Saturday, 1 February 2014

Rethinking Some Deadly Theology

Annual meeting of like-minded Christians?
One of the many things I enjoy about getting together with my son has to be the many theological discussions that we always seem to have. We can talk for hours on one faith-related theme or another. Though we may not always agree, we are always amicable and loving in those discussions; for that I am grateful. I suppose it could be argued that being family helps to keep the peace in what can easily become heated topics, and maybe that’s true, though religious discussions have also torn many families apart. Maybe ours is an anomaly, but it really is too bad that not all theological discussions in the family of God end up the way ours do. I am blessed.

I remember one such discussion in which we debated some to the pros and cons of denominationalism in the church. Ironically, despite my Baptist seminary education, I tended to be more against the practice of Christians segregating themselves along denominational lines. During our discussion, my son said something that I’ve never forgotten. He said, “Dad, my generation doesn’t put the same emphasis on denominations as yours did.” As I thought about that, I remember hoping that he was right.

Was he right? Is there a shift beginning to take place in which Christians are less interested in the “dissentions” and “factions” (Galatians 5:20) within the church that previous generations embraced and fought over? If so, how do we keep the concept of a non-denominational church from itself becoming yet another denomination in its own right? Let’s take this question one step further. How do we keep the non-institutional church movement (if we can call it a movement) from itself becoming just as divisive as the former denominations that birthed it? Is it possible for Christians to actually stop killing each other, both literally and figuratively, and if so, how can we begin to realize this dream?

I do not have the answers to those questions, but I think the following excerpt from a devotional book that I sometimes refer to, shows that it is possible. Perhaps the only question that remains then, is do we want it? Do we really want reconciliation in the church? Do we really want to break down those man-made walls that have historically divided us? In the words of John Lennon, do we really want to “give peace a chance?” Do we want to rethink some of our deadly theology? I hope so.

We lament the racial divisions within the church and pursue a just reconciliation. Martin Luther King Jr. powerfully called out one of the most heartbreaking ironies for those of us who call ourselves Christians: ‘The most segregated hour in the world is eleven o’clock Sunday morning’ – when we gather for worship.  Of all the places that we should hope and expect to see the diversity of God’s family, it is not in the shopping malls and bars but in the church. But reconciliation begins on a small scale. It must begin in the living rooms and at dinner tables. Reconciliation will never make its way into our worship services until it makes its way into our homes. 
“During Black History Month, we acknowledge the many ways racism has crippled out country, while also celebrating African-Americans who’ve made incredible contributions to society. Alongside the ugly stories in the bloodstained pages of church history, in which Christians justified slavery and genocide with deadly theology, there are the incredible stories of communities of faith who lived with great courage in times of oppression and conflict. In South Africa, a community of black and white South Africans bought land together and began living on it in the middle of apartheid. Their lives were at risk. They were threatened with jail time. Their kingdom-minded friendships were an offense to their society of colonialism and segregation. Reconciliation takes different shapes in different contexts and eras. There are beautiful stories of Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, and Hutus and Tutsis in Burundi, starting communities where they live and worship together, lamenting their history of Christians killing other Christians. These communities are a prophetic witness and healing leaven amid a world still riddled with racism and prejudice and hatred. 
“When we make reconciliation our goal, we don’t pretend to have it all together. Like the tax collector who beat his chest in the back of the temple, saying, ‘Lord, have mercy,’ we begin our prayer for reconciliation with lament and repentance. With us, reconciliation is impossible. But with God, all things are possible. We don’t just believe it; we’ve seen it.” (Claiborne, Wilson-Hartgrove, Okoro)

Is eleven o’clock Sunday morning the most segregated hour in the world? Ours may not be a racial segregation, but it often is a doctrinal one. Racial apartheid may be on the way out (hopefully), but can the same be said for religious apartheid in Christian circles?

Again, I do not have the answers, but many times I have mused on just how God will sort us all out in our heavenly home. Certainly none of us believe that He will do so according to our doctrinal persuasions, yet it’s strange that such segregating remains such a big deal on this side of eternity. When it comes to salvation, it’s a good thing that God’s conditions are a lot less complex than ours, because if it were up to us, we would probably have a lot less company in heaven.

Something to think about. Peace.

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