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Unity and Fellowship: Where do you draw the line?

Posted by on Jan 13, 2012 in blog links, discipleship | 10 comments

Unity and Fellowship: Where do you draw the line?

Thanks to Arthur at “The Voice of One Crying Out in Suburbia,” I’ve been involved in a few conversations on Google+ concerning fellowship, unity, interpretations, etc. (Yes, there are occasionally good discussions on Google+.) Arthur wrote about this in his post “Leaving our preferences at the cross.”

I have enjoyed this conversations very much, primarily because they have forced me to consider what I believe about various teachings as their relate to being a follower of Jesus Christ.

For example, when he was thinking about these discussions, Arthur wrote:

Taking our preferences to the cross and letting them die there. That sounds great but man is that hard! One of the hardest things about seeking a deeper sense of community is the inherent danger that when you let people in to your little world they are likely to make a mess and you might find that you don’t like them or agree with them very much. On the other hand in our natural state we were enemies of God, sinners in open rebellion against Him and yet He still sent His Son to die for the sins of His elect and adopted us into His family. If He did that for us I guess we can learn to get along in spite of our differences and quirks and annoying habits!

I agree completely with Arthur. We should be willing to give up our preferences and opinions for the sake of our brothers and sisters in Christ. This does raise some tough questions though, and these are the questions that kept circling around our discussion on Google+.

Where do we decide to draw the line between our preferences and beliefs that are necessary for someone who is following Jesus? I’m not asking WHAT those beliefs are. Instead, I’m asking a slightly different question: How do you know that a certain teaching is necessary but another teaching is a preference?


10 Comments

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  1. 1-13-2012

    Hi Alan,

    I haven’t been following the discussion on google+, but only here at this blog post. I can say that this year our church used a book: Paradoxy: Creating Christian Community Beyond Us and Them, by Ken Howard – to delve deeply into this issue. I found the book and our resulting discussions extremely beneficial and edifying. (Highly recommend the book!)

    Here’s one quote which I believe pertains:
    “It’s time we stop trying to build the unity of the church on a foundation of what WE BELIVE, and instead started assuming our unity because or our RELATIONSHIP with the one we believe in – or more importantly because of the one who loves and believes in us.” (p. 43)

    and one more:
    “We began to realize that our paradigms are really our finite, human attempts to domesticate God. Because we cannot handle our reality raw and unfiltered, humanity creates paradigms in order to impose meaning, stability and predictability upon wild and untamed reality. As long as we realize that our theological concepts must be provisional in nature, an are only our best attempts at expressing what we know about God and reality, this is okay. The problem comes when we begin to believe that our concepts are the full expression of God’s reality, and then refuse to modify them. There is a word for trying to domesticate God. It is called idolatry. Yet over and over again throughout their histories, church after church has found itself doing precisely that.” (pg. xxiii)

  2. 1-13-2012

    Alan,
    That’s a great question; or a terrible one, if you’re trying to solve it. Currently my thinking is at this point: Guage your reaction to a teaching by the effect it has on other believers.

    Take yourself out of the picture. How much you like this teaching should affect how much you privately study and evaluate it, but not how much you publically oppose it. Take the abstract or ideal out of it; we are all short of the full knowledge of God, always have been, and always will be. Take out the reaction of the outside world and the hypothetical observer; people might think it’s weird, nuts, or wrong, but so also are the most important parts of Christianity, freshly observed.

    How is this teaching affecting the beleivers around you? Paul confronted Peter when Peter’s preference of Jewish exclusiveness put the Gentile believers under condemnation and law. Jesus declared woe upon whomever caused one of these his children to stumble. Paul wished that the troublers of the Galatians would cut themselves off.

    Let your concern be for the sheep and you will spot the wolves.

  3. 1-14-2012

    Liz,

    Thanks you, Ken just contacted me on Facebook. So, I’ll look into his writings. Thanks for the heads up!

    How do you think Christians and churches would act differently toward one another if they based their unity and fellowship on Jesus Christ and not their beliefs and/or practices?

    Arlan,

    In Scripture, teaching is almost always related to the way that a person lives his or her life. So, I think there is something to what you’ve said.

    How do you think concepts like Jesus being the son of God relates to this?

    -Alan

  4. 1-14-2012

    Alan,
    Um, ahem. I kind of wrote several paragraphs completely missing the point of your question. Hopefully now I have got your intent.

    It is interesting that you should bring up Jesus being the son of God. Someone asked me this summer what it *mattered* whether Jesus was the son of God – not whether he was, true or false, but why it even matters. I wasn’t sure how to answer. I knew I didn’t like the idea of Jesus not being divine–but how many of the Messianic promises require the Annointed/Chosen One to be God?

    But the point of my earlier remark is that if you are not sure, you should not speak up against it. Wait until you are sure. Hastily confronting something because you are sure it must be bad is a fearful attitude which assumes God will let horrible things happen if you don’t act now to stop evil. When God has shown you how a teaching is hurting his children, you don’t act out of fear, you act out of love for them.

    I don’t think you should be dismissive of your own sense that something is wrong, though. If you are troubled in spirit, search the scriptures to know why. I did follow up on the question I was asked and try to articulate why it matters whether Jesus is divine. I was listing reasons why it doesn’t matter and I suddenly saw why it did. But to mention that here would suggest that this is one that is a Rule and must always be Insisted Upon, when I am trying to say that if you don’t see it in your own heart, hold your peace.

  5. 1-15-2012

    Arlan,

    Thanks for taking the time to think through your answer. Your answer caused many wheels to start turning in my head. I need to think through them for a while.

    -Alan

  6. 1-15-2012

    Alan,

    I think if Christians (and churches) were able to focus on Jesus and the things that unite us rather than those that tend to divide we’d all be better off… I understand the desire/fear of wanting everyone to have the “right beliefs” – but when Jesus is lifted up, he will draw all people to himself. Imagine the power of the worldwide church if we could all work together to lift Jesus up!?!

    That’s the short answer – I’ll have to think on it some more and get back to you again!

  7. 1-16-2012

    Liz,

    “Imagine the power of the worldwide church if we could all work to life Jesus up!?!” Yep. I think that’s what Jesus was praying about in John 17, especially toward the end.

    -Alan

  8. 1-16-2012

    Nee said, “Nothing tests the spirituality of a teacher like opposition to his teaching. You may know aright, but God wants you to love aright.”

  9. 1-17-2012

    Chris,

    That’s a great quote. It reminds of Paul’s admonition to Timothy to respond with gentleness to those who disagree with him. We tend to think of “love” as what we shows to those who agree with us. In Scripture, it seems that our true demonstration of love is in regards to those who are different than us or who disagree with us.

    -Alan

  10. 2-5-2012

    Hi All,
    I have enjoyed reading this conversation. Much food for thought. Kinda swamped at the moment, but I will continue to read, mark, and inwardly digest the comments… and maybe jump in myself one of these days…
    In Christ’s love,
    Ken+