I know, I just said that Christianity has a lot of spiritual pollution doing more harm than good. But the truth is, completely pure ideology can be just as harmful and sometimes worse. I grew up in a denomination that anchored itself to Biblical Inerrancy. I watched it used the Inerrancy card to police it’s own and kick out anyone who didn’t measure up. Once the liberals and moderates were out, all that was left was for the conservatives to size up one another and call out those among them who were too liberal or not conservative enough to be one of them. It’s not enough to be a believer, it’s about being one who believes exactly the right things in exactly the right way to be an insider who belongs in the group. It is a lot like passing through a series of increasingly narrowing gates, ones that are humanly impossible to enter in – you become stuck, unable to go further in, but also isolated from all the others who couldn’t quite measure up to your level that you spent so much time seeing yourself as ideologically superior to them.
When applied to Christianity, it means judging those who don’t believe exactly as you do are outside of the fellowship and outside of the faith, they are impurities who mar your perfection, they are the dross meant to be put to a trial by fire and removed as the cast-off and inferiors that they are. It tends to create an excess of pride. And since we know that pride goes before a fall – any group dedicated to pure ideology is destined to fail before it even begins; but odds are they’ll still give it a good old fashioned try anyway.
What we need is to find a way to accept one another even though our ideology isn’t identical. A way to teach each other without tearing down those who reach different conclusions and without invalidating their beliefs. We need to find a way to achieve unity and still honor all kinds of diversity. That will take no small amount of humility. Perhaps there’s this church down the road that has the right idea; it’s both a baptist and a Methodist church. The two congregations couldn’t afford to maintain separate spaces, so they agreed to share one building and pool their resources together. We still haven’t quite figured out how they make it work, if the Baptists get to have the early morning service and the Methodists get the late morning service, for if both churches are one congregation and they alternate on Sundays which type the service will be, Methodist this Sunday and Baptist the next. Somehow, they found a way to make it work, instead of being either Baptist or Methodist, they are both Baptist and Methodist; more than that, they’re both Christians. Instead of falling victim to the temptation to separate into many smaller and smaller groups, they view themselves as a part of just one larger, all-encompassing group that has room for everyone, everywhere.
I know, the Bible says not to add to it, but also says not to take away from either – perhaps these elements were built into it and simply ignored. Looking at what Paul had to say, he didn’t seem to think that everyone had to agree with each other about everything, he allowed people to come to different conclusions about smaller matters and didn’t see it as a threat to their faith. The question becomes who gets to decide what a smaller matter is? That’s the other problem with the Inerrancy group, every dotted I and crossed T becomes a central matter and every disagreement becomes heresy. That’s not the kind of Christianity that we were meant to have.
Thinking back to Corinth, how Jesus, Peter, Apollos, and Paul were four teachers that the church divided itself according to it’s preferences, perhaps we miss that all of them were supposed to be teaches and all of them were supposed to bring different perspectives into the church. That of the founder, the founder’s closest follower, the founder’s chosen instrument to reach certain people, and one who picked up the mantle after others had laid down the foundation. Paul talked about that – one starts a work, the next builds on it. One plants a seed, the next waters it. We’re not all foundation builders, we’re not all seed-planters. Instead of sticking to a foundation (and never building), keeping on planting seeds (but never watering), we were meant to have divergent teachers that helped us continue to build and to grow and to mature – to challenge us to adapt to new ways of thinking.
Just as the air we breathe isn’t pure oxygen and the water we drink isn’t completely pure either – as it travels in the water cycle, it picks up certain impurities. In this region, water often filters itself through the natural limestone, which adds calcium while removing iron. Christianity’s filtration system has been off kilter for quite some time, often letting in more harmful elements and blocking helpful ones, leaving a bad taste in it’s wake. We don’t know how to answer the questions about what makes for a good teaching or a bad teaching anymore. We find ourselves listening to the people we shouldn’t and ignoring the people we should listen to. It’s no wonder our environment has become so toxic.