Sunday, December 12, 2010

Fragmentation and Humility

We’ve reached the last chapter of Michael Spencer’s Mere Churchianity: Finding Your Way Back to Jesus-Shaped-Spirituality. He calls this chapter “Some Help for the Journey,” and answers various questions and makes some suggestions for those trying to decide to leave church-shaped spirituality and instead find Jesus-shaped spirituality.

In response to a question as to whether he’s taking evangelicals to task while giving Catholics and the mainline Protestants a pass, Spencer says this:

“I see the Christian world like this: we’ve inherited a divided map of the truth, and each of us has a piece. Our traditions teach us that no one else has a valid map and that our own church’s piece shows us all the terrains and roads that exist. In fact, there is much more terrain, more roads, and more truth for us to see if we can accept and read one another’s maps, fitting them together to give us a clearer picture of the larger Christian tradition.”

He goes on to say that he calls himself a Reformation Christian, and he states clearly that he is not giving mainline churches a pass in the areas where they’ve engaged in serious biblical compromise.

I was raised as a Missouri Synod Lutheran (the “correct” Lutherans as opposed to the “heretical” ones). I’ve belonged to a Reformed Presbyterian Church (later part of the Presbyterian Church of America), a couple of independent churches that both leaned to the fundamentalist side, and an Evangelical Free church, before landing at our current church, part of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. My oldest son attended public and Catholic schools, and graduated from a Catholic high school. My youngest son attended a Catholic school from kindergarten through sixth grade, and then a Christian school through high school. My wife was raised in a charismatic church. I’ve been reading the Anglican Book of Common Prayer (the 1928 edition; not the “heretical” revision that came later). One of the people who has most inspired me in my writing is Greek Orthodox.

As a result, we’ve been exposed to a number of Christian traditions, and the important point for me is that they were (and are), first and foremost, Christian. Spencer is right, I think – we all have a piece of the map and not one of us has the whole map of truth. That doesn’t mean we have to compromise and deny the divinity of Christ as some have done or regard the Bible as “inspired” as opposed to “inspired by God.”

And it doesn’t mean that we have to embrace all traditions in some kind of ecumenical kumbaya, even though there is something important about tradition that evangelicals and fundamentalists tend to disregard – tradition, as Scott Cairns told us at our writing workshop in Texas, teaches humility.

But this idea of fragmentation does mean that each tradition has truth, each has errors, and we should approach each other with the humble understanding every church, every denomination and every tradition is comprised of people who are broken.

And that brokenness means that we must be constantly on guard against church-shaped spirituality replacing Jesus-shaped spirituality. It happens. It happens to the best of churches; the history of Christianity is chock full of the evidence. And it will continue as long as human history continues.

Nancy Rosback over at Nance Marie has been leading us in a discussion of Mere Churchianity. Also see Fatha Frank’s posts at Public Christianity and Melo’s posts at Humming Softly.


Jerry said...

I have struggled for years looking at the half empty cup of broken people, broken truths, and broken churches that end up creating two more "right" denominations. I still struggle. Thanks for this "humble" assessment of holding on to baseline tradition with the awareness that no extention of the traditions are free from scrutiny. I must, like all discerning Christians be alert and awake and connected to Christ for spiritual formation to take place...without a body of Christ that formation is myopic and stunted. I must have the freedom to enter in my brokeness to be a part of the body. Nice post Glynn.

Fatha Frank said...

May experience isn't as diverse. Maybe down the road it may be. But I do think there is much we can learn from different Christian traditions. Though ultimately our walk with Christ is unique to us, regardless of the sign upon the door.

Anonymous said...

i am thankful for the reading and posting that you have done on this book.

it is good to have the company of friends on the journey.