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.