A friend of mine—I hope “friend” is acceptable, as I don’t know him real well—for whom I have immense respect wrote the following in an email:
I have stayed involved in traditional churches with the belief that God uses me there to equip, encourage, and intercede despite the fact that there are shortcomings with the model.
I mention how much I respect this person because I do not want to disagree with him. I want to think aloud on this blog, knowing people like Restless Pilgrim, an Orthodox Christian, tend to read it. I may not even be able to draw a conclusion, and I may be stuck doing what I feel is best, being unable to do otherwise.
I have tried my friend’s model, and usually I have gotten in so much trouble that I was no longer welcome.
The reason is that I see the traditional church model as a direct competitor with the apostles’ church model. That’s not completely true in practice, but it is definitely true at the idea level.
Let me explain.
The apostles’ model is that the church is a family. The traditional model is that the church is an institution, owning a building and holding events at that building.
In the traditional model, we can make announcements about people needing help and pray for them. Some members of traditional churches are truly godly Christians, and they act on those needs. They share their possessions and volunteer their time. Overall, though, most members “go” to church. They are partaking in the institution as members.
In the apostles’ model, there is an obligation. It’s not an authoritative, ordered-from-the-leaders obligation. It’s a family obligation, the same way that I feel obligated to help my children, parents, or siblings with their needs. In fact, in the apostolic model (I’m basing the following on Jesus’ words), the church family is more important than our biological family.
The two models are incompatible. The one is different from the other, and they cannot be made one.
You can do both. You can attend a Christian institution, join in falsely calling it a church, and then be a part of the real church by your fellowship with the local saints. You can even do it the other way and be a part of a family of believers and attend an institution on the side as a means of outreach.
Maybe that’s even what my friend is doing.
But what about me? Do I be silent about things I know in order not to become slowly shunned as has been the norm in the past?
How important is the truth about the Trinity, for which some men fought so fervently in the early days of the church and at Nicea? Western Christians, even the ones who have studied Nicea, usually have never even heard of the doctrine of the Trinity as it was taught at Nicea. Even in churches that repeat the Nicene Creed, or the very similar Apostles Creed, every week, we have no idea that it contradicts our co-equal, “Athanasian Creed” version of the Trinity. All it takes is someone to point out its wording, then explain that wording.
Should I ignore that for the sake of peace?
Faith alone & the judgment: just as difficult an issue. The evangelical version of those issues are so crucial to evangelicals that it qualifies as a superstition. The evangelical version of salvation by faith alone not only violates everything the church believed for its first 15 centuries, but it is a clear contradiction of James 2 and numerous passages in Paul, whether evangelicals want to admit it or not.
I guess the question is whether it is possible to “contend earnestly for the faith once for all delivered to the saints” and “stay involved with traditional churches” because my idea of discipleship includes teaching the apostles’ soteriology and overthrowing what has become of Reformation soteriology. My experience has been that this ends my involvement in traditional churches no matter how gently or surreptitiously I try to bring up the historic Christian faith.
Maybe times have changed. In fact, times have changed. I’m convinced evangelicals are less tradition-bound than ever.
Maybe the best thing is not to plan. However, I am certain that if I try just to “be” who I am, God is not going to let me avoid controversy. He never has.
Another friend I respect very much wrote me recently and said, “I’ll be the first to admit that ironically Shammah is sometimes guilty of defining too much and taking a dogmatic stand on certain issues.”
Yeah, I don’t know that I’m going to be able to agree, even with friends I respect, on which issues deserve a dogmatic stand.
And my experience is that it is God who will not give me peace if I make too much room for peace.