Denomination limbo (pt 2)

Time was when I was pretty accepting of a greater number of Christian traditions and denominations.  These days, I am less and less likely to accept the patterns of many Christian groups (including “my own”), but I’m not always sure I’m assessing things rightly.

What standards shall we use to determine what’s acceptable and what’s not?  The thoughtful, grace- and  truth-infused Christian must not be as interested in drawing lines of fellowship as in being a disciple himself, and yet there are some lines to be drawn, in terms of spiritual “family.” . . .

Some groups really do stand in opposition to Christianity.  The mentally unbalanced, blind practices of Fred Phelps’s group in Topeka come to mind, along with many other groups that don’t profess Christianity at all.  How far do we extend “the right hand of fellowship”?

[Aside:  the meaning of “fellowship” in the majority of New Covenant passages goes far beyond a simple recognition of some degree of unity.  Nor does it really have anything to do with potluck meals.  Most often, “fellowship” appears to speak of partnership in a task.]

Although we may not see eye to eye on many things, there will be some projects that we can do together with other individuals and groups — those with whom we don’t share key doctrinal positions.  Service projects such as cleaning up roadways, feeding and clothing needy people, and taking care of orphans in the name of Jesus come to mind. Recently, I came across the benevolence program of a church with which I would have only a modicum of spiritual camaraderie, but I was impressed with their list of charitable projects, and my family plans to join in one or two.  Partnership in a good cause that helps others (despite some important differences)!

As in the island party game “limbo,” there will ultimately come a time that we simply can’t bend any further.  How low can we go without breaking our consciences?

For me, the Jehovah’s Witness, Mormon, Unity Church and Unitarian Universalist entities are examples of (non-Christian) groups with which I have no spiritual fellowship.  The Roman Catholic institution, which is of course Christian in a broad sense, sits a couple levels closer to me . . . but here, as I type these words, part of me is loathe to think in terms of levels and lines that purport to keep others at bay.  Many other Christian groups seem much closer.

Does it constitute actual, spiritual back-bending for me to accept those who darken the door of the X Christian Congregation building down the street?  Is my back going to break, or will I embarrass myself by falling over backwards in this not-so-fun Christian “who’s one of us?” party game?

In retrospect, I don’t mind so much that, without thinking, I said “boo-hiss” aloud to myself when that vehicle turned into the Jehovah’s Witness parking lot (see beginning of last post for reference).  But I may need to stand up straight and extend my hand a little further in this vast sphere of denomination limbo.

Coming soon:  an extended treatment of Calvinism, largely thanks to the late Dr. Clark Pinnock’s very significant, helpful paper “From Augustine to Arminius:  A Pilgrimage in Theology.”   Spoiler alert:  Calvinism needs no more positive attention; Pinnock’s transparency and cogent scholarship help to enable other, thinking Christians to feel better about moving past the great reformer’s overstatements and overzealousness.

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4 thoughts on “Denomination limbo (pt 2)

  1. Steve Kell 09/08/2014 / 5:34 pm

    Your thoughts about clarity of fellowship and/or partnership remind me of something that caused me pause when reading Acts 13 an number of years ago. Paul and Barnabas’s Sabbath day engagement with fellow Jews about the distinctive, already-having-appeared Messiah and the changes in doctrinal understanding that would entail for their fellow Jewish brothers ends with the listeners wanting to discuss further “these things” both in a more private setting as well as during next week’s Sabbath gathering. Luke observes that Paul and Barnabas were more than happy to talk with them further about these matters and their implications faith-wise. And then there is this very inclusive statement: “And (Paul/Barnabas) urged them to continue in the grace of God.” (v43) That may be a very generic statement, like–‘blessings to you from God as you consider these revolutionary truths.’ But it appears to me to be a broad appropriation of God’s kindness and patience as truth becomes clearer in the minds and hearts of those who were seeking Him sincerely. That graceful extension of engagement is something I’ve not always exhibited–and I do well to remember that when encountering other followers of Jesus who hold different conclusions about their Lord and how to live out faith than do I. To say that God’s grace is larger than mine is an understatement of grand proportions; to say that God’s grace does not have limits is to not keep reading the text (vv44f). But your comments and this text call all of us to indeed extend the right hand of fellowship to a larger circle of believers living in God’s grace than our heritage has done in the past.

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    • Brian Casey 09/11/2014 / 1:20 pm

      Steve, this is very insightful, and personally transparent, as well — thanks for it. Although I worked for hours, over a period of 2-3 weeks, on those essays, a lot has happened in life since then, so I went back and re-read. This 2nd post was an attempt emphasizing both ends — i.e., being more graceful and inclusive on the one hand, and being clear about what is patently non-Christian on the other. I have moved a little to the right in the last dozen years or so. If 1 is narrow and 10 is accepting-of-everything, I’d say I grew up as a 3, moved to an 8 during my late 20s and 30s, and have migrated to more of a 6.5 these days. Whatever I am on this spectrum, and whatever you are, I think it’s spiritually wiser to err on the side of grace and inclusion. I appreciate your emphasis here.

      P.S. Have you had time to read any of the Calvinism posts yet? You would like reading the entire article (my posts, 2 or 3 of which are yet to come, include less than half of the whole).

      On Mon, Sep 8, 2014 at 4:34 PM, NT Christianity wrote:

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  2. Steve Kell 09/11/2014 / 1:26 pm

    I actually went to the original document, have copied/pasted it in my “Calvinism” file–and plan to read all of it later. I’ve scanned your comments but no more than that at present. For Pinnock to come to this understanding at this juncture in his life is tantamount to Jimmy Allen deciding his understanding of ‘hell’ has been incorrect. But … such is the nature of an honest heart.

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    • Brian Casey 09/11/2014 / 1:50 pm

      Pinnock and Allen — what a pairing. Hmm. I’m not sure which of them would prefer not to be paired. But, yes, honest hearts!

      On Thu, Sep 11, 2014 at 12:26 PM, NT Christianity wrote:

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