Thursday, July 2, 2015

Progressive Christianity: Fundamentals True and False

I'm back looking at that Rachel Held Evans' chapter 'Adaptation'. Like last time, I'll start with a longish quote.

It seems that a whole lot of people, both Christians and non-Christians, are under the impression that you can’t be a Christian and vote for a Democrat, you can’t be a Christian and believe in evolution, you can’t be a Christian and be gay, you can’t be a Christian and have questions about the Bible, you can’t be a Christian and be tolerant of other religions, you can’t be a Christian and be a feminist, you can’t be a Christian and drink or smoke, you can’t be a Christian and read the New York Times, you can’t be a Christian and support gay rights, you can’t be a Christian and get depressed, you can’t be a Christian and doubt. In fact, I am convinced that what drives most people away from Christianity is not the cost of discipleship but rather the cost of false fundamentals. False fundamentals make it impossible for faith to adapt to change. The longer the list of requirements and contingencies and prerequisites, the more vulnerable faith becomes to shifting environments and the more likely it is to fade slowly into extinction. When the gospel gets all entangled with extras, dangerous ultimatums threaten to take it down with them. The yoke gets too heavy and we stumble beneath it.

It's important to add that a couple of paragraphs later Rachel also writes,

Of course, we all carry around false fundamentals.

This is one reason why I like Rachel. She understands, if I may say it this way, that she sins too. Here is humility. Very refreshing. And may God bless His Church with many more like her.

Now, I think that she is obviously right when she talks about false fundamentals. We attach to what it means to be a Christian, things that just have no business being associated with the faith. So, what are we to do? First, we need to acknowledge, as Rachel did, that we all have a problem here. Then, we need to identify the false fundamentals that we are carrying around so that we can get rid of them.

Sounds good. But now a critical question. How do we do that? How can we even recognize our false fundamentals? The answer to this begins by recognizing true fundamentals.

Jesus faced the same problem that Rachel described. He may not have labelled it ‘false fundamentals', but that's what we see Him dealing with as He confronted the false teaching of His day.

One set of false fundamentals had to do with 'the tradition of the elders'. Here, learned teachers of the past had concluded, 'You can't be a Jew and …' What followed was quite a list of things. The items on the list were different from Rachel's list that I quoted above, but it was the same idea: false fundamentals.

Consider the time that Jesus' disciples fell afoul of one of those traditions. 

And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”’ (that is, given to God)— then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.” (Mark 7.5-13)

So, here's the Pharisee's false fundamental: the tradition of ritual hand washing before eating as an act of religious purity. Jesus confronted them. 'False fundamentals!' But note how He made His case. He quotes Scripture. First, there's that tidbit from Isaiah that speaks to the general problem of holding to some faulty tradition. Then, Jesus follows up with something from Moses. Here, He shows that what they were teaching conflicted with what God had already said. False fundamentals!

All of that leads me to this. False fundamentals can only be exposed for what they are only by evaluating them according to a true fundamental, God's revelation of truth, the Bible. It is by a careful study of the Scriptures that we will be able to come to see more and more clearly those false fundamentals that we hold to and which cloud our vision.

At some point, (maybe my next post?) I would like to discuss what 'a careful study of the Scriptures' looks like.

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