On Discernment and Birds: An Essay about Diversity in the Church

Friends,

Since not all of you will happen to visit CRN.info, I have decided to re-post my latest entry here at Life Under the Blue Sky. While the catalyst for the post was Ingrid Schleuter’s compelling review of the Inspiring Excellence pageant at Tinley Park, Illinois, the bulk of the essay concerns unity in the church and the eschewing of the sort of judgments that exclude the majority of Christians from God’s grace by other Christians. This unity is not manufactured by the things we do and say but rather by the grace of God and because of the blood of Christ. Furthermore, we are not well situated to make the sort of judgments that some bloggers make about other Christians and their work or standing before Christ. If you would like to follow the comments and conversation, please use the big blue link. As always, comments are welcomed and encouraged here at LUBS.

jerry

Concerning Discernment and Birds

Posted by Jerry on Jul 23rd, 2008
2008
Jul 23

Friends,

Good morning! It is a glorious Wednesday morning here in Northeast Ohio. My wife and I woke up early this morning–well, I did ) anyhow. I walked to the bathroom and washed my face and then down the stairs from my bedroom where I would meet with the Lord in prayer and Scripture. What I learned this morning is that the Lord was already speaking in His Word and that He was waiting on me to listen. Surprisingly, and much to my dismay, the the Lord got along quite well without me while I slept.

I want to begin this rather short post by first reminding everyone to continue praying for Jim Bublitz, Mrs Schleuter, and Pastor Silva among others. I did that very thing this morning and also remembered Pastorboy and Samuel Guzman (the nice young man from Reformata and Always Ready). I also prayed for CRN.info and asked the Lord to help me understand how the prophet Isaiah used the word ‘justice’ (KJV, ‘judgment’) in his preaching. Finally, while reading a small book Disciplined by Grace by J F Strombeck, I was reminded that

“Grace, then, is God’s provision to bring into being, sustain, and perfect His new creation in Christ Jesus. It is the operation of his infinite love on behalf of such as are worthy of everlasting punishment. This outpouring of God’s infinite love is possible only because Jesus Christ, by his death, fully satisfied the demands of God’s justice. As grace came by Jesus Christ, only those who receive Him are under grace.” (19)

Now, on to other issues, not nearly as important, but equally confounding.

I have been following rather closely the posts made by Mrs Schleuter at SOL concerning the so-called ‘Word of Faith’ at the inspiring excellence conference in Tinley Park, Illinois. I was actually rather surprised that Mrs Schleuter would attend such a conference after so roundly rejecting the invitation to attend a conference by Rick Warren. But I’ll leave that alone for now.

Actually, in my estimation, Mrs Schleuter has nailed it down with her latest post on John Avanzini. Those ‘preachers’ are hucksters and it is good that someone is pointing this out to people. Sadly, no one is taking steps to point it out to the people who are actually being taken in by these hucksters and I was a bit dismayed that at the end of her rather well written essay that she actually offered a link back to the Family Harvest Church so that her readers could implicitly support the Word of Faith movement by buying CD copies of the conference speakers. Hmmm. But I’ll leave that alone for now.

Here’s the point of my morning conversation with you. It seems there is a very low threshold of tolerance for orthodoxy when it comes to certain ODM’s. Do you know what I mean? I fully grant that Mrs Schleuter and others are dead on when it comes to ‘word of faith’ ‘preachers’ because it is so patently obvious that those preachers are not preachers of the Gospel at all. Frankly, my sons could make those sorts of discernments and judgments. What gets me is that, at Slice for example, everyone gets lumped into the same category. I wonder then if I can trust the discernment of Mrs Schleuter when, for example, the same criticisms that are leveled against Mike Murdoch and Robb Thompson are leveled against Rick Warren or Rob Bell or Ray Comfort or Doug Pagitt or (insert name of favorite Slice heretic).

Seriously. Is  it really so easy to lump together a World Harvest Church and a Granger Community Church? Is it really so easy to lump together all things Emergent with all things Word of Faith? Is it really so easy to lump together all things Name and Claim It with all things Purpose Driven? Is it really, gulp, so easy to lump together all things Health and Wealth with all things Roman Catholic? Do you see my point which is that if you are outside that small, narrow, myopic, Spurgeon, Edwards, Washer, MacArthur, Piper worldview then you are automatically outside of the possibility of God’s grace? Is it really so easy for people to dismiss the large majority of Christians on the planet just because they don’t see things exactly the way ‘you’ do? Is it really so easy to dismiss what the grace of God might be doing in the lives of others? Is it really so easy to sit back and make such judgments about people for whom Christ died?

I come from a church that has traditionally been a part of a movement called the “Restoration Movement” (even though for a good part of my life I was Methodist). You know what the hardest aspect of being in a Restoration Movement church has been? Allowing God to remove the mindset from my heart that believed I belonged to THE ONE TRUE CHURCH, that ‘our’ way was the only way, that ‘we’ had all the right doctrines and that if anyone didn’t belong to the Restoration Movement then they were simply lost. It was my job, so the mindset goes, to convert the heretic Baptist, the recalcitrant Lutheran, the wayward Methodist and to avoid the hypocritical Catholic and so on and so forth. What I learned a few years back was this: It is not my job to convert anyone (Thank God!). Rather it is the job of the Spirit to convert the heretic jerry, the recalcitrant jerry, the wayward jerry, the hypocritical jerry and so on and so forth. Ironically, one of the ways the Lord has done this is by putting me in communities where there are very few Restoration Movement preachers. My first preaching ministry in Brandywine, WV was in a town of 500 that had 6 or 7 churches: Lutheran, Methodist, Baptist, Brethren, etc. (There was even a female preacher in the next town over. That took a while too, but that’s another story.)  In my current location, there are other Restoration preachers, but my two best friends here are an Anglican priest and a retired Pentecostal Methodist. Both decidedly saved by the grace of God, and both ridiculously sold out for Jesus Christ. Isolation from same feathered birds has taught me about grace. [Edit: Upon reflection, I thank God that RM churches are not the only Christians. To be sure, one of ‘our’ slogans has always been ‘we’re not the only Christians, but Christians only.’ In my estimation, this has not been practically applied, evenly taught, or theologically embraced. I think that is, and has been, gradually chaging as more RM folks start to see God’s grace at work in the church. Nevertheless, in some corners it is still thoroughly rejected which is why some Church of Christ folks are viewed more as a cult than a church. Sad.]

A lot of this is about maturity and growing up and taking Doctrine of Grace (TTH 560 at CCU). The thing is, God’s grace is evident and present in all sorts of places and ways. This is why, for example, there are 4 Gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark, Luke, & John) instead of one; we get the complete picture by seeing four views. This is why there were 12 apostles (or 13). You can’t tell me that Matthew the Tax Collector always got along well with Simon the Zealot! But, from 12 points of view, He gains a more complete mission. Matthew could minister to a group of people that the Simon could not and vice versa. Likewise with Paul, the Pharisee! It’s not that they shared everything in common, but that they held One Person in common: Jesus Christ. Ironically, in the Gospel, Paul wrote this: “There is one body and one Spirit–just as you were called to one hope when you were called–one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.” What he didn’t say is this: There is one opinion; one point of view. Here I tread carefully because this can be taken too far to the extreme. Some things are purposely ambiguous; we have to learn to live there.

This is true also of the ongoing efforts between churches of Christ a Capella and not a Capella to forge some sort of unity. In reality, all that needs to happen is for Christians to acknowledge the unity that already exists by virtue of the grace of God. As it is, two different congregations can reach two different groups of people: One that prefers musical instruments and one that does not. That’s just one (post) modern example. Fact is, I would have a hard time worshiping in a place like Granger on a regular basis and I would probably be left unsatisfied listening to Rob Bell every week. To me it (Granger) would be like Church camp every Sunday. I am much more comfortable in my tradition. But that doesn’t mean Granger is wrong or outside of God’s grace any more than it means John MacArthur’s church is right or has an inside track on God’s grace. It means they are different while being the same. It means that God has created them with red and yellow feathers and he has created me with blue and white feathers and still others have been made with red and green feathers. It means that where Christ is King, we are all different and yet all the same.

In conclusion, I will say this: If Mrs Schleuter or Pastor  Silva are right about WOF, this does not necessarily guarantee they are right about everything. And the problem is that they hold to a monochromatic view of God’s grace: all they see is Crows and not Birds of Paradise, Goldfinches, Parrots, Peacocks, etc. The God of Creation, however, made flowers, and animals, and a thousand different kinds of birds and trees and fish. So creative is He, so fascinated with diversity, that no two of us have the same fingerprint profile. He didn’t make one, but many; and yet many are also one. A fascinating picture of this is in Revelation 7 where from God’s perspective there are 144,000 Jews and from John’s perspective there is a great multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language. One; yet many. The same; yet different. 

What I’m asking for is more discernment in the way we discern. It is not right to lump all people together the way certain ODM’s do. And the sooner clearer distinctions are made, the better. Does this mean every single Emergent church pastor is among the wheat or sheep? Nope. But neither does it mean that every single Spurgeon toting, Washer quoting Reformed church pastor is either. What it means is that every single one of us is dependent upon the grace of God. What I am asking, pleading for, is that grace find a way to insinuate itself into the online discernment ministries and conversations. As I said in a reply yesterday, God could have given us straight-forward Levitical law type instructions about the church. But he did not. Some things He left purposely ambiguous and sometimes I expect He did so precisely because He wants to see just how much we really love one another and how much we love Him. Or maybe He has a sense of humor and likes to see us trip all over ourselves in our efforts to ‘Lord it over’ one another while Jesus remains enthroned at His Right Hand.

Soli Deo Gloria!

jerry

PS–Poor Ray Comfort. The man cannot win for losing. Everyone is on his back now and all he really wants to do is love God and people and share the Kirk.

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  1. Mathew James

    Great post, it was very informative. I think its a must read.




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