There is a divide in the Reformed Presbyterian Churches today regarding how the Church should live in society and relate to culture. We should first note that there being a divide in the Reformed Presbyterian Churches should surprise nobody. That is because purists, of which the Reformed Presbyterian Churches have in great abundance, are the mathematical reciprocals of rabbits. Whereas rabbits multiply, purists divide. And this is true for purists in most movements whether those movements reside on the right or the left side of issues.
As mentioned, one of the divides in the Reformed Presbyterian Churches today regards how the Church and its members should relate to society--or perhaps instead of saying "relate to," we should say, "try to control." In one corner are those on the transformational side who believe that part of the Church's mission in bringing Christ to the world is to change culture in accordance with the Scriptures. In the other corner stands the Two-Kingdom (a.k.a., 2K, which is not to be confused with K to 2) Christians who believe that because the Church resides in two separate worlds, a redeemed world and a more general but fallen world, there are two different standards of righteousness for each and the Church would do well not to confuse the two. While 2K theology is rather libertarian concerning how individual Christians react to today's issues and concerns, it doesn't see the Church as having the duty to speak out and take a stand on most of today's societal and cultural issues.
Now what we should note is that when purists cause divisions, they become very territorial and tribal over their new territory. As that occurs, sometimes defensiveness kicks in as fangs are bared and aggression is unleashed toward outsiders who would venture into one's yard by criticizing (a.k.a., reviewing) one's theology. And as the purist defends their own turf, the ghosts of Christmas Past, such as Augustine and Calvin, are summoned to give authority to the defense of one's own position. And there are purists on both sides of the Transformational vs 2K battle who do this. This calling on Augustine, Calvin and other notables from the past is very important here because of the authoritarian culture in which the followers of both theologies reside.
Though there are some who know how to take this debate in stride, there are others are harmed by the division. And perhaps those who are harmed the most are those who most enthusiastically, and with a sense of righteous superiority, participate in the contest. They seemed to be forever condemned to a tribalism that includes the finding of faults in others and a whitewashing of those in their own camp.
So perhaps a different approach needs to be taken so as to join together those who believe in Christ but have let themselves be divided. And perhaps if this approach can join my fellow Conservative Christians from two different theological camps, it can facilitate our working with nonChristians on important worldly issues. It is important to work side by side with nonChristians on worldly issues because such gives us tremendous opportunities to share the Gospel. And we can share the Gospel not just in what we say, but in how we are willing to learn from others.
In comparing Capitalism to Communism, Martin Luther King Jr was an equal opportunity critic. But he also acknowledged that both sides had important truths to share. Both his criticisms and tributes were meant to join the two sides together. He wanted to join the two sides along with any innocent bystanders, which we could call collateral healing, by proposing the need for a synthesis of the two political-economic approaches. So in talking to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1967, he said that both Communism and Capitalism forget something important. While Communism forgot the individuality in life, Capitalism left out that we are interdependent and live in community. In essence, because of how each side emphasized their truths, they were blind to the contributions made by the other side. (click here).
Now if King could not only see the benefits from two such opposing ideologies, but also the possibility that the two sides could be joined together, why shouldn't Reformed believers in Christ be able and willing to forge at least a partial synthesis between the two sides in this intramural debate? Perhaps the synthesis would be partial and not complete. But then there would at least be more fellowship and less tribalism--note how opposite those two concepts should be to Christians.
We should note that the Conservative Christian Church, especially the Reformed ones, have provided two kinds of stumbling blocks for those hearing of the Gospel. The Conservative Christian Church has both tried to force unnecessary constraints on society in the name of religious paternalism while remaining silent, and thus complicit, on society's social sins. And since the time of Constantine, what these two kinds of stumbling blocks have had in common is that they usually serve the interests of those with wealth and power. And they do so by giving the appearance of either controlling sin or giving freedom while leaving unchallenged oppressive systems.
We should note that when there is a cultural push back to the laying of these stumbling blocks, Conservative Christians cry persecution or claim rejection of the Gospel. This is unfortunate because Conservative Christians interpret the persecution kind of push back as a first strike. In addition, Conservative Christians will interpret some push back as rejection of the Gospel rather than a spurning of the stumbling block. Though some push back is due to an animosity toward the Gospel, more might be from the rejection of Conservative Christians themselves. And thus, it would be helpful if my fellow Conservative Christians would interpret at least some of the push back as constructive feedback. Of course, the disadvantage of interpreting push back that way is that one would have to interpret the placing of stumbling blocks as a first strike.
Reformed Theology has a rich Biblical and intellectual tradition. Thus, it could not only further the preaching of the Gospel in ways other Christian theologies cannot do, it could also help society become better. Unfortunately, its influence is sabotaged by debates, such as the one between Transformationalists and 2Kers, that not only divide believers, but cause the participants to spend inordinate amounts of time on intramural battles and insufficient amounts of time and energy in determining how we can better share the Gospel.
And if we add to that the fact that since an overwhelming percentage of Reformed Theologians and Christians in America are politically conservative and some have tightly bound their faith to their politics, what results is that whatever appeal is made to those in society, it implies that one must become a political conservative to believe the Gospel. And while that keeps congregations somewhat politically homogeneous, it hinders the call to believe from adequately reaching all people who hear us. Perhaps a measure for how effective our preaching of the Gospel has been is the diversity that exists in our congregations in terms of race, economic class, political views, as well as other categories that are currently outside my thinking.
|This Month's Scripture Verse:|
Whoever loves money never has enough;
whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income.
This too is meaningless -- Ecclesiastes 5:10