...are the ones that make the biggest difference

8.11.2004

Radically Inclusive - Part III

Now, perhaps it is understandable why the early church was "exclusive" and why this is a good thing after all. But that was then and this is now. The church was befuddled by a pre-modern understanding of the world and restrained by obsolete cultural mores, but now we have the benefit of science and have abandoned those outdated paradigms. We have, in short, evolved, grown-up, become an adult church able to seriously reflect on our more childish past. We can now see that the early church was emerging into a largely pagan culture, so a conservative approach was necessary to make sure the church was not subsumed into the larger religious landscape. But now, the church is losing relevance in a post-Christian culture and so must turn to a more progressive paradigm in order to salvage itself and march boldly forward into the future.

Or so the theory goes, anyways. It is true that every generation must reappropriate Christianity and come to express it in terms they can understand. I think the first Ecumenical Council in Nicea is a perfect example of this. By the 4th century, the church had expanded considerably and had emerged from a back-waters offshoot of Judaism in a dirty little corner of the empire, into a more urban, educated and Gentile faith. It had grown large enough that the government had taken notice of it, and not always favorably, and the considerable weight of pagan thought was being brought to bear on the Way. Heresies within the ranks had also started to pop up, and were in serious need of redress. In short, the Church had a whole lot to deal with and needed to be decisive about it. So they have a council, come up with the creed and define the doctrine of the Trinity. However, the language used to describe the Trinity is not biblical and, if memory serves me correctly, has only scant use in patristic texts, so the question is - would the Apostles have accepted this definition? I think it is safe to say that after breaking out a dictionary, maybe a couple of glasses of wine and some prayers, that yes, the Apostles would accept it even though they may not have defined it in precisely those terms.

Every subsequent Ecumenical Council was a similar process of a taking the Apostolic deposit, and re-expressing it more precisely and more clearly delineating the boundaries of right-belief. A similar, though certainly not authoritative in the sense of the councils, process takes place with each generation. The Apostolic deposit and the accumulated understanding of the past is re-expressed, but in such a way that it does not deny that accumulation (except in the case of the Reformation, but that is a whole nother series of posts). The problem with those advocating "radical inclusivity" today is that it attempts to invalidate the understanding and knowledge of past generations. Its basically thumbing its nose at hundreds of thousands of Christians as corrupt, inept or just plain stupid. The RI church assumes it can know either what the genuine Apostolic deposit was, or that the current culture somehow re-defines the content of the deposit.

The perils of the latter are clear. If culture says slavery is fine, then the Apostles did, too. If culture says abortion is cool, then the Apostles did, too. If culture says atheism is great, then...well, that might be stretching it some, but you get my point. The unchanging standard of truth, ie God, is constantly changing based on what our particular society is doing. It also negates any serious moral critique of another culture's practices since culture is the lens through which God is viewed. The former has its own problems. How do you determine what is authentically Apostolic and what is not? How can you be sure that your determination is not being influenced by emotion or bias? Is a doctrine you don't like not Apostolic because its a later addition, or because you don't like it?

The problem with the RI church is not just that it splits from the past understanding of the church, but that it effectively separates itself from the church in history and eliminates one of the greatest treasures available to modern Christians, specifically, 2000 years of the accumulated wisdom, experience and guidance of other Christians. The paradigm that says the past was wrong, and possibly wrong to such an extent it was sinful, really stands as a final divorce from historic Christian thought. It is more than merely saying we need to re-express Christianity in meaningful terms for today - it is saying we need to invent a totally new faith. In forging out ahead, they are actually forging out alone.

4 comments:

alana said...

Don't get discouraged. At least one person is reading your blog. Good thoughts.

Benedict Seraphim said...

The implications you draw about the modern RI church are "spot on." There really are only three main positions (though these will have some variations) to take vis a vis the historic Church:
a) to follow its life and teachings as fully as possible
b) to only follow those aspects of its life and teachings you agree with
c) to reject its life and teachings and remake the church anew today

But b) and c) both assume that we now know more about what God wants with regard to the Church than did those who came before us. This, however, begs the question. On what grounds can we assume we know more? What proof do we have that we really *do* know more and can rightly pick and choose, or dump it all out altogether?

I don't think you'll find anyone in the RI church (or their pomo em-church cousins) really addressing this question seriously.

Anonymous said...

Do I understand you to be saying that you would agree with the viewpoint that the Church of Christ should try to fit into the world around it as well as possible in each different generation, or to be attacking that view? It's not very clear, and I don't want to be reading the wrong thing.

The former view, the one that you seemed at the same time to be attacking and accepting, needs a little work. The Church of Christ is just that -- the Church of Christ. Sure, Christians need to live in a way that is winsome and effective, but we certainly must never compromise with the Gospel and the fundamental doctrines of the Scriptures to be "effective." The deal with the Church changing its language and communication with the world constantly is that the Church is made up of real people within that world. But we must remember that we are in the world but not of it. Christ was rejected, as was the Early Church, and truly, the whole Church throughout history has been rejected and mocked by the world. Are we called to try to stop this and get accepted? No -- Christ said that the world would reject us just as much as it did him. Our calling is to be different, and different we must be, because the world is at enmity with Christ and his kingdom, and "to be friends with the world is to be at enmity with God."
As to the question of going along with the world's belief-system -- basically we must live within the bounds of Scripture ALWAYS. The world says that slavery's fine? Check the Law of God, and see what general doctrine is held there. The world says abortion is fine? Again, does God say the same? We must stick with what God says in his Word, and to compromise that to be "effective" in the world is really to cease being effective at all -- remember Christ's sermon on the mount, when he commanded that we be salt and light, and in the same breath commanded that we keep his whole Law in thought, word, and deed. "If the salt loses its flavor, wherewith is it again to be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be trampled underfoot." Is salt used for making a food taste more like itself? No, indeed -- it is used to better it, BECAUSE IT IS DIFFERENT.
The world is not to run how the Church thinks; on the contrary, the Church is the one that must be so different as to affect every aspect of the world's thinking. And so far, in America, the Church has pretty much forgotten that, for the sake of being "effective." See America's moral state -- it's not much to wonder at, sadly.

Well, whatever you were saying, I hope it's basically this. God bless, and keep "fighting the little fights." Will visit occasionally.

-N

Anonymous said...

Oops! I guess that comment got posted anyhow by accident. LOL. That N at the bottom was supposed to be a K.
-K