I am blessed with three siblings. We are all unified in our love for each other and diverse in our theology. We also agree that none of us has cornered the market on God’s Truth.
With this in mind, I am struck by the campaign of eight churches in Fountain Hills, Arizona who have ganged up on one of their sibling churches whom they deem to be “apostate.”
Those are dangerous words, my friends. (Here‘s the website of the church under attack with their pastor’s response.)
Eight Protestant pastors in Fountain Hills all agreed to preach a series of sermons called “Progressive Christianity: Fact or Fiction?” They penned a united op-ed for their local newspaper that you can read here.
[Note: Among the most heinous things written in the article is the reference to the great John Wooden who was indeed all about the basics of basketball, but – another article – Coach Wooden “never imposed his Christian faith on anyone, only insisting that his players ‘have a religion and believe in it.‘” Exhibit A: Kareem Abdul Jabbar who converted to Islam during his years on Wooden’s team. The Fountain Hills Eight have used the wrong example if they believe that John Wooden would have supported their efforts.]
In my house, we do not mess with John Wooden.
The Fountain Hills Eight are asking these questions in their sermons, united against their neighbors in The Fountains United Methodist Church:
- What is the difference between “Progressive” Christianity and Biblical Christianity?
- Does that difference really matter in a relativistic age?
- How can a Christian decipher what he or she should believe?
Slow down gentlemen.
Accusing Progressive Christianity of being different from “Biblical Christianity” reminds me of the time I sat beside a man in an airplane once who told me that he was the pastor of a Bible Church. “That’s so cool,” I said. “I’m the pastor of a Bible Church too. It’s called The Presbyterian United Church of Schaghticoke.”
I take the Bible so seriously that I want to dissect it, study under, over, around, and through it – preferably in the most original languages we have. I want to understand what it meant when it was written, when it was first read, and as we read it today for a 21st Century Church.
- Do I believe that God never changes? Sort of. Keep in mind that even the Bible shares examples of God changing God’s mind. (Hello Jonah.)
- Do I believe Mary was a virgin? Sure, but honestly, my faith doesn’t rise or fall on Mary’s virginity. If we found out conclusively somehow that she wasn’t a virgin, would we toss everything thing else?
- Do I believe that Jesus is The Only Way? Absolutely, but what does Jesus mean by “Way” here? (And don’t think for a second I’m pulling a Bill Clinton – “it depends on what the meaning of the word is is” – kind of verbal gymnastics.) Scripture speaks of people who speak all the right words but do not live the way of Jesus. God bless the Pharisees who believed they were following the right way only to miss the point completely. I know Muslim, Jewish, and Atheist friends who follow the way of Jesus quite closely. Do they call Jesus “Lord”? Nope. But I trust in a non-Pharisaical God. And it seems that this was the way of Jesus too.
How do we discern what to believe? I suggest reading the Pentecost story very carefully this week. The Spirit continues to work and speak as it happened in Acts 10. God still has no partiality. God still calls us to move in directions that we once believed were unfaithful. God still sends us places we don’t necessarily want to go.
I have brothers and sisters in Christ who interpret Scripture in a different way from how I interpret it. But note: we are all interpreting it. We all consider some verses more essential than others. Not one of us takes it literally, even when we say we do. Rachel Held Evans and A.J. Jacobs are required reading for those who believe it’s possible to take the Bible literally.
God calls us to pray well with others. I believe in the Jesus who had dinner at the home of Zaccheaus the loathed tax collector even at the risk of offending the faithful. I believe in the Jesus who touched an unclean woman even though it would have rendered him unable to enter the temple. I believe in the Jesus who told parables that rocked everything believers had been taught. Helpful Samaritans? Really?
It’s a particular congregation’s choice to worship in the way we will and believe what we do. But we are treading on dangerous cosmic ground if we expend our energies throwing theological stones. It’s the kind of action that sadly supports what too many people believe about the church.