People of the Spirit, worshiping Jesus in all places, at all times

In the past week, I’ve had my heart broken several times. Not through anything said or done to me, but no one who experiences the love of God expressed in Jesus’ work on the cross can help but love the Church. And when the Church fails (she does), it hurts. This week I’ve seen people who will only baptize with a profession of faith suggest they can’t have a full partnership with those who baptize the children of believers. I’ve seen Calvinists say they can’t have full partnership with Arminians, Amyraldians, “modified Calvinists”, or Wesleyans. I’ve seen complementarians and egalitarians both say they can’t have full partnership with one another. And the worst thing is…none of those issues actually has to do with the Good News about Jesus.

Now, these things hurt because I was not for infant baptism when I was confirmed in the Anglican Church. I’ve come to a place where I can accept it and, when I finally get ordained, in good conscience baptize the children of believers, but I maintain that the strongest practice is baptizing upon a profession of faith and would not argue with a move in that direction. So to see people say “We can’t sit at the same table” is disheartening, because I was welcomed with open arms in a way that honored Jesus. I would call myself, in some senses, a Calvinist and a complementarian, though I find myself increasingly appalled by the disparaging things they have written about “the others.” More and more, I have to say “They don’t speak for me!”

But why? Why should I even have to? We’re the Church! And just like the Church isn’t a building and isn’t the people, it isn’t a theology. Calvinism or non-Calvinism, complementarianism or egalitarianism, political or Anabaptist, or any of the frequent fights that appear in books, on the airwaves, throughout the internet are not Gospel issues. The closest coming near to being a Gospel issue in these squabbles is baptism — which, so long as it proclaims the Gospel clearly, is not a threat to the Gospel message.

I understand the need for boundaries in the Church. We do have to have ways to determine whether someone is really of the faith– or if their church is really of the faith. But, friends, we have those things already. The early Church pointed to catholicity: do the things taught and practiced align with the teaching and practice of the rest of the global church (allowing for cultural differences)? In the Reformation, we thought seriously about the marks of a true church and settled on three: (1) the Word of God is rightly preached, (2) the sacraments of baptism and communion properly administered, and (3) church discipline is lawfully exercised. In the Pentecostal movement, we learned to see that these marks (catholicity, Scriptures, sacraments, and legitimate authority) are applied to us by the Spirit, so that all Christians have opportunity as we submit to the Spirit, to see our common experience across our cultures and traditions.

Brothers and sisters, so long as our teaching agrees with the Good News about Jesus and the rest of the Scriptures, and remains in the bounds of the Nicene Creed, we can have fellowship because we have been buried and raised with Christ in baptism and sit together at His table in communion. We can submit to one another in love, following the examples of the leaders that Jesus gave us through the Spirit in every place and at all times.

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Comments on: "The Church is not a Theology" (6)

  1. My heart breaks for these things as well, but here is my objection: I feel the need to reject those who choose to reject others on the grounds you’ve mentioned, issues such as complimentarianism vs. egalitarianism, or Calvinism vs. Arminianism. Though I wish to accept these brothers with open arms, how can I do that when they have rejected me? For that matter, how can I accept anyone who openly rejects a brother in Christ on grounds unrelated to the Gospel?

    I feel like this boils down to personal feelings quite often. Just yesterday, I was told I was twisting and interpreting scripture to my own gain because I have a small group that meets in a bar to discuss religion and philosophy over beer. While I believe that God has blessed this group (just last night someone thanked me for holding it, saying he learned a great deal from the discussion), these accusations sting. Not only are they inaccurate as far as their understanding of the Scriptures, but also in their misrepresentation of my own character and those of the group. The Gospel is not only not preached through such accusations, but is also defamed. It’s because of this that I feel torn between loving my brother in Christ (though he doesn’t love me back) and rejecting them outright for their behavior.

    • That is a great question, Patrick, and it’s one I’ve faced myself. It’s part of how I ended up in the Anglican church — because I was too Calvinist for Pentecostal denominations to ordain me, but too Pentecostal for Reformed denominations to ordain me. And the thing about being in the middle — you get shot by both sides.

      So I feel ya here. I think the prophetic response is to challenge their presumptions (those are tough conversations) and the transformative response is to offer the Lord’s table, because at His table, we find the ultimate expression of our peace with one another. No war can come to communion, and even the most angry schismatic knows that. Above all, we pray that the Holy Spirit will bring peace.

      Praying for you brother!

  2. Wow what a great article David! I agree 98% – point of slight disagreement – I think that Calvinism v. Arminianism is a gospel issue, but not insomuch as it justifies ‘cutting one off’. One of my very best friends is an Arminian and we hang out at least once a week lol! Unity was Jesus’ prayer and it should be ours too!

    • While I understand what you’re, I think it’s important to see that classical Arminianism is part of the reformed tradition, UNLIKE semi-pelagianism. Arminius was an admirer of Calvin and thought there was no better expositor of the Scriptures for preachers to rely on — higher praise than most so-named Calvinists would give today. I read a paper recently that I’ve had the most difficult time recovering, but it highlighted very nicely the closeness of Arminianism and Calvinism, and put Wesleyanism as being further from Calvinism than Arminianism proper.

      Obviously, the semi-Pelagianism of Rome is a challenge, and has always been…But the “Arminians” of modern Evangelicalism aren’t always good Arminians. More often than not, they’re semi-Pelagian, unknown to themselves.

  3. Its not too often I hear Calvinism vs. Arminianism constituting a point of Christian division today. I will note that doctrine is not a minor matter in regards to unity. The Gospel itself is doctrine, otherwise it could not be preached or proclaimed or taught. I believe that God will establish the true unity. Where men try to establish unity, we merely have either 1) a room full of people that think alike, or 2) a room full of people without conviction for truth.

    • Daniel:

      It is a point of division, but it needn’t be. Calvinists and Arminians have long preached the Gospel together in the Anglican tradition– think here of the partnership between the Wesleys and George Whitefield. I particularly love the example of Charles Simeon– a voice for Gospel unity and humility in the Church.

      The Gospel is more than “doctrine” as such. The gospel is the faith once for all delivered to the saints. It’s the message that Christ was crucified for us according to the Scriptures, was buried, and rose again according to the Scriptures. It’s what we confess in the Creeds. To go beyond and say “the Gospel is what is confessed there PLUS “(insert favorite doctrine/practice)” is the heart of the Galatian heresy.

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