Me with my lovely wife, Kathy:

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Can a church lacking in orthopraxy, really be orthodox?

Again, if this is the first time you are reading this blog for a while, you might want to read the last 2 postings. Hopefully, they will make this one make more sense--or less nonsense, maybe.
[in the picture to the right, Asial Ruda, a Chuukese missionary to Yap, and Harald Gorges, Liebenzell Mission, Germany]

I grew up spiritually in an Fundamentalist environment. My church was an IFCA, Bible Church. My pastor graduated from Moody, back when it was a bastian of conservative Christianity. I attended a Bible Institute and Bible College that both had a clear linkage to the birth of Fundamentalism in the early-mid 2oth
Century. I pastor a church that comes from the same heritage.

If I am talking to the right person, I might describe myself as a Fundamentalist. I owe a great deal to those who came out from among the liberals and Biblical compromisers of the past.

However, the word Fundamentalist has come to mean something different than it once did. It seems like Fundamentalists used to stand for something. Often, now, they primarily stand against things. Then there are many who call themselves Fundamentalists who have taken extreme positions--KJV only, various dress-codes, a very narrow view of aceptable music, etc. When people have this in mind when they use the term Fundamental, I reject the label. Unfortunately, in the current culture, I'm afraid that this is the kind of philosphy that people usually associate with the term. (Likewise the term "evangelical" is becoming so associated with politics that it may be a worthless description as well.)

I tell you a little about where I came from, in order to give you a frame of reference for what I am about to write.

Fundamentalist type mission agencies, in my experience have been rather quick to declare vast parts of the world as devoid of any sound churches and in great need of evangelism. I think everyplace is in need of a greater witness, and the Lord commanded us to go into all the world, but the following anecdotes will give some idea of what I mean:

  • I remember hearing a missionary, speaking in a Bible College Chapel, say concerning an entire country that there was no sound gospel witness there. I remember sittng there, thinking about a friend of mine who was a missionary in the country that was being mentioned. The problem was my friend ministered with a mission that didn't have "Baptist" in it's name. So it didn't count.

  • I was, a couple of years ago, in a preacher's meeting where a representative for a stateside church planting mission was speaking. He made the categorical statement that every community, not just town or city, but every community ought to have a Bible Church. I remember thinking what if a small community has a conservative Presbyterian church, a solid Baptist Church, through in a Brethren, Gospel preaching Charismatic, and a solidly Evangelical Methodist Church for good measure. Should that community have a Bible Church? Should the resources that are perhaps already spread to thin be further dilluted by the entrance of another church? I fear that the gentleman would have unequivocally responded, "Yes."

  • In recent years I have become acquainted with some fine Christians from other parts of the world whose heritage is much different than mine. My Fundamentalist upbringing (and colleagues, I fear) look at suspiciously at these believers. (To be sure there are areas of disagreement between me and them, but) I have been impressed with these folk's passion to serve our Lord and to live life based on the teaching of God's word. These Christians don't cross their "T"s and dot their "I"s in the same way I do, but they are solid Christians doing good work. I have been privileged to be in parts of the world where they have left their missions imprint. Some of the churches they have left behind are carrying on solid ministry; others, not so much--not unlike the pattern I observe in churches founded by more Fundamental mission agencies. Yet many in the Fundamental camp are not even willing to give these folk a place at the table. They look at what they have done and instantly declare that it is insufficient, and not worthy of support.

I asked the question in the title of this post, Can a church be orthodox if it is lacking right practice? One of the problems is that we in the Fundamentalist tradition have been very good at "rightly dividing" the Word of God and constructing ever more narrow doctrinal statements to keep out various heterodoxies. It is much harder to look at a church and judge whether or not the ministry is leading to sound living. I know the two should go together. My observation is they often do not.

I fear that too often decisions about where to plant churches are being made on an entirely insufficient search for orthodoxy, without a correspondingly rigorous investigation concerning the difference that a ministry may be making in the lives of people.

Again, I'm open for comment.

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