Last Thursday I wrote an entry called"Pastor Ray, Isn't That a Little Harsh?" , based on a question from a recent radio interview. It turns out that my entry stirred up a bit a controversy. The heart of it all stems from this comment: "If you deny the resurrection, you are not a Christian and should not be treated as one, even though you might be a pastor or a seminary professor." Carlos Stouffer posted a link to my entry at Jesus Politics. He also posted a link to post by Robert Jensen, a professor at the University of Texas, called Why I am a Christian (sort of). His article begins this way:
I don't believe in God.
I don't believe Jesus Christ was the son of a God that I don't believe in, nor do I believe Jesus rose from the dead to ascend to a heaven that I don't believe exists.
Given these positions, this year I did the only thing that seemed sensible: I formally joined a Christian church.
Standing before the congregation of St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church in Austin, Texas, I affirmed that I (1) endorsed the core principles in Christ's teaching; (2) intended to work to deepen my understanding and practice of the universal love at the heart of those principles; and (3) pledged to be a responsible member of the church and the larger community.
So, I'm a Christian, sort of. A secular Christian. A Christian atheist, perhaps. But, in a deep sense, I would argue, a real Christian.
I quoted from Jensen's article during my sermon yesterday at the First Baptist Church of Tupelo. And I pointed that his view is hardly unique today. There are millions of people who believe some version of Jensen's lowest-common-denominator Christianity, but they don't have the courage to say it publicly.
I want to make two points. First, there is no connection between what Jensen believes and the truth revealed in the New Testament. Second, too many people want a "taffy-pull" Christianity where they can take the words of Christianity and stretch them and stretch them and stretch them until the words bear no resemblance to their original meaning. If an atheist can be a Christian, why be a Christian at all? Why not just be an atheist?
By the way, I do not object to Jensen going to church, but I do object to all church welcoming an unbeliever as a member. Churches should open their doors to anyone who wishes to attend--believer, unbeliever, doubter, skeptic, freethinker, seeker, whoever wants to come. I think our services and our classes ought to be wide open. But there ought to be a wide gulf between attenders and formal members of the church. Let anyone attend, including those who don't believe a thing we preach. But membership should be reserved for the truly regenerate. We weaken the church and we do not help the world when we lower our standards for membership. If anything, churches would do well to raise the bar so that membership truly means something.
Some people may regard my position as narrow and exclusive, but I think it is true to the Scriptures and to the great tradition of the Christian faith. We welcome everyone to "come and see," but we extend Christian fellowship only to those who actually share our faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.