Monday, January 10, 2005

Where do you draw the line?

Good people have made the point that those who argue against drawing lines in the sand with regard to Christian associations have lines themselves and they are really just arguing about where the line goes. Not so.

Lines in the sand provide security and a comfort zone. On that basis, it may scare some of my brothers who I care deeply about when I say that we ought to obliterate lines in the sand, because it puts us out of our secure little comfort zone. We want desperately to retain the boundaries we are so familiar with, because we are inherently afraid of associating with people we don't agree with. But if we are truly secure in our own convictions, we won't be threatened by disagreement any more than Paul would have felt threatened by showing up in a synagogue to discuss Jesus Christ.

As better men than I have written before, a line in the sand does nothing other than tell me where I stand in relation to another human being. It does not tell me where I stand in relation to God. If we acknowledge that the location of our line is imperfect (how could it not be, we are human), then we also acknowledge that we are necessarily excluding from our brotherly association people whom God wants us to love, edify, and be edified by.

This is why I am so radical in insisting that all man-made lines be done away with. There is no middle ground. Either it is scriptural to create these lines, or it is not. If it is, I have no right to insist that we obliterate them. If it is not, we can't compromise and allow some lines while disallowing others. Either we retain the lines and perpetuate the culture of sectarianism among the Lord's people, or we abolish the lines altogether and accept imperfect brothers with the humble knowledge that we ourselves are at least as imperfect as they are. That doesn't mean we accept their imperfect understandings of scripture or imperfect practices. It does mean we accept them as joint heirs of the Kingdom, knowing that we are only individually responsible to God for own opinions and practices. Association does not mean endorsement.

I wish everyone could see as clearly as I do that these lines are all man-made, and are thus to be relegated to the trash pile of failed human ideas. It is the creed question resurrected again, and I suppose each generation needs to wrestle with the giant. Too many have rolled over and let the giant win by getting crushed into submitting to the belief that the problem of disunity is just too great to solve. It isn't. It just requires a change in our philosophy and a little more love for our fellow travelers in The Way.

There is only one way that we can remain true to our own consciences in each matter of scriptural interpretation and still be unified with all other believers--which we are expressly commanded to do. The only way to do this is to change our definition of unity from unanimous agreement on a set of opinions to brotherhood. We are unified because we are brothers and because we share the same goal of serving our King. We are not unified because we agree on this or that practice, because if that is the case, we are in unity with no one, not even our own fellow congregants. Not one Christian can honestly say that he agrees with the opinions of every other member of his congregation.

The only lines in the sand taught by the apostles were for moral depravity, deviations from the gospel of Christ, or divisiveness. If I am to stick close by the apostles' doctrine, I can't accept any lines in the sand beside those. With all other matters I must find it in my heart to be patient and longsuffering with my brethren, even while I disagree with them on certain things. What good is it to be patient and longsuffering only with those we agree with? Anyone can do that. The true Christian spirit is to be able to love and forbear our brother in spite of his weaknesses and misunderstandings. If God is patient with me in my imperfect understandings--and I hope and pray He is--I had better be patient with my brother in his.

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