I have a tendency to write blog entries in my head when I am trying to fall asleep. It is very annoying, like an endless song going through your head that you can't turn off and that keeps you awake much longer than your neighbour's outdoor oldies drifting over your backyard pool would. On Tuesday night I stayed up too late writing a card to a friend, winding me up enough to guarantee that after my prayers I would begin writing a blog entry. Why I cannot stop myself I don't know and since Wednesday night I was going to be seeing Pirates of the Caribbean Dead Man's Chest, I knew I wouldn't be able to write a real blog entry for at least one more night, putting me at risk for another late-night session of blog revising and editing combined with movie impressions and images and snippets of repetitive movie music. Not a good combination for sleep. Now I have a chance to write the actual blog and I cannot begin it. In my mind, believe me, it was a masterpiece unparalleled in the postings of this blog....
...It all began with reflections on the wrongness of Christian groups, some of them cults, some of them insular conservative denominations, some of them less isolated but never-the-less prideful denominations, who decide they are where it is at, and those Christians outside their community are either not true Christians whose salvation is in doubt or less enlightened or less worthy or less right than their group, people with whom it wouldn't do to commune with at the Lord's table because their theology isn't right and besides they don't even concurr with the correct explanation of the Eucharist.These late-night musings were once again provoked in part by Michener's The Covenant (see my last post) in which we see an extreme example of this attitude. In this historical epic about South Africa, a Calvinist Africaner honestly believes that God did not make a covenant with the English as he did with the Dutch and each layer of society should remain separate like stacked layers of coloured jello (with the lemon Africaner layer on top ofcourse). In Michener's portrayal, speculation about the salvation of nations as a whole leaves many Africaners certain that while some individuals in certain nations may be saved, it is likely most of the Bantu and a good portion of the English nation are not as the English are not Calvinist and the Bantu are sons of Ham. I was just reading today an apartheid reading of the New Testament and the way they were using certain passages was wrong and disturbing, yet laughable and oddly fascinating at the same time. How the Pentecost account of different peoples hearing Christ's followers speak the gospel message each in their own tongues could morph into a racial theory that each people should remain distinct and separate in each language and culture is strangely disturbing and completely unexpected, and that is only the beginning.
I think any Christian group that starts to speculate, even if not openly, on how many of another Christian group are likely to be saved, is in serious trouble. To think your group has an unique handle on God's truth is arrogant and, while it may be true that you have a more correct view on a certain doctrine, it does not follow that you are a more shining example of what it means to be Christ-like. The things that are held in common with our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ are much more important than the differences that divide. In my view, no one knows an individual's heart, but anyone who holds to the Apostle's Creed and is attempting to follow Christ in their life should be considered a Christian. Maybe they are not and certain things can clearly disqualify them from an inheritance in the kingdom of God, but it is possible to have all the correct theological and doctrinal views and still miss out on following Christ. When the correct Christian worldview becomes more important than a life of discipleship, there is something seriously out of balance. Yes ideas are important and correct Biblical interpretation is important and a well considered worldview is important, but more important is living out what you believe and becoming more and more like Christ. (I am often guilty myself of being rich in ideas and theories, but impoverished in my practice of my faith and my discipleship.) And yes the three forms of unity contain much carefully reasoned theology, but any Spirit-filled believer who reads the Bible will recognize the difference between systematic doctrine, carefully demarcated from other Christian traditions of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and the God-breathed inspired Word of God. So let's not make the lack of the three forms of unity a cause for division and separation. Or beliefs about adult and infant baptism for that matter. Or the use of icons in Orthodox churches. It's okay to cherish your denomination's particular traditions and understandings, but don't fail to recognize how God is working in another denomination or church tradition just because you don't agree with a particular belief or practice.
I think often God works within our frameworks of belief. So an Eastern Orthodox believer might be drawn close to God, gain an immediate sense of his presence and love as she prays with her heart and her whole self by the discipline of "The Jesus Prayer" while a charismatic believer might be able to pray to God with her spirit, enhance her relationship to Christ and service and witness to him, and enter a new dimension of praise by the use of tongues. God is working in each case to accomplish a similar result, the enhancement of prayer from prayer merely of the mind to prayer of the whole self, but the Eastern Orthodox believer would likely be hesitant about using tongues and disagree with the charismatic's teaching about them and the charismatic believer would likely lack the discipline to master the Jesus prayer so it becomes a prayer of the heart and the prayer of Christ in her. I have noticed that God works in ways we are open to and that we have faith for. He works with our limitations and around our hang-ups. Our understandings also shape our awareness of how he is working.
Some may think I am too inclusive and lack discernment ("don't you think the Reformation was necessary?" they might well ask or "aren't prayers to Mary and the saints just plain wrong?"), but others would consider me much too narrow. I believe Christ's words that he is the Way, the Truth, and the Life and that no one comes to the Father except by him. I do not consider liberal so-called Christians who do not believe in Jesus' physical resurrection genuine Christians, and I do not think other religions are equally valid ways to God, though I can see some truths in other religions. I don't know how it all works out, but it strikes me that who Christ is is the central question that everyone must decide. These claims for Christ may seem incredibly arrogant and offensive, especially in the postmodern world, but I believe they are true.
In the coming kingdom of Christ there will be people from every language, tribe, and people. So we can expect an amazing variety, yet wonderful unity. And there will not be segregration or division at the marriage supper of the Lamb. I'm looking forward to that day, but I think we can already get a foretaste of it here, the oneness Jesus prayed we would have before he went to the cross. God has a task for all of us, of all Christian traditions and personalities, and our very differences can actually enhance the body of Christ and help us to reach more people as we work together to advance the Kingdom.