Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Don't Look a Gift Horse, er, Church in the Mouth To See if It Chews the Cud; Neither Look at its Hooves to See if They Are Cloven

With my move to Chicago's western suburbs comes a new church. As I've been involved with several Reformed/Presbyterian churches over the past few years and have seen increasingly the worth of Reformed theology, it's a little hard for me to leave that for an Evangelical Free Church. I have developed understandings (which are always developing, of course) about corporate worship, soteriology, church government, and eschatology which would, at least in part, be left behind with my new church.

In chapters 10-11 of the Acts of the Apostles, Peter has a dream in which the Lord Jesus urges him to eat from a cornucopia of animals which would normally be unclean under the Jewish ceremonial law. Peter is in shock, but he learns through it that God has opened the way for "unclean" Gentiles to himself. This is soon confirmed at Cornelius's house, where the Holy Spirit is given to many Gentiles. Peter concludes that "if God gave them the same gift [of the Holy Spirit] that he had given us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God?" (11:17). Barnabas comes to the same conclusion that the Gentiles in Antioch likewise were approved by God, since they bore "evidence of the grace of God" and were "true to the Lord" (11:23).

Peter had to yield his prior notions of what constituted the people of God and the marks of their worship, as God opened the door of salvation to everyone (cf. Acts 15). As good as the ceremonial laws in which Peter believed were, they were no longer allowed to supercede the true badge of God's people: faith in Jesus as the Messiah, given and sealed by the Holy Spirit. God's judgments overrode those of Peter or any other Jewish Christian.

In similar fashion, I've got things that I value about worship and doctrine. But what really is more important: valuing good and valid theological understandings, or loving the very people whom God has himself chosen? We're called as the church to love those everywhere who belong to Christ, regardless of denominational preferences, and that call includes me. The question is: Will I love doctrines or even personal preferences (however rational or biblical they may be) more than people? Am I somehow above them?

At the end of his letter to the Galatians, in which he deals with controversy over "marks of the true church," Paul urges the Galatian Christians in every opportunity to "do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers" (Galatians 6:10). In a family, children don't get to choose their own brothers and sisters, but they are called to put aside their sibling rivalries and live in loving unity (cf. Psalm 133:1). In the same way, we're a "family of believers" because Christians are born not according to our own human wills, but by God's Spirit (John 1:12-13; 3:1-8). Faith only comes from God, so it's his choice that counts. Who am I, then, to question the church I'll be joining, those who are loved by God and given his Spirit? Who am I to look suspiciously--even ungratefully--at God's very own provision for me in people whom I can build up and who also will build me up?


Ted M. Gossard said...

Good post.

Yes, the older I get, the more I realize that there is neither the perfect church or denomination or theology, for that matter- though I'm more settled in my theological understanding than ever- and a part of that is the conviction to remain a bit unsettled in regard to nonessentials to the faith.

I think you'll fit in well, there, and that it will ba mutually beneficial. Good to stay with a group, because in that commitment to each other one finds the Lord's working and blessing, I believe. And the older I get the more I realize there's not a group out there I'm in complete agreement with. I'm not in complete agreement with myself of five years back, ever, surely.

Blessings on you and this new relationship!

Halfmom, AKA, Susan said...

I understand exactly what Ted is saying in having changed over the last 5 years as I have as well.

Certainly I value solid doctrine, but I also value doctrine that finds it's feet and hands in action - to the cry of "excel still more".

And who knows, you may also find yourself changing as you grow as part of a body as well. Stranger things have happened - like internet stalking the girl of your dreams!

Craver Vii said...

And yet, I think you'd fit in quite nicely in my small group. All but one are reformed, and we LOVE some of the same things you do.