Political and Religious Correctness
It would appear that everyone wants to be gracious (or at least, polite) and with that as now established fashion, doctrine becomes irrelevant or close to it.
Of course we have those who seem to live for debate—for them every disagreement is a life or death matter; it must be so, don’t you see, because that’s what gives them the opportunity to show the brilliance of their logic as they prove with geometrical certainty that one seemingly small error leads to another and that to another until the entire gospel edifice is at stake. These people have not vanished from the earth—far from it. In fact though their number may be smaller than decades ago their voice is even shriller and their logic is even more sharply honed. The widespread feeling that doctrine doesn’t matter at all feeds this class and often creates it because, though we might not bother to act on it, in our bones we all believe that ideas have consequences and that what we believe matters. For some, then, what we believe is the only thing that matters—and so extremists are born and nurtured.
Over against those among us who live to debate there are those who insist: “The only thing that matters is attitude, lifestyle and sincerity; oh, and yes, faith in Jesus as the Christ, God’s Son. Given these, the rest is a matter of fine-tuning at most or a tedious waste of good time and energy.” You hear this kind of talk everywhere.
Nobody believes it in science or medicine, systems of justice, social questions (abortion, embryonic research and such) or even, so it appears, in politics. Passionate people in their thousands gather to shout fiercely that so-and-so must not be allowed to get to be president or prime minister, that such-and-such a group mustn’t be allowed to gain power. These thousands don’t profess to have all the answers to all the major questions but they work on the proposition that “the truth is out there” and we should work toward it for the good of all (especially for our own good).
But in religion everything is pretty much a matter of what each individual thinks and ignorance, even chosen ignorance, even flat refusal to hear what the Bible seems clearly to say, must be accepted and acceptable. I almost said “excused,” but that would suggest that there’s something wrong with an individual asserting his “autonomy”. The one “wrong” in today’s climate, is daring to require people to believe certain truths if they are indeed to be Christians. But a fine-spirited and socially useful agnostic, whatever else he is—as he will tell you himself—is not a Christian.
Less radically but just as forthrightly we’re told that we mustn’t bind creedal views on anyone; we mustn’t insist that they believe this or submit to that if they already “believe in Jesus as Saviour.” To do otherwise, we’re told, is said to nullify God’s grace. All that’s required is faith in Jesus and the rest, while some of it will need to be worked out because it generates serious pastoral concerns and hinders a good reading of the biblical witness—the rest has nothing to do with a person’s salvation in Jesus.
As proof of this we have Paul, enraged by conservative Jews at Antioch. These people were binding the Torah on Gentile converts and Paul blisteringly condemned it as worthy of anathema (Galatians 1—2). We’re to learn from this, we’re told, not to bind anything on anyone except faith in Jesus for that alone is essential.
But scripture and life aren’t that simple and in the very texts used to say we should bind nothing on people but faith in Jesus as Saviour Paul called a curse down on these who would propagate the view just mentioned because it was false to the core.
Still, the people he called down destruction on were people who passionately believed in Jesus as Saviour so it would appear that even those who have faith in Jesus as Saviour and Lord can take a theological position that earns heaven’s anathema. To put it much too crassly, in essence, Paul said to people who had passionate faith in Jesus as Lord and Saviour: “Believe the gospel I preached to you or be damned!”
He thought that a particular view of Christ’s work nullified the death of Jesus (Galatians 2:21).
An increasing number of preachers who should know better are now saying that requiring believers to be baptized “into Christ” is an “add on”—the very thing that we mustn’t do. The very thing, they tell us, that Paul forbids us to do in Galatians 1—2.
The Paul who wrote such scathing words against believers in Jesus had himself been baptized unto forgiveness of sins (Acts 22:16) and in Galatians itself (3:26-27) he speaks of union with Christ in terms of a believer baptism. He doesn’t appear to think a faith union with Christ that’s entered in baptism is an “add on” requirement. Over and over again some people tell us that to call for baptism as the NT way to take on us Jesus’ name is adding “creedal requirements” in addition to “salvation by faith”.
But if that were true Paul threatens believers in Jesus with divine excommunication in chapters 1 & 2 and then in 3:26-27 does what he curses them for.
Maybe it’s best just to take the texts at face value and believe that Paul, in chapters 1 & 2, was denouncing what God had not called for, what God had in fact excluded, and that in 3:26-27 he simply took for granted what God had called for (called for it in Paul and everyone else).
A few years back a man, whom I judge was as weary as we all are at times with too much debating and too little warm, eager obedience, wrote a book calling us all to be more open in our fellowship with evangelical churches of whatever hue since ignorance is prevalent in all churches.
A reviewer trenchantly reminded the author that since it's true that ignorance prevails in all the churches the author had no good reason to limit fellowship in Christ to “evangelicals”. Why not include the fringe groups that believe in Jesus as Saviour though they hold fundamental error about Jesus, his person, his work and his purpose?
Many people belong to this church or that simply because it was good enough for their parents (or the Queen of England) and it’s good enough for them. Churches often stand apart from each other for evil reasons (bitterness, arrogance, stubbornness, personality clashes or thwarted ambitions) but sometimes standing apart is inevitable because, in the end, we must call it as we see it and we don’t all see it alike. God knows how to judge the character and depth of error even when we can't so we should happily leave that to him while we proclaim what the Bible seems clearly to teach with passion and graciousness.
If because we’re shaped by the Hebrew—Christian scriptures we oppose homosexuality as an acceptable behaviourable choice we’re often accused of being homophobic. Sometimes when we criticize Jewish views we’re said to be anti-Semitic or when we castigate the greed often generated by the free-market we’re said to be Communist or dangerously Socialist. We exclude some people from a place in the NT elect for one reason or another and we’re called sectarian, hardhearted and graceless. Choose your own illustration. Accusations like this get us nowhere and they certainly don’t nurture courtesy and fairness. Maybe we’ll just have to stand our ground, call it as we see it while, by God’s grace, we continue in a spirit of obedience to pursue truth as it’s found in Jesus. Meanwhile we’ll continue the dialogue praying for movement in whatever direction it needs to come from or head to.
But don’t you get weary of what appears to be the fad of recantation and long for bold proclamation? Don’t you grow tired of the “niceness” that appears to want to please the religious consumer and wish for men and women who take a stand on what the scriptures say with plainness? Isn't "religious correctness" sometimes as sickening as political "correctness"?