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

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Drawing Circles Part 5

In this series of posts, i do not mean to suggest that Christians should spend their time witch-hunting for counterfeits and blowing horns from pulpits about particular people who should be avoided or derided or whatever. i'm also not suggesting that a virtue of discipleship is to focus one's attention on the shortcomings of others. i'm also not by any means suggesting that any delight or pleasure is to be had in the fact that anyone at all anywhere for any reason is lost for eternity.

Nevertheless, several things i do mean to say are:

(1) Exclusivism/Inclusivism is a very practical issue. If you join a religion, you have to decide which one and why. If you join Christianity, you have to decide whether or not to join yourself to a church and why and if so, which one and why. Once you're in one, you may come upon events that force you to decide whether you should stay joined to that church and why or why not. You have to decide whether or not to support that church or others or other ministries monetarily and why you will or won't. The grounds on which you make such decisions are related to questions about whether we should draw circles and on what grounds we should draw such lines.

Furthermore, we already draw lines practically speaking. Do you avoid going to certain parts of your town because you feel they are "bad" parts of town? What makes them "bad"? Would you go to a church full of people who all lived in one of those parts of town? How would you react if someone of a different ethnicity than yourself visited your congregation? Any ethnicity? Would you greet and treat them the same as someone of your own ethnic background? What if a homeless panhandler visited? Would you treat him/her differently than any other visitor? Or what about an ex-con? Or a single-mother with five children who lives in a trailer and just collects welfare checks? Or someone of a different political party than you? What if any of these people started attending your congregation regularly? What if they all joined and became members? Would they be welcomed? Would they be treated the same as anyone else?

Maybe your church is the perfectly accepting congregation and all these people would be impartially embraced. If so, great. Nevertheless, i hope those hypotheticals show that people already do draw practical lines regarding who they will and won't accept as a fellow disciple--someone with whom they ought to participate in joint Christian endeavors. Thus, it's by no means irrelevant or wrong-headed or unwise to ask the questions: "Does God want me to accept absolutely anyone as a fellow disciple no matter what their beliefs/lifestyles/practices?" "Is there anyone God would rather i not recognize as a disciple because of their particular beliefs/lifestyles/practices?" "What criteria makes a person a disciple or not a disciple?"

(2) i have personally experienced (and suspect that others have as well) a sort of cultural pressure to at least act, if not believe, that there really aren't any lines at all. No one can say that anyone else at all is excluded from God because to do so is either immoral (prejudice, judgmental, proud, self-righteous, etc.) or irrational (we all make mistakes, so how can you know you're not making one when you exclude someone, etc.). Should i succumb to that pressure? Does that pressure represent a true position? i am and have been arguing that i shouldn't and it doesn't.

(3) The New Testament makes several claims that are very exclusivist in nature--they draw hard lines. Is it true that Jesus taught not to judge and that He chided those religious people of his day who were extreme exclusivists? Definitely. Nevertheless, Jesus Himself made some very line-in-the-sand sort of claims. In the same sermon in which He teaches not to judge, He also says not to cast pearls before swine and false prophets can be identified by their "fruits" (Matt 7:6, 15f). Thus, even though Jesus condemned 'judging' in some sense, He nevertheless obligated His hearers to be fruit inspectors and decide who the pigs are. He also claims to be the sole route to the Father (John 14:6). He also claims that people who fail to believe in Him will die still in their sins (John 8:24). Peter boldly claimed there was no other name by which people must be saved (Acts 4:12).

So is that it? Just agreeing that Jesus is the sole way makes everything okay for me?

Paul is willing to draw lines based on what a person teaches about the resurrection (2Tim 2:18), and Paul seems to feel that accepting a Judaized version of the gospel is equally spiritually dangerous (Gal 5:4).
John isn't content to let people think Jesus is the sole route to eternal life, but that lines should be drawn about the particulars of a person's Christology (1John 4:1-3; 2John 7-11).

Because issues related to exclusivism/inclusivism are forced before people practically and circumstantially, because of the pressure of tolerance and inclusivism particularly prevalent in contemporary culture, and because of the rampant, bold exclusivist claims found throughout the New Testament, i posit that:

(A) There is nothing un-Christian, irrational, or immoral per se about boldly and unapologetically making exclusivist claims.

(B) There is nothing un-Christian, irrational, or immoral per se about asking what particular issues are or aren't line-drawing sorts of issues.

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