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In or Out?

June 10, 2014

For as long as there have been Christians there have been other Christians willing to tell them that they aren’t really Christians.  In the early days of the faith this mutual kicking out of the faith family was fairly wild and chaotic but, with the formation of a church hierarchy, there arose a band of arbitrators who were pretty much in charge of the process of tossing out those who strayed.

Those tossed might complain, and even insist that they were really the only true Christians, but for the most part the system was pretty much accepted and the guardians of the gates of Christendom were in place.  Periodically these guardians got together for a big party to write out the rules that needed to be followed to be called a true Christian.  Perhaps because “party” seemed too frivolous a word these gatherings were called councils and the list of rules were called creeds.

Things seemed to be settled until the first major problem came up starting around 1054 when the church pretty much split in half over doctrinal issues that included, among other things, the dispute over whether the Eucharist should use leavened or unleavened bread.  (OK, there were other issues but that one is my favorite reason to banish others from the family of Christ.)  This split, which fell pretty much along geographical lines, has since been called the Great Schism or The East-West Schism.

The western half of the church split again starting around 1517 in what we now call The Protestant Reformation.  This split was a doozy as a key tenant of the whole thing was the concept of Universal Priesthood; that all believers had the right and duty to read the Bible themselves and come to and understanding of what it means to be a Christian.   This concept set off such a firestorm that, even today, there isn’t even a universal definition of what it means and how it works.

One key result was the birth of an ever-increasing number of denominations because everyone had the right to call everyone else out of bounds.  Estimates of the number of denominations, groups of people who are sure they, and only they, have the faith right, range as high as 41,000.  Christians have tried ever since to make some sense of this chaos and the concept of Ecumenism came along to try and calmly sort out the “who is in and who is out” question.  This of course led others to declare that anyone who believes in such a heinous concept clearly is “out” himself.

Into this playing field stepped modern evangelicalism and we have proven to be excellent players in the game of kicking others off the Christian team.  Whole organizations have been founded for the express purpose of doing this kicking out.  There are so many that, at times, they need to kick each other out.

Smugly assured that, at the very least, we evangelicals are the only real Christians we have tried to develop our own list of rules you have to follow to be declared “in.”  I’m happy to report that we haven’t been cheeky enough to use the terms “councils” and “creeds” but I suspect the reason is that those terms themselves have become too ecumenical.  This has resulted in a number of definitions of what it means to be an evangelical, although perhaps the most popular one is called the Evangelical Quadrilateral.

Sadly, of late the quadrilateral is proving to be inadequate.  The flow of science and culture has created a whole host of issues that don’t neatly fit into this or any other definition of evangelical.  Issues like abortion, in vitro fertilization, and same-sex marriage have joined older thorny problems like the age of the earth and evolution in giving a host of new reasons to kick others out.

At the same time, the internet and social media have given all sorts of people, me for instance, the tools to declare themselves the sole arbitrators of true faith.  Even more, it has allowed the kicking out to sift down to the personal.  No longer do we need to kick out whole denominations, we can now kick people out individually.  I could write something here, and perhaps I have, and you can kick me out of the family if you don’t like it.  That is, you can do that if you don’t mind that I might turn around and try to kick you out .

I could give you a hundred links to demonstrate this kicking out war with a minimum of effort.  But I don’t think I will.  I think I am too busy figuring out what I need to do to live my faith out loud.  I think I am going to choose to understand “contending for the faith” as a charge to be the best Christian I can be; not a license to kick others out.

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