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Thursday, July 13, 2017

Guess Who’s Not Coming to Dinner?

Yesterday I dealt with the most practical reason ecumenicalism is a non-starter.

But not every argument against a major campaign to reunite the Church organizationally is all about utility.

The other reason we haven’t seen a lot of small, local churches devoting their energies to ecumenicalism is theological.

An Example

In theory, I would love to work alongside someone like Doug Wilson. Doug is Calvinist, Presbyterian, Amillennial and even baptizes babies. We disagree about many things. But, man, he’s a terrific Bible scholar, staunch in his stand against evolutionary theory, and he makes the Breaking of Bread a major priority. I’ve learned a great deal from reading his daily thoughts on many subjects. I’d like to think that if I lived down the street from Doug and knew him personally, there might be certain things we could work on together. I can picture raising funds for common causes with a man like that, helping out at a local Christian school or having an amiable debate in a public forum about this or that. I can certainly imagine some highly profitable dinner conversations.

But I can’t picture too much more than that. Why ever not?

Fixing the Planet from the Ground Up

There’s a very simple reason: the Amillennialist believes Jesus Christ is coming back after we Christians fix our societies and the world, while the Premillennialist believes the world is going to get worse and worse until the Lord Jesus comes for his people and calls them home to be with him, after which this world will get worse still.

Given that, what are the chances I’m going to feel like committing Doug Wilson-type levels of time to social activism when I believe social activism is the equivalent of putting a Band-Aid on a gangrenous limb? To me, our broader culture is a lost cause. I’m waiting for the Lord Jesus to come and burn the whole mess to the ground, so my priorities are individuals, not institutions. Meanwhile, Doug will continue firing off his open letters to President Trump and Vice-President Pence about policy — not to mention to the board of directors of a local hospital that proposes to introduce genital mutilation surgery for transgender kids — in the hope of making this world a better place.

Good for him, I say. They make entertaining reading and they may even do some good. But I have another set of priorities.

Good Differences

One final thought about working together: Sometimes we’re better off not doing it.

Nathan Abdy says, “We all work for the same shared goal: the gospel. And we should be able to help each other out in spite of our differences.”

The New Testament certainly shows us believers working together, but it also shows the Holy Spirit dispersing believers throughout the world of their day. Certain efficiencies result from this.

Sure, Paul and Barnabas could have worked together for the duration of their respective years of service, but they disagreed over a practical matter and parted ways. As a result, two servants of God went to Cyprus and two more went through Syria and Cilicia. Would the Cypriots have been blessed in precisely the same way if Paul and Barnabas had stayed together for the sake of appearances? Probably not.

The Wrong Metaphor

I entitled this post “Guess Who’s Not Coming to Dinner?” Maybe you think I meant me. I don’t.

Nathan asks, “Why aren’t we interacting with the whole church? It is like sitting down for dinner but not speaking to any of your family members!”

With respect, I think the metaphor is inapt. Evangelicalism is not a family dinner. If anything, it’s more like a great banquet with tables in every direction as far as the eye can see, every one of which is chock full of fellow believers.

If so, we all have a choice: we can run from table to table glad-handing and offering a few meaningless words of greeting that add up to next to nothing. Before long, we may find ourselves so overextended we can’t remember where (or what) we were supposed to be eating in the first place. Alternatively, we can sit and enjoy a good meal right where the Lord has seated us and really get to know those folks a bit. It seems to me that only when we do the latter are we really having biblical fellowship with one another, and that it is these sorts of relationships, whether or not they involve doctrinal discussions, that really lead to unity. The rest is all just activity and noise.

So tell me: who is really at the dinner?

Our Priority: The Local Church

Sadly, there is time in this life for all too few really meaningful relationships, and even fewer truly deep and useful spiritual dialogues. With a few happy exceptions, we experience these things primarily at the local church level.

So how would you like to proceed? There will come a time for interacting with the whole church, and I’m very much looking forward to it. It’s called eternity.

In the meantime, I think ecumenicalism is best manifested in an ongoing attitude of open-heartedness toward all the real believers in the Lord Jesus Christ as he brings them into my orbit, not in artificial (and ultimately futile) attempts at organizational unity or institutional reform.

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