"You have to work hard to offend Christians. By nature, Christians are the most forgiving, understanding, and thoughtful group of people I've ever dealt with. They never assume the worst. They appreciate the importance of having different perspectives. They're slow to anger, quick to forgive, and almost never make rash judgments or act in anything less than a spirit of total love . . . No, wait--I'm thinking of Labrador retrievers!" David Learn, 1998

Friday, December 2, 2011

Glimpses of Grace 5: Division grows

     After the choir robes--and some of our finest leaders--vanished, I noticed other changes.
     The name of our church changed; the denomination was dropped. An attractive new sign just reading "Grace" appeared out front and all church communications used the new logo. I didn't remember the congregation having a say in that but I supposed suppressing the denomination in the name would make more visitors feel welcome and that was a good thing.
     Our church motto, "The Bible, the whole Bible, and nothing but the Bible" vanished. The new motto was "A community of the new creation living out of the gospel for the flourishing of all." That sounded wonderful and although I thought the motto of an evangelical church should mention God or Jesus Christ or the Bible surely the Word of God would continue to be our standard for faith and practice.
     Lou talked a lot about the gospel back then. He and his wife attended something called Gospel Transformation. He was so enthusiastic about it he brought it into the church and urged everyone to take the classes. Lou said we needed the gospel every day of our lives as Christians, not just to get in the door. My husband and I never got around to going through the series ourselves but lots of people did and said it changed their lives.
     Lou used "gospel" even in sentences where I would have used "Jesus." We have to follow the gospel. Do things according to the gospel. It didn't seem wrong but I couldn't connect very well with the concept. I couldn't have a relationship with the gospel like I could with a Person. I couldn't have conversations with the gospel, ask for help from the gospel.
     He also kept emphasizing that God's intention was to make us more human. Not more godly, not more like Jesus Christ, not able to obey Him more or overcome sin better. I tried to see it his way, rather than insist he use the semantics I was used to.
     He gave a series of sermons on moral issues. I struggled a lot with them. It seemed to me Lou was unhooking us from the authority of the Ten Commandments, encouraging us to decide for ourselves, making morality relative. I could have sworn in his message on adultery that he was actually approving sex outside of marriage if we wanted it. I scolded myself for even thinking that. My mind must have wandered as he explained himself. I must have missed some key caveat. So I didn't say anything to him about it.
     In fact, there were views he expressed in many sermons which didn't feel quite comfortable, by which I mean didn't ring true Biblically. I wanted to e-mail him and take exception to some of these views but I held back, remembering the piranhas, remembering how picky and judgmental we old-timers were and how much trouble we had caused him. I waited and listened for him to present things I could wholeheartedly endorse and when there were some, I'd send him e-mails thanking him for them.
     A few rumors were stirring here and there. He's teaching emergent doctrines. He's quoting from N.T. Wright and Peter Enns, G. K. Beale, and William Dumbrell. All the pastors and elders are getting into this stuff, people said. Someone pointed out a picture we hadn't noticed before on page 2 of our 2005 church directory: two of the pastors we most liked and respected were holding up books by N.T. Wright, big grins on their faces.
     I didn't know what to do with that information. I had no idea who N.T. Wright was or why we should mind Lou quoting him.
     The Uprights and both their sons' families had left the church. So had others, many so quietly we didn't notice for weeks or months that they were gone. But our church was poorer without them. They were some of the members most faithful to God's word and work, the kind of people on which our church had been founded. They were telling us from their new churches that they felt they were coming out of a long darkness, that they were feeling spiritually fed again.
     They said Lou didn't preach on sin, on the need for repentance, on Christ's provision for our rebellion by His death on the cross. He didn't mention the blood of Jesus. In a vague way I realized all that was true. Key truths were missing. As a Christian, I just mentally filled in the gaps.
     I told these detractors it was okay if those things were missing from the sermons because all the music, chosen by our worship director who comes from a strong Presbyterian tradition, was always rich and doctrinally meaty. It balanced what was lacking in the messages. The podcasts of the sermons might not reflect it (I staunchly averred), but each service as a whole presented the gospel as a whole.
     In Glimpses of Grace #6, I'll give you an example (from my journal) of how I had to rewrite Lou's sermons in my own mind to make them correspond to Scripture as I understand it.

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