Earlier this month New Wineskins came out with an issue titled “Fellowship: Who’s in, Who’s Out, Who Decides?” (Feb 2012) which I recommend. One of the things this issue has reminded me of is the immense difficulty there is in defining the boundaries of Christian fellowship. There is the basic boundary of faith in Jesus Christ but within the broad scope of what is today known as the Christian faith, I find it rather difficult to define a boundary. Let me explain a bit.
I could easily take all the beliefs and practices I believe are fundamentally essential to being Christian (i.e., baptism, prayer, etc…) and say that all people must share those same beliefs and practices in order to be a part of the Christian fellowship. Some Christians have gone this route. It’s called sectarianism. I know because I used to be one. Those who go this route typically do so with scripture (proof-texting) and argumentation (reasoning) as to why their view is correct against all others.
The problem with this approach is that this becomes a creed, written or unwritten, which becomes the object of faith. The sectarian will never admit that they have faith in their creed rather than Jesus but it is true. The argument is that they are part of the true Christian fellowship because they believe and practice rightly on every last one of those fundamentally essential issues. That is faith in having the right doctrine, not faith in Christ.
So if we reject sectarianism, what are the boundaries and how do we know them? Well, here’s my answer: I’m not sure that’s a question we should be trying to answer. We already know how much difficulty there is in trying to reach any coherent answer and maybe that’s the big hint…the big elephant in the room we seem to be missing. Perhaps the issue is so difficult to solve is because it is not our issue to solve…rather, it’s God’s issue and would be better off left in God’s hand.
So what then? Should we just treat everyone who professes to be Christian as our brother or sister in Christ? Perhaps so. Perhaps if we did this, we might actually be able to build relationships with other Christians beyond our own tribe and learn together a deeper understanding of what it means to be Christians living by the Spirit as we follow Christ. The Lord knows we have only made a mess of things by pointing fingers, making accusations, and denying fellowship to others.
Besides, we might just be surprised how much love for Christ there is among those other tribes…how much the Spirit does dwell among those other tribes.
Stay tuned for a story to come…