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.