I have a problem. Maybe you have the same problem. Maybe you don't. Maybe you should; then again, maybe not. My problem is this: I'm wrestling with what the real implications of denominationalism ought to be.
Let me expand. The sad fact is that denominationalism is, no matter how you slice it, rooted in sin, schism and strife unbefitting for the bride of Christ. Some will make the argument that these days there is an increasing recognition that the cultural and theological distinctiveness found in a diverse denominational milieu can be a good thing. Indeed, as Bruce mentions in another topic under this forum, we in the CRC have finally become (for the most part) confident enough to realize that we have something to contribute to that context, but also humble enough to recognize that we're not the be-all and end-all — that we don't have all the answers.
That's all good. I've been, in a lot of ways, very encouraged by the changes that we've seen in attitudes among Christians over my lifetime.
But I'm still struggling. Why? Because when I hear phrases like "Reformed distinctiveness" being thrown around I feel that quite often those words are just another way of excluding other Christians from amongst us. For example, we hear much about reformed distinctiveness when we talk about infant baptism vs. believer's baptism. We hear some people claiming that (for example) infant dedications in the place of infant baptism simply should never be allowed in a Reformed Church, regardless of the sincerity of the parents in question. Regardless of the fact that a good theological case can be made for believer's baptism alone, etc. We also hear other people saying that we could do infant dedications, but then those folk should not be allowed to be elders or deacons or be in a teaching role in our churches. This seems to make sense insofar as these parents obviously cannot, in good conscience, sign the form of subscription. But that reasoning really serves to exclude people of differing opinion from leadership positions over non-salvation issues doesn't it?
Baptism vs. Dedication is only the tip of the iceberg, of course. There are many issues that we treat similarly. But shouldn't there be a different way?
Here's my proposal for our thoughts and comments. First let me be clear that I'm not hanging my life or faith on this proposal. If it gets knocked down, that's fine — as long as it gets replaced with something better! ;)
1) All "denominations" and churches should continue to work towards really fully recognizing that none of us have a corner on the "truth".
2) Properly speaking, it should be the CRC's task to eliminate the "Reformed Distinctive" as an exclusionary distinctive:
- This would NOT mean that we get rid of our doctrinal stances or our creed and confessions.
- It WOULD mean dissecting and defining WHAT, of those doctrinal stances, etc., is truly a "core" or "salvation" issue, and what is not.
- It would then mean creating ROOM within our churches for those who believe differently about non-core, non-salvation issues. This would look simply like teaching what the CRC believes, then also fairly teaching what other Christians believe, and then acknowledging that there is room for different beliefs.
3) The CRC, in her ecumenical relations should work towards encouraging the acceptance of a similar way of thinking in other denominations:
Ideally, this would result in the following:
- Many "denominational" organizations, which teach the same core stuff, have differing "peripheral" doctrines, but all of which have room for members who disagree with their "official" church doctrine on this, that or the other thing, but who then have total freedom to be leaders within that church anyways.
- Individuals who are taught the difference between the core and the peripheral and who can then: 1) accept others who disagree on those peripheral issues and 2) teach the doctrine of the church, even if they disagree on some points, knowing that there is room for them and for others.
If we had had the kind of mentality that I'm envisioning in the Church during the debate about the Nicene Creed's filioque clause then there wouldn't have been that split. And if we'd maintained that throughout the centuries, then schism would have been very rare indeed.
If we worked towards this type of mentality now, then we could work towards true unity in the church, while still celebrating the uniqueness that God has given to various denominations and individuals.
It's time to become unified. It's time to truly change. It's time to get rid of the "Reformed Stink" that means that others, who believe differently than us on non-salvation issues cannot participate fully in the life of the church.
What do you think?