Exclusive? Definitely. Inclusive? Even more so.
I first feel the necessity to generally highlight my views of the Bible. I believe the Bible is logos; the Word of God made available to us through the written word. I recognize the difficulties in logic, timeline, and seeming “contradictions,” but I believe that the Bible is a unified whole, from Genesis to Revelation. Although no philosopher, the teachings I tend to admire are from C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, Francis Schaeffer, and Ravi Zacharias, to name a few. I style myself as evangelical and fundamental, utilizing the “classical” definition of both. That is:
Evangelicalism is a Protestant Christian movement. It began in the 17th century and became an organized movement with the emergence around 1730 of the Methodists in England and the Pietists among Lutherans in Germany and Scandinavia. It continues to draw adherents globally in the 21st century, especially in the developing world.
It is a religious movement that de-emphasizes ritual and emphasizes the piety of the individual, requiring him or her to meet certain active commitments, including:
- The need for personal conversion (or being “born again”);
- A high regard for biblical authority;
- An emphasis on teachings that proclaim the saving death and resurrection of the Son of God, Jesus Christ;
- Actively expressing and sharing the gospel.
The term “fundamentalism” has its roots in the Niagara Bible Conference (1878–1897), which defined those tenets it considered fundamental to Christian belief. The first formulation of American fundamentalist beliefs can be traced to the Niagara Bible Conference and, in 1910, to the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, which distilled these into what became known as the “five fundamentals”:
- The inspiration of the Bible and the inerrancy of scripture as a result of this.
- The virgin birth of Christ.
- The belief that Christ’s death was the atonement for sin.
- The bodily resurrection of Christ.
- The historical reality of Christ’s miracles,
both from Wikipedia. Obviously there is a ton more information regarding both on Wiki and elsewhere, but for my purposes, this will suffice, as definition and identification.
What this does not mean is that I am a rabid, shove it down someone’s throat kind of guy. I do not believe it to be in the image of God to do so, and at best, I believe that approach counter-productive. I believe that God loves me enough to be always present, an example, a guiding light, a beacon to find my way home when I have wandered. I do not believe my God is interested in holding me at arm’s length until I get it right. And since He is this for me, I should seek to be no less for those that do not believe as I do. God is patient and kind, and I try to emulate Him with my friends who believe as I do, and those who may think I’m a bit of a nutter for believing this way. I have friends all across the spectrum, and I like that. My friends are precious to me, and for me to hit them over the head with my Bible every time we talk, well, we wouldn’t be friends for long, and I could hardly blame them.
This is background for a messaged presented by our pastor, Bob Klecan, last Sunday, August 12, 2012. Another sidetrack: I have talked about Pastor Klecan before, and continue to have nothing but praise for him. One of the smartest guys I know, he refuses to show off about it. Humble and kind, Bob’s the real deal. He’s a joy to talk to, and can converse on just about any topic one could wish. And his approach to the Word of God is equally interesting. He comes from blue-collar roots, and tailors his messages toward a blue-collar, get in the trenches and do this mentality. Very refreshing.
Ok, back to his message. It was entitled, “Contending for the Faith: Arrogant and Hateful?” Although I am going to comment on that sermon, I need to add a disclaimer: the original is much better than this paraphrase. Anything that is good is clearly from Bob Klecan, and anything that doesn’t make much sense is clearly from me. Also, I am still on oxycodone from my recent surgery, and therefore not firing on all cylinders (the number of which varies according to whom one is talking. I, as an example, would think of my mind as an eight-cylinder muscle car, perhaps a Ford Mustang Boss 302. Others would perhaps think that granting me a four-cylinder sub-compact would be generous).
Pastor Bob based his message on the Book of Jude, and although it may sound a bit frightening to think of going through an entire book of the Bible in church, it’s not so bad when one realizes that: A) Bob focuses on just a few verses at a time: and B) that the entire book of Jude is only twenty-five verses long.
He is actually doing a series on the Book of Jude, and it has been interesting, to say the least. For me, Jude has always been kind of a throw-away, something to read quickly and move on. It just never seemed like there was enough substance there to gain any traction. But Pastor Bob has really added muscle to the book, and I have enjoyed it immensely.
This past week Pastor Bob started out with an observation from Jude that although Jesus is the fulfillment of Hebrew scriptures, the grace that was gifted to the human race by God was being distorted; that grace was being used as an excuse for license. True, we are forgiven. But that does not give us permission to do what we want, when we want. Although God allows us to do so, this does not help us to grow in our faith, but takes us further from the ideal. We are called, sanctified, and preserved (v. 2). How then do we contend for the faith, as we are exhorted to do (v. 3)? How do we contend for the faith “in a society that believes it is arrogant, hateful, and even dangerous to insist that your faith is the ‘right one,’ and to not only refuse to accept the validity of other faiths, but to also to attempt to convert others to your faith?”
The answer is two-fold. First the explanation as to why we/I believe as we do.
The explanation is that the Good News as proclaimed by the Bible is uniquely exclusive. Christianity (as represented by the Bible) makes unique claims, as compared to the world’s other major religions. Christianity claims that God came to earth and lived among men, at the same time completely retaining His “God-ness” and yet at the same time He was completely man. Christianity claims that Christ, the God-man lived a real life: that he suffered a real death while accepting every wrong thing that keeps us from a perfect God, and that after dying, he re-claimed His life, thereby defeating death. Further, that since this is true, Christianity claims that accepting and giving oneself to Christ is the only means by which one can come into the presence of a Holy God (heaven). Only through the acceptance of, and reliance on the gift of grace offered by God through the sacrifice of his only son, Jesus Christ may one obtain eternal life. There are multiple verses in support of this exclusivity, suffice it to say that if Christianity is not the exclusive way to eternal life, then Christianity is useless. It is not a good philosophy, it is not a good set of principles by which to live. If Christianity is not true, it is worse than a waste of time, it is actually a terrible evil, pulling us away from any correct way to God, and dooming those that have chosen to follow. But I believe it is true. Can I prove that by formulae or direct observation? Not really. I can offer evidence of miracles that I have personally witnessed. I can offer the Scriptures themselves as a unified whole. And I rely on my faith.
The problem with the explanation is that many people stop right there, and basically live their lives as a bumper sticker. “The Bible says it. I believe it. That settles it.” That’s ok to live by, I suppose, but it doesn’t do much to speak to those with real questions.
Pastor Klecan stated that the best (and often only) answer to the question, “How do we then contend for the faith?” is not in the explanation, but in the application. And the application is that this faith is uniquely inclusive. With the Bible, there is no Jew, no greek, no male or female, no racial divide, no favoritism. All are equally needy before a righteous God, and all are equally accepted with reliance on Jesus’ sacrifice. And for those of us who do rely on God’s grace, it is incumbent to present ourselves in a light that is worthy. In our speech, in our actions, in what we post on Facebook, and in what we write. This is not to say that we compromise on those areas of exclusivity, but that we reach out in love, always looking to the author and perfector of our faith, Jesus Christ. Bob said something along the lines of, “Do we want to make a point, or do we want to point toward eternity?” This is where I often personally stumble. I have very definite ideas about nearly everything, and don’t often hesitate to share my thoughts, regardless of how harsh or pointed they may be. I need (no, I must) change that attitude. And that is a work in progress. In fact, just this past week, a friend on Facebook kind of lit me up about a post I had passed on. The accompanying photo was unflattering to the subject involved, and in retrospect, not necessary for the point to be made. I hadn’t even noticed the photo, I liked the major point, so I passed it along. My friend was rather relentless, and when I understood how the poster came across, remembering Pastor Bob’s message, I saw I was wrong and apologized. I told my friend that I should have seen the inherent nastiness in the photo. She didn’t let me off the hook, she told me that I should have seen it prior to posting. And you know what? She was right. I am trying to look at my posts ahead of time now. The presentation is as important as is the message. Like I said, “a work in progress.”
As Pastor Bob said, exclusivity and inclusivity is not, in the end, a “balancing act,” but a commitment to passionately embrace both the exclusive and the inclusive. That we keep one foot firmly planted in each area. That we embrace both with equal certainty. And that we live both with equal passion.
May God grant me the ability to be His representative in love, and in peace.