christ-like behaviour, as God expresses Himself in thoughts and action through each of His blood-bought children.” So I am having a difficult time understanding how your view is “wide-is-the-road”. When does this reasoning stop? The generation before you thought the same thing about yours and so on. See Alan we might be a little more similar than you might think. We both believe “Sanctification, of course, is Christ-driven and Christ-like behaviour, as God expresses Himself in thoughts and action through each of His blood-bought children”. The younger generations like mine are not “wide-is-the-roaders”. We actually love God and love our neighbors. We desire to share the person and the work of Jesus with everyone in our time and with our means.

    Blessings,
    Able

  11. Alan Harstone
    Alan Harstone says:

    Brad, I think the answer can be found in my last post — rather than tweaking our polity and theology to accommodate our culture, we need to remain firm in presenting what we believe Scripture teaches on these cultural issues. I guess the question before us now is, “what does the EFCC actually believe?”

    My concern has long been that in order to reach our culture we (evangelicals) have too often allowed our culture to lead us around by the nose. For example, for decades, if not centuries, it was understood that Scripture did not support remarriage after a divorce, and so very few Catholic or Protestant churches would perform remarriage ceremonies, even though the culture was increasingly demanding it. Jesus was firm on this in the face of cultural pressure. So too was John the Baptist and the Apostle Paul. But, sadly, in order to reach our demanding culture, many Evangelical churches today have decided to tweak their theology and polity so they can reach their neighbours with a more palatable version of the Gospel. I’ve lost count of how many pastors I’ve talked to over the years who admit they’ve given in on the remarriage issue, not because of theological conviction, but because they were tired of being called unloving, judgmental, and insensitive by their congregations and neighbours.

    Let me give you another example: this ordination issue before us. Up until recently our denomination had a fairly clear understanding that we are complementarians. Until recently there was a collective agreement that although women may be greatly gifted in many areas of leadership, including in the secular world, this gifting does not qualify them for pastoral leadership in the church. We seemed to understand that the roles of men and women are different in God’s Kingdom. The Egalitarian view had little traction in our movement. But now it appears, under pressure from a government that insists we ordain our female chaplains, we are re-visiting our theology and polity in order to meet their demand. And, sadly (in my view) we are already seeing the “trickle-down” effect as we expand the scope from chaplaincy to full pastoral ministry, even though I’m told slippery slopes don’t exist.

    I understand, that we must address the challenges of our culture. But this is hardly a new challenge. The Church of Christ has always had to face cultural issues. Many of the old creeds and doctrines were hammered out as a result of growing cultural pressure on the Church to reform and change. But once hammered out, the churches stood firmly on a mutually arrived at (thankfully) conservative/orthodox theology, and continued to offer their cultures God’s alternative to the secular experience.

    I’ve watched with great pleasure as I’ve seen large conservative churches in the United States standing firm on their convictions in the face of a changing culture — and yet enjoying great growth as young adults look for certainty and structure in their relativistic lives. I’ve also lived long enough to see many of the mainline churches in Canada modify and compromise their theology on these issues so that they could be more inclusive and “better love” people who disagreed with them. Sadly, however, their attendance numbers have greatly diminished and their influence has waned. What they were trying to accomplish has blown up in their faces.

    As we engage the culture, Brad, I think we need to remind them that God’s Kingdom offers a unique alternative to what they’re experiencing in society. God’s Kingdom operates differently from the world. We have different principles and values. And while we long with all of our hearts to reach every soul in our culture, we shouldn’t compromise or change our beliefs and values in order to soothe the lost and make them less hostile toward us. I can minister copious amounts of love and grace to a homosexual without having to embrace his sin and call it “blessed”. This idea that love and doctrine are mutually exclusive and crippling is utter nonsense, in my opinion. I can minister to the atheist and the seeker quite effectively without compromising God’s Word.

    This leads me to my last point. We need to remember that God doesn’t call us to be friends with the world in order to win them. It’s not our persuasiveness and tolerance (which the world calls love) that reaches sinners for Christ. It is Christ speaking words of life through us into the tomb of their dark souls (“Lazarus, come forth!”). Our job is to engage and reach our culture with God’s uncompromising truth and love. God’s job is to save them.

    Blessings,
    Al

    • Communications
      Communications says:

      Al, that was a long response, but you didn’t quite answer my question. Able picked up on this, too. In the quote that you picked out of his earlier comment, “handling some really, really complicated cultural and theological issues for the sake of and in light of the Gospel,” you are seeing motivation to cave to culture. But that’s pretty clearly coming from your assumption, not his. On face value, that motivation is not in those words. I will ask the question a different way: Do you disagree with the statement as it sits?

      A key truth that hasn’t been spoken in this discussion, and one that might be interesting to add, is that the Free Church did not always have “a fairly clear understanding that we are complementarians”. There are two strands of Evangelical Free Church that came together in North America, and one of those strands was historically egalitarian. Also, you are not paying credence to the fact that egalitarians have existed, and exist in this movement, and they have felt repressed. (This has been expressed publicly at Conference.) Strict, conservative complementarians had better be aware that they own this authoritative repression — woe to them if they would wrongly wield it in God’s name!

      In your last point, you’re not suggesting that we shouldn’t be friends with the world, right? Initially I thought that’s what you meant, but with deliberation I read your point to mean that we shouldn’t begin relationships with a manipulative agenda. In that, I think you’d find broad agreement. Personally, I would flip the order; I would put love before uncompromising truth, but I agree with that directive.

      Jesus told us to lift him up, and he will draw people to himself. God’s truth is indeed uncompromising, but the invitation through Christ is generous, welcoming and open to all. We can trust this because we feel it: Jesus is divinely attractive!

  12. Able Baker
    Able Baker says:

    Hello Scott. You said… “He argued that while truth does exist, we cannot know it absolutely, for we are all biased by our personalities and circumstances. He used 1 Corinthians 13: 12 in the very same way it was used in this blog – we are incapable of seeing (knowing) fully.”

    I heard it expressed this way several years ago and it really made me stop and think about the issue of truth as it pertains to Christianity. Here is the statement (I like it) I was wondering what you might think of it.

    “Jesus is absolute truth all other truth is relative.”

  13. Able Baker
    Able Baker says:

    Brad you said… “Jesus is divinely attractive!”

    It caused me to think of this conversation Jesus had with his disciples and Peters simple and amazing response.

    So Jesus said to the twelve “Do you want to go away as well?”

    Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed and come to know that you are the Holy One of God.” John 6:67-69

    • Communications
      Communications says:

      Able, the one freshest in my mind is the passage after the resurrection in Luke where the disciples said to one another: “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?”

  14. Alan Harstone
    Alan Harstone says:

    Brad, I thought I had answered your question. I guess I don’t understand what you’re driving at. I agree that we Christians must deal with some really, really complicated cultural and theological issues for the sake of and in light of the Gospel. But changing our theology to deal with these issues isn’t the answer. I thought my answer addressed that — we deal with these complicated issues by standing firm on our standards, while at the same time loving people with the wonderful grace of God. If that’s not what you were getting at, please forgive my ignorance.

    Able, you said: “Wrestling over, praying over and diligent study does not equate to sound doctrine. If it did Mormons, Jehovah witnesses, Muslims and Buddhists would have sound doctrine as well.” I’m surprised that you would suggest this. None of the groups you mention here are being led by the Holy Spirit, whereas I’m quite convinced the early church fathers were. You appear to be comparing apples with oranges. My point was that it was born again, Spirit-led Christian leaders and apologists over the centuries who wrestled over, prayed over (accessing the Spirit’s guidance), and diligently studied God’s Word in arriving at the creeds, doctrines, and dogmas we Protestants have long accepted. Again and again they were led by God to defend and frame His holy Word. And again and again (thankfully), by the guidance of God they arrived at consistently conservative/orthodox understandings of the Scriptures in the face of pressure to re-interpret His Word to accommodate a changing culture.

    Now, for the sake of what might need clarification (and perhaps I’m wrong — I’ve been wrong ONCE before) :0), let me quickly comment on Christ’s “divine attractiveness”. It seems to me that Jesus is only divinely attractive to those who have the spiritual eyes to see Him this way (Luke 24:31,45, etc.) If we are suggesting (and maybe you aren’t) that His divine attractiveness is what draws people to Himself, I’m not sure the Scriptures agree with that. Simply showing the world His beauty (both in character and Word) doesn’t attract people to Jesus Christ. Isaiah 53 was pretty clear about that: “He had no beauty that people would be attracted to Him. He was despised and forsaken by men”, even though His divine beauty was so wonderfully displayed to Israel and the surrounding regions. Jesus said, “You haven’t believed in Me even though you have seen Me. However, those the Father has given me will come to me, and I will never reject them.” (John 6:36,37)

    Those hearts that “burn within” can ONLY be the hearts of those who are already born again and regenerated by the Spirit of God. A dead sinner’s heart never burns within him/her for Christ. “We are dead in our trespasses and sins”, the Bible says. Dead people neither see nor hear anything of spiritual value (1 Cor. 2:14). It is impossible for a dead person to be attracted to Christ’s divine beauty. God must first speak words of life into his dead soul before he/she can see the divine beauty of the risen Saviour. A Christian or church can stand at the door of their neighbour’s heart (which is a total tomb) for months and even years displaying the truth and beauty of Jesus, and “opening up the Scriptures” to them, but still get absoloutely zero response. I went through that with my in-laws. I lived Christ, showed them His great love and beauty, and shared His Word with them often. But right up to the day they died they simply didn’t hear or get it — there was nothing divinely beautiful about Jesus to them. Jesus never spoke words of life into their hearts, I believe because only “those the Father has given Me will come to Me, and no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to Him by the Father” (John 6:65). It’s only when Jesus calls out the sinner’s name and says “Awake and arise, and come out”, that the sinner can see and appreciate God’s Word in both His beauty and eternal truth. His divine beauty is wonderful for the men, women, and angels that are already committed to Him, but does nothing on its own to draw sinners to Himself…at least as I understand God’s Word.

    Finally, this thread is starting to look more and more like a debate. I thought that was verboten? ;0)

    • Communications
      Communications says:

      Al, this is the greatest story ever told! Even people who can’t take the leap of faith to believe in it, like my literature prof in a secular university, affirm that the story of Jesus Christ is beautiful. There is a reason why it is the prototype for innumerable stories around the world.

      If people can’t see the beauty in Jesus’ narrative, maybe we’re telling it wrong. Or maybe it’s because instead of telling it, and letting it come alive in people’s hearts, we’re too immersed in our complementarian vs. egalitarian squabbles. :-\

      Oh man, if I was moderating a debate here, and not a discussion, I’d be doing a better job of keeping it on-topic. :-)

  15. Able Baker
    Able Baker says:

    I appreciate this discussion with you Alan and I respect your ministry. I think we just come from completely different backgrounds to see eye to eye on this topic. One of us is from Alexandria the other Antioch :)

  16. Alan Harstone
    Alan Harstone says:

    I believe you are right, Able. Even Paul and Barnabas couldn’t agree and parted company.

    Be blessed, Barnabas! ;0)

    Al

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