Saturday, September 10, 2011

Unity and Purity Series

The first step in my pursuit of my Doctor of Ministry program has been to explore what it means to stand firm within a particular "tradition" of Christianity (Reformed in my case); yet, at the same time, celebrate the "catholicity" of the broader Church (see my post: The Beginning of the D.Min. Quest). Richard Lovelace is taking me to great depths understanding this question further. I've always found it interesting through my 22yr. journey as an evangelical Christian that many evangelicals will stress "unity and love" but the second someone stands on a point (or system) of doctrine that may seem "secondary" or outside a "minimal circle of biblical truth" (Dynamics, p. 312), we can be very quick to separate from such Christian brothers and sisters. It's interesting how we can be divisive in our belief that we should be united; in other words, the line is drawn in the sand that "if you do not have the experience of Jesus like I do (are you "born again"?) and emphasize only the bare minimal amount of Biblical truth that I do (and, as we can think, 'as all Christians who care about what's important in the Christian life do'), then I will disassociate with you." As Lovelace says of such brothers and sisters, "They can easily fall into a posture of downplaying doctrine altogether as a divisive factor and substitute experience" (Dynamics, p. 313). How often have I heard over the years, "Christians should not stress doctrines that divide" but then have such voices gone on to divide from groups that stress doctrine and have confessional identities (usually distancing themselves from denominational groups like Lutherans, Presbyterians and especially Catholics).

I suppose my goal here isn't to throw stones at my evangelical brothers and sisters, for what good would it do to throw stones at my own family? rather to help the family along by exploring the complexities of these questions regarding what it means to value both Unity and Purity (Scriptural Fidelity, i.e. "sound doctrine") as those who are a part of the Church (notice, capital "C"). So with a multi-part series I plan to do the following: first, explore the splitting of the Protestant movement from the Western institutional church, what we now know as Catholicism; secondly, by looking at attempts for reunion among Protestant movements from the time of the Reformation on; thirdly, by looking at Protestant groups that have tended to be more separatist and their concerns for confessional identity, purity of doctrine and preservation; fourthly by exploring further Lovelace's contention that even where "apostate bodies" may exist, restoration of those bodies is "not only a possibility according to biblical teaching but that it is in fact the central theme of the history of redemption" (Dynamics, p. 302); fifthly, considering occasions when genuine separation from a church body (or group of confessing Christians) might be appropriate and even necessary and finally seeking a hopeful vision of moving forward as the Church (capital "C") universal.

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