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The Quest for Mere Christianity

  • Jim Belcher Author and Pastor
  • 2011 8 Aug
  • COMMENTS
The Quest for Mere Christianity

[Editor's note: The following is an excerpt of deep church: a third way beyond emerging and traditional (chapter 3) by Jim Belcher. Copyright(c) 2009. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press PO Box 1400 Downers Grove, IL 60515. www.ivpress.com.]

Before Roberta Green and her family joined Redeemer Presbyterian Church, she had one final question. Years before, she and her husband had been part of a small Reformed denomination that was very sectarian and inward-focused. It was not a happy experience. She had also grown up in a fundamentalist church and had the scars to show for it. "Is Redeemer ecumenical or sectarian?" she asked. "Because I grew up deep in the fundamentalist world where every kind of church or believer who was not in our denomination was a heretic and needed to be shunned and I don't want to be part of a church like that again."

I had gotten to know Roberta and her family well over the preceding months, so I knew of their wide-ranging contacts with Christians of all traditions and denominations around the world. Although they had differences with these people, what they shared in common was more important, especially in the face of widespread persecution by the Muslim governments of the Middle east and Africa. They rallied around orthodoxy, a belief in the historic creeds and deep passion for Jesus. This family was also passionate about John Calvin, his world- and life-view, and the ancient church fathers like Ambrose, Augustine and Athanasius. They had spent weeks traveling through Egypt and Turkey in search of ancient Christianity and the early church fathers. So when she used the word ecumenical, I knew what she meant. It was not the old ecumenism of dying liberalism but the new ecumenism, or what Tom Oden calls the surprising "rebirth of orthodoxy" around the world.

Before responding to her, I asked her a question: "Can Redeemer Church remain faithful to its theological traditions rooted in the history of the early church and Reformation and at the same time remain passionately committed to unity with all genuine believers?" Roberta responded, "Absolutely." "Then," I said, "I think Redeemer will be a good fit for your family." A short while later they became members.

A few months later my wife and I were invited to a dinner party at Roberta's home. It is not uncommon for the Greens to host a party of ten or twelve, usually around a special guest or a wonderful topic. Delicious food and great wine combined with stimulating conversation make for a wonderful evening. Their guests have included people from Cambridge, Copenhagen, Cairo, Charlottesville, Rome, Moscow and Washington, D.C., to name just a few. On this occasion, the honored guest was theologian and prolific author Tom Oden. A few weeks before the dinner I ordered his book The Rebirth of Orthodoxy. having not read any of his books, I wanted to be able to add to the conversation. I did not realize how groundbreaking this book is. It deeply challenged me and opened my eyes to a reality I did not know existed.

In the previous chapter I argue that no real dialogue or learning can take place between the traditional and emerging churches without them listening to and fairly representing each other.

What is missing from the dialogue, what would help us move from accusation to mutual learning, from innuendo to honesty, is trust. Trust is confidence that the other person's intentions are good and that we have no reason to be protective or careful around them. When one party feels disrespected or feels that their ideas have been summarily dismissed, trust is broken and communication is disrupted. Both sides are locked in a cycle of distrust and self-protection. Isn't this what has happened between the emerging and traditional sides? And doesn't this harm the witness of the church (John 13:33John 13:33)?

Of course, many traditional churches aren't seeking unity with the emerging church, which, after all, is theologically liberal in their eyes. A serious charge, no doubt. If they are theologically liberal, that is, they reject the rebirth of orthodoxy, then ecclesial unity may be neither possible nor desirable. I hope this is obvious. If someone denies the deity of Christ or the incarnation, for example, unity would not be possible. Nevertheless, on a personal level, love, civility and kindness would still guide us. Dialogue is always a good thing even with those outside the bounds of orthodoxy.

But what if the emerging church is not theologically liberal? What if those within it are nonetheless distrusted and made to feel as if they are the enemy? They would feel insecure, on guard and threatened when talking with traditionalists. They might even return the favor by dismissing the traditional church. This makes real dialogue nearly impossible. When each side distrusts the other, we have a divided evangelical church. Is there a way forward? how do we get to the point where both sides can talk about their differences and learn from each other without being accused of heresy? By first agreeing about what binds Christians together. It is that simple. We have to arrive at what John Stott calls the "unity of the gospel." All unity has a doctrinal aspect. No unity is possible without boundaries of thought and belief around something. There is always a limit to what any group can tolerate without being torn apart.

In his book Evangelical Truth, Stott argues that the apostle Paul "begs his readers to ‘stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel' (Philippians 1:27). He goes on to urge them: ‘make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose' (Philippians 2:2)." Stott argues that Paul is not calling for unity at any price, for example, being willing to compromise fundamental truths in order to maintain relational unity, or splitting from those who are not in total agreement on every theology point and doctrine. "It is rather unity in the gospel, in evangelical essentials, ‘standing . . . side by side in the struggle to advance the gospel faith' (Philippians 1:27 reb)." This is a commitment to both the purity of biblical teaching and the peace of togetherness.

The problem for evangelicals, Stott contends, is that we have a "pathological tendency to fragment." We place doctrinal purity over unity, or we stress relational unity over sound doctrine. The reality is that Jesus wants us to be equally committed to both—the peace and purity of the church. When this is not the case, our disunity is a major hindrance to our evangelism and witness to the world. We fail at the "final apologetic," our love for one another. If we can agree on the essential matters, the "unity of the gospel," then we have a shot at rebuilding trust and moving forward.

What Stott calls the "unity of the gospel," Tom Oden calls the "new ecumenism." This "new ecumenism is above all committed unapologetically to ancient ecumenical teaching." It is committed to God's Word, "a long-term view of a cumulative, historical consensus, and a classic ecumenical view of God the Father, God the Son, and God the holy Spirit." It also holds, he continues, "to the classic consensual doctrines of incarnation, atonement and resurrection, and the return of the Lord." As Oden makes clear, "These are fixed boundary stones in the ancient ecumenical tradition—stones that we are commanded not to move or attempt to refashion. In the old ecumenism . . . these classic doctrines were largely submerged under the provocative rhetoric of supposedly radical social transformation."

Oden uses the word classical to describe his position. The word is important to what he is calling for and presents something that furthers my argument about trust. For Oden, classic Christianity is "most reliably defined textually by the New Testament itself," and "it is most concisely summed up in a primitive baptismal confession that was entirely derived from Scripture as salvation history." The core of this doctrine is found in the Apostles' Creed, the Nicene Creed and the so-called Athanasian Creed, all of which have bound Christians together for centuries.

THE APOSTLES' CREED

I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord:
Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,
born of the virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead, and buried;
He descended into hell.
The third day He arose again from the dead;
He ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
from thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Ghost;
the holy catholic church;
the communion of saints;
the forgiveness of sins;
the resurrection of the body;
and the life everlasting.
Amen.

NICENE CREED

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and
earth, and of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God,
begotten of the Father before all worlds;
God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God;
begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father,
by whom all things were made.

Who, for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven,
and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was
made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate;
He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again,
according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on
the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory,
to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.
And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who
proceeds from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and
the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.
And I believe one holy catholic and apostolic Church. I
acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for
the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.
Amen.

ATHANASIAN CREED

Whoever wants to be saved should above all cling to the catholic faith.

Whoever does not guard it whole and inviolable will doubtless perish eternally.

 

 

Now this is the catholic faith: We worship one God in trinity and the Trinity in unity, neither confusing the persons nor dividing the divine being.

 

For the Father is one person, the Son is another, and the Spirit is still another.

But the deity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is one, equal in glory, coeternal in majesty.

What the Father is, the Son is, and so is the Holy Spirit.

Uncreated is the Father; uncreated is the Son; uncreated is the Spirit.

The Father is infinite; the Son is infinite; the Holy Spirit is infinite.

Eternal is the Father; eternal is the Son; eternal is the Spirit: And yet there are not three eternal beings, but one who is eternal; as there are not three uncreated and unlimited beings, but one who is uncreated and unlimited.

Almighty is the Father; almighty is the Son; almighty is the Spirit:

And yet there are not three almighty beings, but one who is almighty.

Thus the Father is God; the Son is God; the Holy Spirit is God:

And yet there are not three gods, but one God.

Thus the Father is Lord; the Son is Lord; the Holy Spirit is Lord:

And yet there are not three lords, but one Lord.

As Christian truth compels us to acknowledge each distinct person as God and Lord, so catholic religion forbids us to say that there are three gods or lords.

 

 

The Father was neither made nor created nor begotten; the Son was neither made nor created, but was alone begotten of the Father; the Spirit was neither made nor created, but is proceeding from the Father and the Son.

 

Thus there is one Father, not three fathers; one Son, not three sons; one Holy Spirit, not three spirits.

And in this Trinity, no one is before or after, greater or less than the other; but all three persons are in themselves, coeternal and coequal; and so we must worship the Trinity in unity and the one God in three persons.

Whoever wants to be saved should think thus about the Trinity.

It is necessary for eternal salvation that one also faithfully believe that our Lord Jesus Christ became flesh. For this is the true faith that we believe and confess:

That our Lord Jesus Christ, God's Son, is both God and man.

He is God, begotten before all worlds from the being of the Father,

and He is man, born in the world from the being of His mother—existing fully as God, and fully as man with a rational soul and a human body; equal to the Father in divinity, subordinate to the Father in humanity.

Although He is God and man, He is not divided, but is one Christ.

He is united because God has taken humanity into himself;

He does not transform deity into humanity.

He is completely one in the unity of his person, without confusing His natures.

For as the rational soul and body are one person, so the one Christ is God and man.

He suffered death for our salvation. He descended into hell and rose again from the dead.

He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

At his coming all people shall rise bodily to give an account of their own deeds.

Those who have done good will enter eternal life, those who have done evil will enter eternal fire. This is the catholic faith. One cannot be saved without believing this firmly and faithfully.

 

 

In a nutshell, "Orthodoxy is nothing more or less than the ancient consensual tradition of Spirit-guided discernment of Scripture." Tradition is the "faithful handing down from generation to generation of Scripture interpretation consensually received worldwide and cross-culturally through two millennia." As patristic scholar Christopher Hall says, "The Holy Spirit has a history." God has sovereignly watched over his church so his message would stand. And we can learn from and be confident in this tradition.

 

 

This is where it gets exciting. Oden says that Christians whose traditions have long separated them from each other are now finding their unity in the classical consensus. Trust is being rebuilt! "How do such varied Christians find inspiration and common faith within this joint effort?" "By affirming together," says Oden, "that the texts on which Classic Christianity" rests are ecumenical and catholic in their cultural range. As he concludes, "people of vastly different cultures are recognizing in these witnesses their own unity as the people of God, despite different cultural memories, foods, garments, and habits of piety."

 

 

TWO TIERS

During an interview with theologian Michael Horton, I brought up a famous fundamentalist who has been quite vociferous in his attacks on the emerging church, charging it as being nothing more than neo-liberalism. When I asked Mike if he still has contact with this well-known radio personality, he said no. "He won't speak to me," said Mike. Knowing of their long-standing friendship and ongoing dialogue (and commitment to orthodoxy) my face must have registered surprise and shock. Mike responded to my shocked look with, "He accuses me of being a liberal." I broke out laughing. You have to be pretty far to the right to call Mike a liberal.

 

 

I guess in the hypercharged world of polemics and rhetoric, we feel we have the right to suspect anyone who does not hold our positions. This is especially true if we occupy a far-right or far-left position. Anyone to the right of a radical liberal or to the left of a radical conservative looks like a heretic. There is no room for even the slightest difference or change. The two sides become ever more polarized, stuck in their polemics and rhetoric. Is there a way to move beyond this calcification?

 

 

Yes, at least in part, if we agree on what binds us together. I have been helped in my thinking on this topic by Robert Greer's Mapping Postmodernism. After covering similar ground to Oden and Stott, particularly on the early creeds, Greer posits the need to develop a two-tiered system that divides the essentials of orthodoxy from the particularities of differing traditions within the boundaries of orthodoxy. The top tier matches the creeds of the early church that have historically and universally defined orthodoxy. The bottom tier corresponds to the distinctives of each individual church body.

 

 

This two-tiered system has a number of practical benefits. First, it minimizes, says Greer, triumphalism or denominational chauvinism. When the top tier is agreed upon, the various parties mutually trust and respect each other as orthodox. Then discussions that deal with bottom-tier teachings become opportunities to learn and grow, and not tests of

orthodoxy. As Greer aptly says:

 

 

A two-tiered system reflects the phenomenon of family resemblances within the Christian faith. The top tier establishes the overall family resemblance. The bottom tier makes room for different looks within the family. This sense of unity plus diversity offers the church an opportunity to love one another, as Christ prayed in his high priestly prayer, and thereby be an effective witness to an unbelieving world (John 17:20).

As I was working on this chapter I contacted Scot McKnight, who is a professor of religious studies at North Park University in Chicago. Scot, who is in his fifties, has attached himself to the emerging conversation as a supportive older brother. His blog continues to be the most visited blog in the emerging world. As an older brother, he is also not beyond exhorting his younger brothers when they need it, but never as a Pharisee.

 

"Scot," I said, "I am working on a ‘third way' book that learns from both the traditional and emerging voices and yet transcends both sides, providing an alternate choice called the deep church." he was excited, having already committed to a "third way." Scot said, "Whether you agree or not with Brian McLaren's book A Generous Orthodoxy, what it proves is that there is a huge contingent of people who are looking for a third way."

 

 

"What bothers me," he candidly added, "is that the argument has become so polarized—with the neo-fundamentalists on one side and the neo-liberals on the other. Neither side is talking to the other, save for the snipping that takes place at their respective conferences." And unless we find the common ground, this polarization will get worse. The church as a whole suffers. Our witness is compromised.

 

 

Of course, Scot is on target. The level of distrust runs pretty deep. I could not help but think that this is where Greer's two-tiered system is helpful. It identifies the common ground—classic/orthodox Christianity —which is the starting point for unity and discussion. This new consensus not only can begin to rebuild the trust but will also prophetically call those on the extremes to acknowledge this consensus.

 

 

For example, many in the traditional church fear that the emerging voices are theologically liberal, that is, they deny the core doctrines of the faith. Well, this may be true of some. McKnight fears that a few in the emerging church are moving in this direction. But how do we know whether they remain orthodox? The two tiers are helpful. Does a particular thinker affirm the classical, orthodox consensus, the top tier? These certainly can be talked about and examined. But they must not be fundamentally tampered with. Any who affirm this are orthodox—even if they hold different views on the bottom tier. However, if they are unwilling to affirm that these core doctrines are based on Scripture and have been and are accepted "everywhere, always, and by all," then they are not part of the new ecumenism.

 

 

Just as the traditional church fears the emerging church, the emerging church is put off by the dark side of traditionalism and fundamentalism. At the heart of this dark side is a triumphal belief that it is correct on all matters of doctrine and practice. There are few signs of what Rich Mouw calls "cognitive modesty," the belief that beyond the classical consensus there are widespread differences within orthodoxy that need to be respected. Instead, the legacy of the traditional church is, "If the Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it." Relationships are then pushed to the side.

 

 

From the emerging perspective, the traditional view posits a particular theological conclusion that is absolute, reflecting God's perspective on theology; all competing claims are not only false but possibly heretical. Greer calls this "triumphalism" and says it leads fundamentalists to see themselves as "God's self-appointed police force, guardians of truth who perceive themselves as wearing a ‘badge of divinity' upon their own theological systems." And of course this overconfidence so often leads to disagreement and schism within their own theological and ecclesiastical bodies. This is what Stott means when he says evangelical Christians have a "pathological tendency to fragment." The two-tier system would call the traditional church to have great confidence (the proper confidence) in the new ecumenism and deep humility in the bottom tier, what Calvin called "things indifferent."

 

 

MERE CHRISTIANITY

Is there a way beyond the present polarization? I believe there is: this new (or should I say old?) ecumenical, classical consensus. In the preface to his Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis, the patron saint of evangelicals, says, "I have thought that the best, perhaps the only, service I could do for my unbelieving neighbors was to explain and defend the belief that has been common to nearly all Christians at all times." In words that remind us of Oden's new ecumenism, Lewis continues:

 

 

I hope no reader will suppose that "mere" Christianity is here put forward as an alternative to the creeds of existing communions as if a man could adopt it in preference to Congregationalism or Greek Orthodoxy or anything else. It is more like a hall out of which doors open into several rooms. If I can bring anyone into that hall I shall have done what I attempted. But it is in the rooms, not in the hall, that there are fires and chairs and meals.

Of course, the "fires and chairs and meals" are Lewis's description of the second tier, the separate ecclesial traditions. And they are wonderful places to hang out. The main hall is "mere Christianity," the Great Tradition, which is common to all. This view allows Christians to agree on the essentials but cling to their differences, with humility and charity. We can put our foot down on mere Christianity, the classic, consensual tradition of the gospel, but at the same time hold to our particular traditions as important but less certain than the first tier.

 

When we become more humble in our beliefs, we are willing to see that our own denominations or traditions do not have a corner on all truth, and we become more open to dialogue with other traditions. We might find that we are sometimes wrong and the different perspective will correct our error. But even where we are right, the dialogue can improve, sharpen and enliven our perspective and give nuance to our understandings.

 

 

As I am writing this section of the book, I am sitting in the Four Seasons hotel in Istanbul, Turkey, listening in as a group of journalists from around the world discuss the problem of fact and rumor. The majority of the fifty journalists are Christians, many from less economically developed parts of the world. The theme of the conference is "truth and rumor": what it means for a journalist to report the facts, the real story, in a world that is overrun by rumor, urban legend and conspiracy theory. As one Muslim speaker said, the Islamic world is awash in conspiracy theory, mostly condemning Israel and America. Though some of the theories are funny, they are taken seriously in the Middle East.

 

 

As he recounted some of the outrageous conspiracy theories, people laughed. But it was a nervous laugh, knowing that terrorist bombs had recently gone off in Turkey and that five former soldiers were watching the door. As we ate dinner that night, I was sitting at a table that included journalists from Uganda, India, Philippines, Slovenia and the United States. They were Christians from different traditions, ranging from Anglican to Methodist to nondenominational. I was the only Presbyterian. It seemed every journalist had a story of political persecution, struggle for justice and the lack of freedom of the press in their country. They were excited to be together, and the conversation went on for hours.

 

 

Two journalists from Slovakia had their own TV show and weekly magazine. We kidded them about being celebrities. We shared the kind of laughter old friends are capable of. But we had just met. There was a bond of Christian fellowship. In the middle of the conversation I mentioned this chapter to them. I asked them, in light of the dangerous world they lived in, whether what we had in common as Christians outweighed our differences. "Without a doubt," one of them said. "On the front lines, all Christians are our brothers and sisters." I reflected on the fact that each morning of the conference this diverse group of journalists gathered for a devotional, including singing and a small sermon. It is amazing to see unity in action.

 

Here were Christians from around the world, with a myriad of backgrounds and traditions, joining together each morning for worship of God Most high. Differences in traditions and theological perspectives were put aside to worship. It is not that the differences don't matter, but they are not as important as our commonality—the good news of Jesus Christ. This is the rebirth of orthodoxy Tom Oden speaks of. After worshiping our Creator and Redeemer together, we got back to the business of the day, learning how to cover and combat a movement that persecutes Christians and threatens the peace and stability of the world. When it came to worship we put aside our differences. When it came to fighting a common enemy that is killing Christians, we rallied together to look for solutions. There was trust in the room. These journalists clearly had each other's backs. Did it mean that differences were not discussed? No. I had multiple conversations with these journalists about not only what holds us together but also what separates us doctrinally. It was wonderful.

 

 

DEEP UNITY AT REDEEMER

These conversations got me thinking. What kind of church do I want Redeemer Church to be? What does the deep church look like in the area of unity? As I pondered this, I was reminded of an e-mail I got from another pastor in my denomination. Someone brought to his attention that our church had ethicist and theologian Vigen Guroian speak on culture and literature. I will never forget the Friday night talk on Pinocchio from a Christian worldview. The audience sat entranced as this master teacher took us through the story, episode by episode, bringing it alive in a way we had never heard. Why had we not learned this in school?

 

 

This other pastor who e-mailed me wondered why we would have someone from the Orthodox tradition speak at our church. This was causing confusion in our little corner of the denomination, making it hard for pastors like him, he said, to explain to people what our denomination stands for. In his eyes, our churches don't host Orthodox thinkers who don't hold the same views as we do. By having Guroian speak, we were endorsing, in this pastor's eyes, faulty theology. He described our church as being less than Reformed and Presbyterian.

 

I didn't respond to the e-mail. But if I had, I would have explained to him that Vigen came to speak on culture, not eastern Orthodox theology. But even if he had come to enlighten us on Orthodoxy, that would have been fine. We can learn from him. But this topic aside, Redeemer Church stands squarely and proudly on our tradition and heritage. We are not ashamed of our tradition; we embrace it and practice it. But at the same time we desire and promote the broader unity of the church. We hold strongly to the classical consensus, finding our unity with Vigen and others in the "unity of the gospel" as articulated in the creeds of the first four centuries. This allows us to be very open and charitable to fellow believers who hold different bottom-tier views than we do.

 

 

How does Redeemer hold faithfully to the tension of plurality and particularity, that is, being deeply rooted in a historic tradition and at the same time open to dialogue with our differences? Let me give some examples. First, we root our congregation each week in historic liturgy that draws from the best of Christian history. Our sermons and our weekly school of discipleship are rooted in a commitment to teach the full counsel of God in a way that is culturally relevant, timely and informed by the Reformed tradition. We teach the Bible. But our understanding of the Bible has been wonderfully shaped by the tradition we are part of.

 

But we also celebrate our commonality with other Christians. For example, there is no "safe" book list at Redeemer. We allow and encourage our people to read widely from the other traditions of Christianity. Our book table contains—right alongside Luther, Calvin and the Puritan divines—Miroslav Volf, Vigen Guroian, N. T. Wright, Glen Stassen and Dallas Willard. All of them affirm the classical consensus even though our bottom-tier views differ. We train our members to read discerningly, to think for themselves and to be enriched by other traditions even as they dig deep in the soil of their own tradition.

 

 

Second, we don't merely preach deep church distinctives; we practice them. In other words, we spend our time and energy joyfully living in our Christian commitments; we don't spend a lot of time pointing out our differences from other denominations, churches or Christians. We don't want to be defined by what we are against but what we are for.

 

 

Third, we watch our attitude. Sinful attitudes divide Christians. As my former professor John Frame says, "Because we want glory for ourselves, we seek to find fault in others. Contentious people are constantly looking for something to argue about, some way to start controversy and disrupt the peace." Though we strive to be discerning, we don't dwell on the faults of other traditions or Christian thinkers. Even when we disagree with others, we try to find their strengths and don't blow their weaknesses out of proportion to make our case. This is divisive. We give others the benefit of the doubt, reading them in the best possible light to preserve unity and foster mutual dialogue in order to learn from and exhort one another. Agreeing with Frame, we eschew harshness, jealousy, snobbery, party spirit, bitterness and lack of openness—all enemies of unity.

 

 

Fourth, we watch our assumptions. We reject the temptation to think that nothing can be learned from those outside our tradition. We don't believe that God has only given his wisdom to us, a small segment of the Christian church. This does not mean we lack confidence in our tradition, but we are humble in what we believe and are willing to learn from others. We reject the idea that our tradition's distinctives are more important than the doctrines and practices we share with other traditions. We agree with Frame that the most important things are those that are most broadly confessed across denominational and theological traditions.

 

 

Fifth, we have a low bar for membership. We don't require a member to subscribe to anything that is outside the bounds of Nicene Christianity and other evangelical churches. Prospective members don't need to agree with every aspect of our theology. We rally around the unity of the gospel, and tolerate differences, particularly on matters like eschatology, baptism and covenant theology, even as we look to teach, deepen and mature our people, growing them in the Scriptures and in appreciation for our historic creeds and confessions.

 

 

Sixth, we recognize that growth takes time. Each believer or new convert comes to us at a different stage of growth. Even church leaders, me included, have some growing to do. Growth is a process; we can't expect members to be spiritually mature from the start. Certainly, God calls us to guard all his truth, "once for all entrusted to the saints" (Jude 1:3Jude 1:3). But there are some areas where the church has to admit it does not know everything. We are not infallible and neither is our tradition. This is why differences remain among Christians. We accept this reality, working together to grow in our understanding and maturity. We need to be patient with people and hope they are patient with us. At Redeemer we try to cultivate patience. This creates a safe environment to learn and grow. And we have seen tremendous growth in knowledge and grace among our people.

 

 

My dream is that this kind of unity would take place between the traditional and emerging churches. I hope that both sides would work hard to understand each other, finding agreement on classic orthodoxy and striving to maintain unity even though there are second-tier differences.

 

 

In the chapters that follow I will do my best to model this quest for unity, even as differences are discussed and an alternative vision is worked out. Moreover, it is my hope that the deep church I propose will be a road map for unity. Learning from traditional and emerging voices, I believe that deep church moves beyond them to a more excellent way—mere Christianity.

Taken from deep church: a third way beyond emerging and traditional by Jim Belcher. Copyright(c) 2009 by Jim Belcher.

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