Thursday, September 09, 2004

Walking a Tightrope

We in the Restoration Movement walk a tightrope between legalism and license, between evangelicalism and sacramentalism, and between being a denomination and Christians only. Walking a tight rope is not the same as "walking the fence" or, to use a long gone political epithet, being a "mugwump."

Those of us on the tightrope try to maintain a balance. While holding onto Restoration values, we try very hard to accept people and question theology. It is difficult to express brotherhood without seemingly rejecting those with whome we differ on one hand or being seen as compromisers on the other. No matter what you do, someone will question your motives and your commitment to Christ. It is much easier to choose up sides. What is often misunderstood is the fact that one can, on the basis of one's own study, take a position and hold it with conviction without condemning or rejecting those who differ.

I have a strong conviction about what the Bible teaches regarding Christ's return. I teach it without compunction or regret, but I still believe those who accept other views love the Lord and are brothers or sisters in Christ. I admit to being impatient on occasion with those who hold a differing position as if it were the only way to understand the biblical data. I also admit to getting a bit feisty when brotherhood publications present a one-sided view without balancing it with alternatives. The Christian Standard, for example, published "Why I Am a Premillennial" by my brother David Reagan. The author of a companion article in the Standard spoke of how eschatological views affect foreign policy and how the USA is seen by others. The author wrote from an amillennial perspective, that was clear, but it was not a "Why I Am an Amillennial" presentation. Not long ago, David Reagan spoke at the NACC but there was no presentation that presented the amillennial, postmillennial, or the various dispensational views.

I also hold strong convictions about the doctrine of inerrancy. Yet when I express the belief that Scripture is inerrant, the hackles go up. When the controversy was smoldering in the late 1970s and the 1980s, a mention of inerrancy or a challenge of those who rejected it was tantamount to excommunication. Of course there were those on both sides of the issue ready to excommunicate the other. Dr. Jack Cottrell, who in my mind, presented strong convincing arguments for the doctrine was villified as one who wanted to divide the brotherhood and a (shudder) Calvinist. I strongly disagree with my brothers and sisters who take a different view of inerrancy. In my opinion, I think their view of Scripture and biblical authority is weak and anemic. but they are still fellow Christians and I can fellowship with them, work with them, and, with good nature, argue with them.

I hold strong convictions about the purpose and nature of baptism. I believe the Bible teaches "baptism for (the purpose) of the remission of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38). I won't teach or preach anything else. I'm a bit perplexed by brothers who have weakened, at least in print and sermon, weakened that view. I'm not always sure how much their view has actually changed and how much is marketing spin. On this issue, even Alexander Campbell found it difficult to "walk the tightrope." I don't think anyone would argue that Campbell did not believe baptism was immersion in water for the remission of sins. At the same time, he would not make it absolutely essential for salvation. You see, Campbell taught that it was his opinion that God would save those of genuine faith who obeyed to the extent of their understanding. In illustration and written word, he taught that God held people accountable for what they knew and comprehended. On the one hand, it is dangerous to water down the purpose of immersion for marketing. On the other hand, it is equally dangerous to be condemning and unkind to those who don't understand the biblical teaching. It is a tightrope one must walk, however, to be faithful to the Word of God and Restoration values.

I could go on, but suffice it to say that loving the brotherhood is often misunderstood for condoning error or becoming a narrow exclusivist. I don't want to be identified as either. You see, I am not the only Christian but I do want to be a Christian only.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I sure hope that your theology students don't take notes from you about evangelism and church growth. They will be out of a job and starving within two years.