Who decides who is in or out?
Both John MacArthur and Mark Driscoll have written books that present different visions of what biblical Christianity looks like. If you read “Strange Fire” and “A Call for Resurgence”, you can’t help wonder if these church leaders are batting for the same team. And yet they are. Having differing points of view doesn’t stop John MacArthur and Mark Driscoll from being faithful followers of Jesus. They are both expressing their understanding of what the Bible is saying. The Bible is the Word of God, but if its true that God’s thoughts are higher than our thoughts, and God’s ways are higher than our ways (Isaiah 55: 8-9), then humanity will continue to have differing views of the Bible until we meet God and then we no longer see in part but the full (1 Corinthians 13: 12).
So what does that mean for us today? I like the idea of theology being like contours. Contours are lines connecting a series of points of equal elevation and is used to illustrate topography. They show the height of the ground above sea level and can be drawn at any desired intervals. When contour lines are close together, they indicate a hilly or mountainous terrain; when they are far apart, they represent a gentler slope. Since the earth is not flat, contours are used to ‘paint’ the landscape of a geographical area.
The theological landscape has never been constant right through church history. It’s because the theological contours are constantly fluctuating as beliefs amongst different parts of the church kept changing. At times the theological contours came closer and at times it drifted further apart, thus bringing about the change in the theological landscape. These movement in theology happens because we are trying to understand the mind and ways of God that are much higher than ours.
How do I as a follower of Christ develop my theology and relate with others who have different understanding than I?
First of all there are theological contours that never change over the centuries. They are the mountain peaks where the contour lines are the closest. They are closest to heavens and at that point we see the magnificence of God revealed to us in Christ Jesus. It is this belief that binds us together as the people of God. For me the 12 points of the Apostle’s Creed sums up what unites us as Christians.
1. I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth;
2. And in Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son, our Lord;
3. Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary;
4. Suffered under Pontius Pilate; crucified, dead and buried;
5. The third day He rose again from the dead;
6. He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
7. From thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead;
8. I believe in the Holy Spirit;
9. I believe in the holy catholic church; the communion of saints;
10. The forgiveness of sins;
11. The resurrection of the body;
12. And the life everlasting, Amen.
Then as we go lower down the mountain from the summit, the contour lines go further apart till we get to the base of the mountain. It would be wrong of me to say to other Christians that I can only relate to them if they hold the same beliefs as me. The reality is that there are more people holding views different from me than similar to me. Do I let these views prevent me from being in community with these people holding different views. And the answer is no. I am not going to let that happen. I am not going to let the amount of water needed for baptism to separate me from others or my views on how the spiritual gifts should operate or even how God chose to create the world. The Baptists hold freedom of conscience as an important value for all. That means we do not judge others for the beliefs they hold. Instead we recognise that together we can discern the mind of God because of the different theological filters we have
So for me, I would like to continue discussing faith with others who have different views from me and to know that we can still leave as friends. I will continue to strive for church unity in my community that I am in because of our faith in the risen Christ. I have learned not to let theology and its practice separate me from other Christ followers. And I will leave it to God to decide who is in His church and who is out as revealed in the parable of the wheat and tares as told by Jesus (Matthew 13: 24-30)