Observations on Life, Faith, Media & Technology

Where Do You Draw the Line?

Topol_250 There is a great scene in Fiddler on the Roof where Tevye struggles to deal with cherished lifelong traditions being challenged and forced resettlement causing them to leave their beloved village. He paces the stage thinking out loud, debating the pros and cons of the situation when he suddenly stops and resolutely declares, “But if I bend that far I will break!”

Where is that breaking point for you? Part of the process of discovering who you are is knowing where you draw the line.

One of the great passions of my life and the primary focus of my ministry efforts for the years to come is unity in the Body of Christ. I am a firm believer that we can and should join hands across theological and denominational lines to impact our culture with the message of the Gospel. But I am not suggesting that in the name of unity we should reach outside of the mainstream of orthodox Christianity or that we should embrace or endorse other belief systems.

Two news items last week illustrated this point quite well. The first was an ongoing discussion between Dr. Al Mohler and Mormon apologist Orson Scott Card on whether or not Mormons are Christians. The second was the story of Rev. Ann Holmes Redding, a 23 year Episcopalian priest who a little over a year ago announced that she had embraced Islam, but was still a Christian. She was, she said, “100% Christian and 100% Muslim.”

Most of us who have examined the basic tenets of both Mormonism and Islam have come to the conclusion that neither is compatible with biblical Christianity. Most Muslims would agree, but for some reason the Mormons, who believe the non-Mormon Christian church was totally corrupt (“the devil’s church”) from the death of the Apostles until the time of Joseph Smith in the 1800s desperately want to be recognized as Christians by mainstream Christianity.

As I said earlier, most Muslims don’t want to be considered Christians. Of course, the aforementioned Rev. Reddick is not most Muslims. Episcopal Diocese of Rhode Island (which has authority over Rev. Redding) has removed her from the pulpit for a year for her to reconsider her theological stance. The Episcopal Church is certainly not a bastion of theological conservatism, but thankfully they apparently know that Christianity and Islam are incompatible.

It is not only important to know where you draw the line, but also knowing why you draw the line there. In the case of the debate between Mohler and Card on the interfaith site Beliefnet, Dr. Mohler has done a masterful job of questioning why the Mormons are so adamant about wanting to be considered Christians when a central part of their theology states the church became corrupt after the Apostles died.  In their view, the church remained corrupt until Mormon church founder Joseph Smith restored the “true” church in the 1800s. Therefore, those of us who are not a part of the Latter Day Saints – those of us in mainstream Christian churches – are still a part of corrupt churches.  So why would they seek so earnestly to be identified with us?

There is no doubt that we in the evangelical community have a natural bent toward exclusion and exclusivity. Many of us have sought to be passionate advocates for a end to the process of narrowing the definition of what constitutes a Christian, or a Baptist or whatever label within the Body you are seeking to define. We long to see more cooperation, understanding and fellowship within the broader Body of Christ. But for each of us, there is a place where we draw the line, and for me that line is drawn around the primary, foundational doctrines of our faith.

The vast majority of evangelical believers see these first-tier doctrines as the things that truly define Orthodox Christianity. The Trinity, the divinity and humanity of Christ, the word of God, and justification by faith — these are doctrines around which we draw a very clear line. As much as we might love individuals who believe and teach otherwise, we cannot join together in ministry efforts with those who deny the deity of Christ, believe in works salvation, or say there are many paths to God and Christ is but one of them.

As Tevye would say, if we bend that far we will break.

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