Thursday, December 09, 2004

The slippery slope of the slippery slope

Is accepting brothers as brothers without dividing into sects a slippery slope? Some of the most clarifying thoughts are the simplest ones--like the fact that the slippery slope argument itself can be seen as a slippery slope fraught with danger.

"Where will it lead?" is the question most often asked. "Look at the slope you will be sliding down!" But ask that question about the question itself.

Where will it lead if we embrace the slippery slope argument, and it keeps us from ever growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ? Where will it lead if we are so afraid of the slope we might fall down that we never boldly take the message of faith to those whom we disagree with, or share in its glory with them? The message of the cross was not meant to be enjoyed in a corner with a few like-minded friends. It was meant to be shared with pagans, humanists, theologians, atheists, agnostics, naturalists, scientists, and yes, our brothers and sisters in the faith of Jesus Christ.

If it is wise to be fearful of the slippery slope, then surely it must not have been wise for Paul to rethink the entire basis of his belief system, which he held "in all good conscience," in the days following his experience on the road to Damascus. What an amazingly slippery slope he embarked upon, when he first opened his mind to helping those whom he had set out to debunk and destroy.

What a slippery slope Simon the sorcerer slid down when he accepted the gospel without fully realizing it meant he wouldn't be a magician anymore. If he had considered this fact before becoming a believer, perhaps he would never have become a believer in the first place.

The apostles and elders in Jerusalem, together with the whole church, also slid right down a slippery slope when they convened to discuss the issue of Judaizing teachers. Perhaps they didn't think it through enough in advance to realize that this single event would give a "precedent" for centuries of authoritarian church councils and decrees.

The logical dilemma we face if we subscribe to slippery slope arguments is that we are prejudging a premise by condemning a conclusion we think it might lead to. We are presupposing that there is a slope in the first place, and that we are at the top of it. What if there is no slope at all, or what if we are on bottom of the slope?

It's not helpful in the cause of truth to dismiss a premise for fear of where it will lead without judging the merits of the premise itself. Conclusions should proceed from premises. When premises proceed from conclusions, it is prejudice.

The underlying premise at issue that can't be disputed is that we are to receive brothers on the same basis that we ourselves have been received. That basis is the gospel and obedience to it. We can't set a standard for someone else to be in the "brotherhood" (like agreement on a list of deductions and church practices) that Christ didn't demand for us to be in the "brotherhood." We are in it solely because we have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb.

One might advance the notion that it is dangerous to accept all brothers as--well, brothers. To that I counter that there is more danger in not accepting both weaker and stronger brethren into the fold. We need only look at the fractured state of restoration movement churches to see this potential danger brought to real fruition. That's not only a slope we don't want to slide down any further, it's one I think we need to start trudging back up.