Seems to me that this season of cutthroat politics gives us a way of looking at how some of us are handling our opinions about “the emerging church” issue.
All too often we have seen opposing parties put the worst possible face on the other side. Over and over we have seen both sides look for any opportunity to exploit and exaggerate a weakness, misstep, or misspeak.
In the middle of this marathon political process, there are real issues. But the seriousness of the debate is not an excuse to misrepresent an opponent– if competing in an honorable way, and influencing others for the sake of the truth–and the common good–are concerns.
If we bring this over to the issue of emerging churches that we’ve been talking about over the last few days, there are also real issues that deserve careful thinking, honest conversation, and vigorous debate. Many young followers of Christ (and some older ones) are asking questions that can help all of us decide whether we believe more or less than what the Bible says on some tough subjects.
The fact is that not all of us (intent as we are in following Christ) are going to vote for the same candidate in this election. Yet, depending on where we are on the political spectrum, those of us on both sides have been known to say things like, “I don’t know how anyone can be a Christian and vote for ‘that person’.” And too many of us, have joined “our side” in describing the other candidate’s positions in ways that the other side could rightly regard as unfair, inaccurate, and even slanderous.
With all of this so fresh in our minds, this is a good opportunity to think about the way we handle differences and dangers in the church. Most of us would quickly affirm the foundational truths that are confessed in our historic creeds and by the clear teaching of the Bible: Together we confess that we are not entitled access to the Father’s house on our own name or merits. We’ve staked our life on the good news that Jesus came to reveal the Father and to offer us what we don’t deserve. We know that he alone died for our sins. There is no Savior or hope of eternal life apart from him. Salvation is by faith in him, not by our efforts or merit. He calls us to represent him, his heart, and his kingdom in this present world. These are some of the non-negotiables of being his people.
What often happens, though, is that we are inclined to marry a lot of lesser ideas and “supposed implications” to the basics. The result is that it is easy to assume that anyone who questions i.e. the nature of hell; whether it is possible to believe in the “light” of God without hearing about Jesus; or whether Jesus came to rescue us from an angry Father; is denying a foundational truth.
Let’s let this election be a mirror and a commentary on our own human nature. Even though all of our denominational names or group labels provide the look of a competitive political process, there is, as the Apostle writes to those who are in Christ, “One body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all” (Eph 4:4-6).
Because Paul immediately precedes these words with “endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”(v3), doesn’t it make sense to take a breath before repeating something that may misrepresent those who are actually trying to clarify what the Bible says?
I say all of this because I know there are those within “emerging churches” who believe that Jesus is the only way to the Father but are being accused of not believing that because they are raising questions like, “If the Messiah and his death for sin was the only way to God in Old Testament times (long before people knew about Jesus), is it important then for us to let God be God in deciding whose heart he might be drawing to himself– through Christ– even though they might be in a place where the name of Jesus has never been heard.”
Yes, we might think such a question is dangerous for any number of reasons. Or we might think it’s an important question to consider. But in any case, let’s not quickly treat such a person as an enemy, or assume that their question gives us the right to grab the opportunity to exploit and exaggerate our “opponent’s” weakness, tactical missteps, or misspeaks.