“Will they?” I asked myself, shaking my head as I read the blog. It was about the looming threat of a schism in my current denomination. Truth be told, I really hadn’t been paying much attention, I’m new to the denomination anyway and I don’t know all of the ins and outs. It seems though, that there are some parallels with my former denomination…
First, progressive thought (and by extension progressives themselves) were seen as “too far to the left” “barely believers” “in error” “dangerous” and no shortage of other descriptors. The welcome mat was pulled from under their feet and they fell; most left the church and the seminaries. Ones that were too stubborn to leave quietly were discredited and forced to resign. This was the example set: “If your belief does not match our belief , the cure is separation. Either repent and accept our belief or leave.”
Then the moderates were by definition the new progressives. Having seen the example, they realized that they had only one choice: reform. Errant teachings were corrected. Mistaken thoughts were disciplined. Through careful exercise of authority, their theology morphed into that of the conservatives. “Our belief is right. We have only one belief. All other beliefs are wrong.”
But the conservatives were not content with the power they had gained, it was not enough to have taken over and had their way about theology, they wanted more. They mobilized their allies, created celebrities to share their teachings, and printed up countless books that delivered their message to all the churches in their reach. It was a pretty sweet set-up, too: collect tithes from the churches, sell books to the churches, collect money from speaking engagements … which funded their efforts to spread their message. All it cost was the livelihood of thousands of progressives, the freedom of thousands of moderate, and the faith of everyone. “These books define, explain, and defend our belief. Buy them and study them.”
I know I get confused about Calvinism and Systematic Theology and Reformed Theology and all of the related concepts, it’s a lot to try to understand all at once. But it seems to me quite dangerous to hold up one thought, one perspective, and one view of the faith as the most Biblically correct. It seems even more dangerous to use it as a litmus test for being a believer: “If you don’t believe x, then you’re not a true Christian …” This was all done incrementally over a long period of time. Had people known what they were in for over the decades at the start, they might not have gotten so far down a road from which there was no return.
My former denomination didn’t have a schism, but they did change. They put aside freedom of thought and chose purity of theology. They did away with diverse perspectives and chose a singularly biblical perspective. They did away with any softness they had. The fall-out wasn’t pretty. Progressives and moderates went first. Then regular people were wounded, burnt-out by the churches demands or pierced by unyielding difficult theology that didn’t mesh with their experiences. Hundreds, thousands, hundreds of thousands, and even the majority of an entire generation have fled the church. “They left us because they were not one with us. If they were really Christians, they would have been one with us and stayed.”
Which is why I worry so much for the new denomination. Will they give into fighting? Will they give into the temptation to purge disagreement? Will they give into a rigid theology? Will they give into the calls for separation? Will they give into correcting the errant theology of others? Will they give into demanding too much? Will they follow the path set before them of division?
Or will they find a way to agree to disagree? Will they allow each church some autonomy to do what is right for each congregation even if that does not mean a universal standard exists for all congregations? Will they let their love for people shine through? Will they remain open to the possibilities? Will they set the spirit free from the law? Will they blaze a new trail of unity within diversity?