Sunday, May 07, 2006

Ecumenism and Virgins

A friend from my youth group wrote the book on Ecumenism. During college years I turned right and she turned left. In the olden days of my youth, Carl MacIntyre (when not waxing eloquent about the virtue of killing a Commie for Christ) railed upon the World Council Of Churches and other aspects of the apostasy that sprung from German Rationalism commonly called Modernism or Theological Liberalism.

Red baiting notwithstanding, I bought into Dr. MacIntyre's rejection to ecumenism. The reasoning is trivial: If you and I disagree on some point of faith, at least one of us has to be wrong. If you aren't going to change your beliefs to agree with me, and vice versa, then we can only fellowship if both of us compromise our faith. This compromise demonstrates a contempt for the content of that faith, or at least a subordination of one's faith to the end of organizational "unity."

This contempt for doctrine has taken on many forms over the years. In Evengelical circles, you see it expressed with hymnody bereft of any content, save, "Jesus loves me, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah" (and it means so much more because they do the Powerpoint flying logos in a bigger typeface). It's also seen in Sunday School and Vacation Bible School materials that are so "gospel lite" that they can be sold to any church worship center that doesn't use a Crescent or a Star of David as a logo. The program of compromising doctrine that we rejected in the World Council of Churches has snuck in thru kitsch-dealing "Christian Stores."

Having anathematized one form of Ecumenism, I want to vindicate a second form of it.

I will not compromise the Baptist distinctives you can find expressed in the London Baptist Confession, the Philadelpha Baptist Confession or the New Hampshire Baptist Confession. I will gladly and enthusiastically assert them without qualm or reservation. And if you're not a Baptist...

Then what?

There's a joke by Emo Philips that suggests a "Die Heretic!" response. But this overlooks the fact that Baptists assert the soul liberty of the believer. You have a right to be wrong. So, don't look to me to run any Spanish Inquisition to change your mind.

To the contrary, if you disagree with me, I have an opportunity to learn from you. You don't ask the fish about the water. By talking to an Atheist, I was able to understand why it's necessary that the righteousness of God be inhumanly high. Similarly, talking to non-Baptists who I presume to be closer to God than my Atheist friend provides insights into how to approach scripture and how God relates to mankind. These insights only come out in dialog. This dialog and cooperation with non-Baptists could be construed to be Ecumenism, too.

Ecumenism can be construed to come in two flavors: 1) organizational mergers that compromise faith or 2) trans-denominational dialog that discovers and even sharpens theological distinctions with neither rancor nor bitterness.

So, I pointed out this to my Ecumenism book writing friend and she agreed that the first sort of Ecumenism was bad, but the second sort of Ecumenism is good. (She agreed with me so she must be right.)

I drank this Ecumenism flavored kool-aid a couple years ago. Right before my former church had a Revival. (That disaster deserves its very own essay.)

This brings us to this morning's sermon on the Parable of the Ten Virgins. There's a term Ecumenists use: Christian Identity. It's alien to my Evangelical ears, but I think you can get the idea. If I say I'm a Christian, and I do, it's an assertion of my Christian identity. You may think I'm a back-stabbing hypocrite, but i think I'm a Christian. Christian identity short-circuits considerations of bona fides or mala fide. Christian identity makes no distinction between wheat and tare. Ask Judas on Palm Sunday if he is a disciple of Christ and he'll sincerely say yes.

Same goes for the Ten Virgins of Matthew 25:1-13. All are invited and all respond affirmatively. But five are foolish and five are wise. The difference is only in preparation. The sermon is very good and you should listen to it for yourself. This is a scary thought because my Christian identity may not correspond to Christ's opinion of me. Louie said that if you name the name of Christ, you have a lamp: you're one of the virgins in this parable.

This is scary. I mentioned to my wife that the parable seems to indicate a 50-50 split between wheat and tares. And she fired back, that means one of us... And of course, I hadn't doubted my wife's bona fides until that point. We all like to think ourselves OK and if anybody is fooling himself it's the other guy. Reflecting further, I realized that 50-50 is likely an average-case ratio. There is good reason to think that there are frequently more wheat than tares (or vice versa). For instance, the small group of 12 people with Christ himself as facilitator had a 11-1 wheat to tare ratio. Presumably, groups led by tares would have more tares, too.

Sometimes I'll talk to someone who'll ask me if I think Catholics (or fill in any other denomination) are going to heaven. I can't answer, because I can't tell from here whether they've packed the extra oil like parable says of the wise virgins. But I will invariably answer that I believe for certain that some Baptists are going to Hell. I've written an essay on the subject (How To Go To Hell).

I believe the Wise and Foolish Virgins of the Parable represent individual believers, but it's harder to be an foolish virgin when everyone around you is reminding you to bring extra oil, and it's easier to be a foolish virgin when everyone around you thinks it unnecessary. That puts an onus upon each denomination to do everything they can to help as many as possible go past mere Christian Identity to actually identify with the Wise Virgins of the Parable.

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