“Surely you know that if a man can’t be cured of churchgoing, the next best thing is to send him all over the neighbourhood looking for the church that “suits” him until he becomes a taster or connoisseur of churches.” C.S. Lewis The Screwtape Letters
This past week pastor Tullian Tchividjian was dismissed from The Gospel Coalition (or TGC). The leadership of TGC insists it was over disagreements about the doctrine of sanctification. Pastor Tchividjian, who is the grandson of Billy Graham, believes it was really about his criticism of reformed leaders C.J. Mahaney and Josh Harris who are accused of covering up sexual abuse at their church. I will give the folks at TGC the benefit of a doubt and chalk it up to theological differences but that disturbs me as well.
I have come to believe that churches and ministries need to embrace what C.S. Lewis calls “mere Christianity.” Lewis defined “mere Christianity” as the doctrines Christians have clearly held to since the beginning such as those found in the classic creeds. I understand that may need to be tweaked a bit as Anselm demonstrated the importance of penal substitutionary atonement but I wouldn’t add much more to Lewis’ definition. I certainly hold strong opinions as to whether women should be elders/ministers, how and when Jesus will return, whether the universe is 6000 or 13.5 billion years old and even as to sanctification but I refuse to divide the Body of Christ over these issues. Ironically, it was the polarizing figure of Mark Driscoll who convinced me that there are “closed hand” and “open hand” issues and only the former are worthy of a public fight. After all, if the world is to know us “by our love” (John 13:35) then perhaps we should act as people who truly love each other rather than just as people who loosely belong to the same club.
C.S. Lewis wrote in The Screwtape Letters that the best way to swing a churchgoer back to Satan’s camp is feed the human desire to be better than others by belonging to an elite group. I have seen this among both liberal emergents and neo-Calvinists. I nearly entitled this post “How to Create a Church of Pharisees” because I planted a “Young, Restless and Reformed” church that dismissed all those who disagreed with them and created “Mean Girl” like cliques that devoured books and podcasts while rarely evangelizing. I am now broken-hearted about my poor leadership and tremble at the thought of my master’s rebuke one day.
The purpose of the church is to introduce people to Jesus Christ not John Calvin or John Wesley. I understand that we are called to disciple not just convert and that means engaging with theology including sticky issues like predestination and free will but, regardless of what path a person takes, they must be reminded that this choice is not the hill to die on.
There are theological issues that are of primary importance and there are real heretics regardless of how passionately they insist they are Christians (what up, Joel Osteen?) but to insist that a person must agree with you on all or nearly all theological issues doesn’t necessarily make you a faithful disciple as much as it does a member of a cult. Since I fully embraced apologetics I have run across those who have written me off as a brother in Christ because I do not subscribe to young earth creationism, dispensationalism, five-point Calvinism, socialism, etc. These are all debatable or open-handed issues but there are cadres of people out there who spend a lot of time online who believe they are THE issues that divide the sheep from the goats. You may in fact be right about these issues because you think God’s thoughts after Him but you may just be the type of person Screwtape was referring to who wants to be among the inner circle more than he or she wants to be a humble, anonymous disciple–you should spend some time prayerfully reflecting on it.