Drinking Deeply

Thursday, June 28, 2007 at 9:45 AM

Fighting words (3)

I promised a response to Jeff, and I think I'm going to put one together now. I'd rather do a short one right now then plan to do a longer one and never get to it.

In my previous post, "fighting words (2)" Jeff made the following comment, and I'll try to respond as clearly as I can -
I think all this talk about words is really a red herring. The Church is not entrusted as the guardian of the words "Christian" or "evangelical". If everyone started used the word "Christian" to mean "soccer fan", things would be a little confusing for people living across the usage gap, but eventually we'd find a less ambiguous name for our religion and move on. (Maybe "Yeshuans".) At least that's my perspective--do you think there's really something important about those particular sounds? I think that's just a distraction.

What's really at issue is heterodoxy--what you call "theological adultery". The real problem is not what people with outlandish theological views call themselves. It's the views themselves, or the views in conjunction with claiming fellowship with the body of Christ--not what label they use, but what community they identify with.
Yes, I think I understand you, and I agree. The specific sounds are really irrelevant. To today's culture the term is Christian and Evangelical, to the 1st century greek, the phrase was "followers of the way." But here's the question, to take a modern day application, nowadays many associate "Christian" with Republican. Does that mean Christians should pack up their bags and use a different term?
Now, here too we disagree pretty deeply. I think there are two distinct issues here. One of them is group identification. Now, insofar as we have reason to set a bar at all for whom we call our siblings, I think we should set it low, open the gate wide, eat with the prostitutes. My mention of the ancient creeds was meant to gesture at one such low bar of common faith. (And certainly the bar for this can't be so high that "disagreeing with the Bible" in any detail is enough to disqualify someone from fellowship. Can it?)
But Jesus didn't eat with all the prostitutes, he ate with the repentant ones. In the same way, why should we allow unrepentant people to call themselves members of the body of Christ? There are stern warnings in Scripture about church discipline (1 Cor. 5, Hebrews 12:12-17), similarly there are stern charges in the OT about the purity of the body, since this is the body of Christ.

And regarding ancient creeds, their original intent was not to lay down a groundwork of unity that all of Christendom could agree with, but rather to divide the orthodox from the heretics. Yes, the writing of them was an act of unity, but it was a unity against falsehood, not a unity that welcomed all comers. In the same way, Christians today are to be continually on guard against heresy in the same way. When it becomes serious enough, the Church must be clear about what is Christian (or evangelical) and what is not.

And yes, I agree with you that one minor disagreement with the Bible is not enough to bar fellowship. My point was that the bar should not be set apart from Scripture, which I think you would agree with.
But then there's a completely separate question: how should we respond to bad doctrine? You and I share a love for the truth, and especially the truth about the gospel of God, and I agree with you that it should be honored and defended. I admit that I often have a harder time identifying sound doctrine when I see it, but that only gives me more incentive to hammer it out and test claims to see how they stand up. And where I'm in error, I passionately want to be corrected with love and rigor. And similarly, when I see others spout what I take to be dangerous nonsense, I want to do my part on the side of edifying sense. So yes, when people say false things, argue! Win them over--not by name-calling, but by the evidence of reason and revelation--and by the power of the spirit. (Or be won over, if it turns out they're right!)

But I don't think we should be wasting our time ruling who's in and who's out of the fold. We should be vying for truth. The important question isn't which doctrines count as "Christian" or not--it's which ones are right! Let's not muddy the waters by fighting for words, or group labels, but rather fight for truth.
Ok, I think I agree with your sentiment here. Yes, let's fight for truth and not just for words. But I think Douglas Wilson's original point, and mine too, is to answer the question, "what happens when we know what truth is, but people persist in error and even go so far as to call error, "truth" "?

The answer is church discipline. And it's the physical casting someone out of the body of Christ (after the proper steps of course), that helps the body of Christ preserve and protect it's purity. So when someone comes out calling himself a Christian but ends up denying the Trinity, the reality of sin, and a few other important biblical concepts, we should speak up and say "hey, that person isn't Christian, this (points) is what true Christianity actually is."

(On a related note: http://trinities.org/blog/archives/72)
Interesting post. I would not agree. There seem to be clear Scriptural standards that make some beliefs (and I would add on, "acts") heretical -> to the point where a Christian must divide from them. Titus 3:10 points to such ideas - As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him. The Bible does put a burden upon individual believers to remove themselves from false teachers (or remove the false teachers).

Sorry for the delay in response.

To summarize. What I'm arguing for, and what I think Douglas Wilson is arguing for, is that Christians are to speak up and reject falsehood, to defend the church and body of Christ from all lofty opinions and arguments set up against the glory of God, and this includes the group-identification of "Evangelical" or "Christian." Why do we blindly allow other people to take the term that has been used for centuries and sneak in false teachings under that label? So we should fight, refuting and rejecting falsehood, casting out and repudiating false teachers when the claim the label of Christian but in fact are not.

I agree that the first step is to fight to understand truth, "what is it?" But having defined it, we must fight for it, defending it from all comers.


Links to this post:

Create a Link

Blogger John R. Ahern said...

Great dialogue! Grace's little sister, if you remember me. I was the big Doug Wilson fan with Thomistic tendencies.

Mm. Fascinating argument. I would maybe tend towards Douglas Wilson's position (and yours, hence, I think).

I wish I had something more to say, but I really don't. Just an excuse to say how interesting the argument is, though I haven't yet the capacity to fully understand it. I'll look into it, definitely.  


Blogger John R. Ahern said...

Hm. Sorry to double comment. I meant, I'm Grace's little brother.

In case you didn't know from Grace, absent mindedness is hereditary.  


Blogger jefe said...

But here's the question, to take a modern day application, nowadays many associate "Christian" with Republican. Does that mean Christians should pack up their bags and use a different term?

I think that we should use whatever terms are going to help us to communicate most clearly. It takes a pretty extreme situation for that to involve making up new words. Usually it's best to stick with the closest words we've got and just explain how our use differs from the common use. But this is very different, note, from trying to browbeat others into using the words the same way we do. That seems uselessly hostile, not to mention futile.

But Jesus didn't eat with all the prostitutes, he ate with the repentant ones.

Where do you read this? That's an honest question. (Recall 1 Cor 15.10.)

Ok, now for the issue of church discipline. You clearly take this to mean something much, much broader than I would. Who imposes discipline? I'd say: church leaders. You'd say: all believers? Who do they impose it on? I'd say: the members of their flocks. You'd say: anyone at all? In particular, while I believe there is a place for church discipline, I would definitely not include denouncing strangers under that heading. Maybe you can help clarify exactly where we part ways?

But I think Douglas Wilson's original point, and mine too, is to answer the question, "what happens when we know what truth is, but people persist in error and even go so far as to call error, "truth" "?

Sorry, my slogan "fight for truth" wasn't supposed to mean just "fight to understand the truth"--though of course that's important--but "defend the truth": do your best to help other people see and understand that truth too. But how should we do this? I think that name-calling has no place. In these kinds of debates calling other people's views "unchristian" or "heretical" (even if they are) is about as helpful as calling people "stupid" or "ugly" (even if they are). It should be quite enough to call them "wrong"! And then, more importantly, to show why they're wrong.

My underlying concern is that, especially in the world of Internet theological demagoguery, it's all to easy to be a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. When we run across someone saying ridiculous things that really raise our hackles, and as lovers of the truth we're reaching for the comment button or our own blog--what can we say that will exhibit genuine love and humility and help this person (and their readers) see the truth? Most of the time I reckon "You're not really a Christian" isn't it.  


Drop a thought