This blog records my transition from the Churches of Christ to Eastern Orthodoxy.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Drawing Circles (Exclusivism and Ecumenicism) Part 3

A third thing that surprises me when people start talking about who's saved and who's not:

Some people (though practically they have religion-specific loyalties) will shy away from any statement of definite, circle-boundary markers.

(1) For instance, some people immediately try to emphasize a case that seems like an intuitively plausible counter-example. Upon hearing that a person must be baptized, such a person will rebut, "but what if a person believes x, y, and z about Jesus and has repented and is on their way to the baptistry and dies? Will God really condemn that person?"

But the trouble here is that "(1)" is a slippery slope. If i 'expand the circle' one step for every one of these kinds of cases, then eventually there are no boundaries whatsoever. If i said, "okay, well a person must repent," the counter example could be the sincere person who has assented to x, y, and z about Jesus but dies just before the point of repentance. Then the next counterexample could be the person who dies just before they otherwise would've believed x, y, and z about Jesus. Then the person who would've listened to the gospel had they heard it, etc. etc. If these kinds of counterexamples are allowed to refute one demarkation between who's saved and who's not, then they refute all of them and there's no difference between who's saved and who's not.

(2) Or someone will argue that you can't be confident in any definite boundary marker, because if you had been born and raised under different circumstances, you wouldn't have come to believe in that definite boundary marker. So you can't say that Catholics are 'out' because if you had been born in Mexico, you'd likely have been Catholic and wouldn't believe that Catholics are 'out.' Or you can't say that Buddhists are lost because had you been born in Tibet, you'd likely have been a Buddhist and wouldn't believe that Buddhists are lost. Thus anything you believe which draws a definite line between who's saved and lost is really just a product of your upbringing. So you can't really say who's saved and who's lost.

The trouble with "(2)" though is that it's self-defeating. If "(2)" is true, then had the person who believes and argues for "(2)" been born under different circumstances, she likely wouldn't believe that "(2)" was true. If "(2)" is true, then belief in "(2)" is not rational or justified, but merely a product of one's upbringing, the same as the exclusivist claims that "(2)" is meant to defeat.

Thus, anyone arguing against exclusive claims by way of something like "(1)" or "(2)" either holds a position that is self-defeating or collapses into relativism.


Dusty Chris said...

...and what if a person is baptized (or born) into your denomination but doesn't pray, isn't loving and has no spiritual life, but faithfully attends services...for 30 years. Are they in?

Or what if a person is legalistic, drawing their heritage from the Pharisaical law keepers but have no inward change...is that person "in?" And what about those who deny the power of the Holy Spirit....?

There is danger in the extremes of militant exclusivism (We are the only ones) and liberal ecumenicism (Lets just celebrate everyone's beliefs). Is it possible to draw the lines that Jesus drew? What was his criteria for accepting others or being doctrinally pure?

You pose some hard questions here. You're making people think...

reborn1995 said...

The first two hypothetical people you describe haven't met the criterion of repentance, which is prerequisite to baptism. Your cases demonstrate that repentance can include a great many sub-criteria.

i do agree that generally Jesus is a moral exemplar, but there is a significant discontinuity that has to be considered: Jesus was a Jew, not a Christian. He worshipped in synagogues, observed the Passover, went to the Temple, and preached to people how to sacrifice animals in a God-pleasing way. Thus His specific doctrinal criteria will not be the same as our specific doctrinal criteria, nor did He or God intend it to be.

preacherman said...

I think that it is not up to us to exclude. That is the job of God Almighty and I am gld that isn't my job. I can tell the difference between legalistic, judgemental churches and ones that are open to all believers. The enviornment, spiritual authenticity is definately felt. I am so blessed to apart of a church that includes. God has blessed the church and it is growing leaps and bounds. Not just by people joining the church but people being born again.

reborn1995 said...

i'm certainly not claiming that it's up to us to exclude. It's God's job to draw the circles. The significant questions here are:
(1) Is there *anyone* outside the circle God has drawn? The religious inclusivist says no. The exclusivist says yes.
(2) If God's circle does exclude some people, then what particular boundary markers has God used to distinguish between those inside and those outside?

There is much at stake. Is the circle smaller than i think it is? Then maybe i, myself, am outside (despite what i might think). Is the circle larger than i think it is? Then maybe i'm wrongfully excluding people (which, may very well put me back outside the circle).

Furthermore, if there are no distinctive Christian boundary markers, then being a Christian doesn't really mean anything. This is both a epistemological and moral problem. Epistemological: if there are no definite criteria which define a Christian, then how do i know i am one? How do i know anyone is? Moral: if there are no lines in the sand that i, as a Christian, must uncompromisingly uphold, then i have no obligations to keep distinct from any non-Christian, and further still, Christianity (to put it bluntly) would require no testicular fortitude.

Dusty Chris said...

hmmmmm....well what lines do you think God has drawn on what is in and what is out. I think if I had such a question I would ask Him.

Father, in the name of Jesus, please help me discern your will on....then listen to what the Father has to say on this matter. I don't think this is one of those answers we can rationally understand but rather know in our heart.

For me I hope the circle is larger than I can imagine, and I would ask God to give me the eyes to see it the way He does.

reborn1995 said...

Praying for discernment in the matter is wise advice indeed. it can certainly help us keep our motives pure. And i think your very last comment is brilliant: i think we spend more time than we realize wishing God saw things our way rather than the other way around which is better.

Unique Users