For some, Christianity is a theology. For many, it’s a weekly production or a religious duty. To few, it’s a Person who is known individually and corporately.
Someone asked me to respond to some objections to my book Reimagining Church. So I shall. I’m doing so for the benefit of those who haven’t yet read the book as I trust it will help.
1) One reviewer asked me in a private email if I thought a person who professes Jesus Christ and follows Him with his or her life, but denies the Trinity, should be excommunicated. My answer was very simple. Namely, that many people who follow the Lord today have been mistaught on the Trinity. This is quite common in fact. My response was that such a person should be taught and instructed about it instead of cut off from the body of Christ. I explained that I’ve seen many such people come to embrace a correct understanding of the Truine God after they were patiently instructed about it. Note: we weren’t speaking of the person who comes into a church to *promote* a contrary teaching and draw disciples after himself. We were speaking of the person who loves the Lord, but who was taught inaccurately. The two case are very different.
Anyways, my answer was unsatisfactory to him. He would rather cut the person off without any instruction whatsoever. Can you imagine if Priscilla and Aquila had that attitude when they instructed and corrected Apollos on his views?
I’m sorry, but we have not so learned Jesus Christ.
This sectarian, “you were mistaught so you can’t fellowship with us,” attitude explains why there are over 33,000 denominations in Protestantism today. Cutting someone off who has a misguided view without patient instruction on Jesus Christ is plainly “unChristian.”
In the book, I dedicate an entire chapter to church unity, and I discuss the biblical ground for receiving others. I also discuss the biblical meaning of heresy, which is often misunderstood today.
2) Another person argued that my position is that we should return to everything that was done in the first-century church and we should imitate it. The irony of this is that I argue against that very line of thinking. Click here to read the first few chapters of Reimagining Church where I discuss this very thing in plain English. The argument I’m making for what is normative for church practice in our day comes from a totally different place. I’m not an advocate of playing Bible land and trying to imitate the practices of the first-century church.
Brian McLaren once wrote an excellent article on the fact that the best way to discredit a message is to distort what that message is and then attack the distortion. This is called a “straw man” argument in philosophy, and it’s very effective. That’s why politicians use it all the time. I wish everyone who reviews books would read Brian’s article; it’s the best thing I’ve ever read on the subject.
3) Someone else argued that I’m inconsistent in believing that the church is an institution because a publishing house (an institution) publishes my books. Note that this person admits he’s never read my books. Nevertheless, this thinking reflects one of the major areas of confusion that my books attempt to address. That is, there is massive confusion on what the church of Jesus Christ is. Institutions are fine with me, but they belong to the world. The church of Jesus Christ, however, is not an institution; it’s something that comes out of heavenly realms … out of God Himself.
Thus to equate a publishing house, a hospital, a bookstore or any other kind of business to the church of Jesus Christ exhibits the confusion I’m trying to clear up. I was a school teacher for many years in an institution called the public school system. That institution has flaws, but I have no issues with it. But that’s not the church of Jesus Christ. Herein lies our problem. We can’t seem to distinguish the church from the institutions of this world, some of which are populated by Christians.
You will see in the first chapter of the book (above) that I define how I’m using the word “institution” and “institutional church.” This is crucial to the discussion.
Anywho, I hope that those of you who read this blog will read the book and write a review of it on your blog or website – one that’s [cough] fair and balanced (smile). And it would be nice to see some who read this blog actually engage the folks who are discussing these issues in the blogosphere.
What’s needed is discussion that is robust but truthful. If it’s rooted in falsehoods and the like, then we will keep spinning our wheels and little common ground will be taken.
So it seems to me.