Friday, August 16, 2013

Denominations and denominationalism: Explication

The issue of visible division in the Church is certainly not a good thing. The cries against "denominationalism" in both the West and the East however strikes one as being absolutely naive. Such cries reflect an extremely unreflective view of the church and of humanity, or it reflects a low view of God and his truth.

Unity is important yes. The question is: How is this unity supposed to be worked out in real life situations? Just a simple case study would illustrate this well. Suppose I were to look around to form a church. So I encountered person X, who happens to disagree with me on baptism, and person Y, who happens to disagree with me on predestination. So we want to form a church. Which view of baptism and predestination should the church take? It could conceivably take no view on the subject, but then the question is: Is the Church supposed to take a stand on those subjects? Take baptism. In this supposed united church, what should a pastor convicted of credobaptism do if a member comes up to him and ask him to baptize their baby boy? What if they were insistent that infant baptism is biblically mandated? In the interests of unity, should the credobaptist pastor violate his conscience and baptize that baby boy? Or maybe the credobaptist pastor should pass the case over to his fellow pedobaptist pastor in this "united" church? Let's say that is a possible "solution." Will the credobaptist pastor now acknowledge the legitimacy of this infant baptism? Will he be able to treat this child as a church member?

Some may say, "Well, infant baptism is just saying he is born into a Christian family, and thus not that important." Then one does not have a biblical view of infant baptism. Reformed infant baptism is applying God's mark of the covenant to the infant, nothing to do with our profession of faith (the Zwinglian view). But you say, not applying infant baptism does not jeopardize a person's salvation. Well, so does murder, if the person repents. Closer to the credobaptist position, so does believers' baptism. Those who believe don't even have to go for believers' baptism in the church, since after all "this is not a salvation issue," or do they? Or you say, "we can compromise for the sake of unity, since it is not a salvation issue." Believers' baptism is not a salvation issue either, so why don't we dispense of the practice altogether? We can also dispense with church services also (including "organic church services"), since after all not going to church does not jeopardize one's salvation either!

The problem with all such "ecumenism" is that it is not Christian. First, is God's truth worth fighting for? To say that one can tolerate differing practices of baptism in a "united" church is to make a statement that this issue is not important. And since the Church is to follow all Scripture teaches, it is to also say that Scripture does not teach definitively on the issue, either way.

Alternatively, one could just come to the biblical "default." But what exactly is that? If one wants to go to the "default," why does everyone not come to MY "default" understanding of Scripture, instead of me having to come to your default understanding? And for anyone who wants to count numbers, such a one does not understand biblical revelation, of which its truth is not determined by majority vote. In fact, throughout redemptive history, the truth had proven rather unpopular.

So yes, division is not good. But do you, does anyone, have a better solution for unity? Why must unity be about me compromising my values and not you coming over to my understanding?

In this article [HT: The Aquila Report], the usual trite and naive arguments are put forward. Most illuminating is the paragraph at the end:

The final command Jesus gave was not “get every nuance of theology right,” it was “go, make disciples of all nations.” We serve the same God, are saved by the same Christ, and were given the same Commission. Instead of focusing on our differences, we should focus on the One who makes us the same.

Yes, Christ's final command was to go and make disciples of all nations. So, who is this God we are making His disciples? How does the author know that all who call themselves Christians actually serve the same God and are saved by the same Christ? And if we are to go and make disciples, how are we to go and make disciples? Does Scripture actually tell us how to do so? And what is this Gospel he keeps on talking about? What is his "default" that he thinks is true, and why should everyone unite around his "default" theology?

Without actual wrestling with the issue, all the railing against denominations and denominationalism basically show how naive and ignorant these people are. Denominations are not ideal, but at least they can best show Christian unity in the shadow of a fallen world.

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