If I mention 'pre-destination,' 'Rob Bell,' 'heresy' and 'end times' maybe the hits on this article will get even higher. Now if you want to read further to see whether I'll pick a side on any of the above issues, I'm just going to stay sitting on your hypothetical fence, because I don't think a fence in many of these cases really exists.
These sides we choose of the 'liberal' and 'religious right', the 'us' verse 'them', the 'in' and 'out' is surely breeding contempt and division. Claims and rants disguised as religious zealousness is easily misconstrued as religious bigotry to any non-believer, and often the unsure on-the-fringe believer is quickly put off, not wanting any part of something so bound in rules and hypocrisy.
I think the interest of public opinion spikes when these issues are raised because we want to know "is he or she on my side?" "Is he or she going to validate my position or can I simply put this person in a box, such as, "he's just a deluded universalist."
The danger for all Churches is they can become exclusionary institutions, busily stating what's not ok, rather than a people dedicated to loving the lost as Jesus did.
The Great Divide
When writing this article #gay marriage and #abortion were the top trending topics on the website religiontoday.com. These topics raise such fervent opinion to be spewed forth and thrashed about, because they immediately clash with our righteous moral standings.
I'm no mother Theresa by any stretch of the imagination, I used to see many of these issues as simply black and white, and I worried about being on the right side of the ledger with my own list of thou shall not's. It's easy to be blinded by extremism, give things stereotypes and become distant and out of touch from real life, that it's no wonder record numbers of under 30's are pouring out of Church doors, and not coming back. Savvy young people demand authenticity.
There is a growing divide in churches of those who feel the need to protect long held traditions or positions that aren't of much value other than the need to be right, the need to feel morally superior, the need to be safe, and the need to project a positive image to others.
As an under 30 year-old myself I love Christian traditions that bring life, and take people into closer relationship with God, but the questions of why we do what we do, and what battles should we fight, should be wrestled with, rather than blindly doing what past generations have always done.
Hopefully I can stir the pot a little, but more so I want to examine what a genuine faith that honours God can look like. I'm not suggesting we dance around fires with flowers in our hair and forget the world is fallen, but how can we be set apart as God's people, yet still relate to those who need to hear about, and experience God's kingdom?
Salt and Light
Rule based, hard line, 'in' and 'out' thinking is easily defined, you can measure it, it's almost scientific. Tackling a grey area like the alternative position I'm suggesting takes a little more thought. How can you hold in one hand the enormity of God's grace and goodness, the fact he's supreme and perfect devoid of all corruption; and in the other hand somehow relate to the world of atheistic, murdering, slanderous gossips?
There are plenty of sold out, god fearing Christians who are doing a brilliant job at living a down to earth transformed life that doesn't condemn and exclude and create an "other," and they seem to do it naturally without following a seven step programme. I think a life of light and salt, directed by the spirit as it's held in tension is how we can follow God's call to be in the world but not of it.
So we're called to be light bearers, to worship God, to be set apart and holy, to shed light on the darkness and uphold God's goodness. In the very same passage (Matthew 5, 13-16) God also calls us to be compassionate and salty people integrating with those around us, understanding them just like he did with the tax collectors and prostitutes of his day.
So if we do the salt thing well, we add God's flavor to the world, we mix and infuse ourselves in the world in order for the salt to permeate. Being salt and light at the same time takes practice, and it's a balancing act.
Jesus Was Salty
Jesus was consistently inclusive. He moved and continues to move in the opposite direction to having 'in' and 'out' groups. The people Jesus continually named and shamed were not people who sinned, but people who denied sinning. Jesus Radical message stirred the pot of the religious 'In' crowd, and he certainly paid the price.
Our identity starts initially by being "dead in our sins" (Ephesians 2:1)
In Christ, he made us new. 'In Christ' means all can come, and if all can come, if all can know God, surely this is the message we should be 'for,' rather than nit-picking peripheral issues and being 'against'.
Now back to that fence I said that doesn't exist. Maybe the fence is simply separating two bigger fields, rather than a whole bunch of dived ones. It may sound like Idealistic peacemaking, but I think the focus of the debate is in the wrong place and missing the bigger picture.
Rather than being a Christian 'body' with two legs running in two different directions, spending our energies on being opposed to things, what else could we be directing our passions towards?
I'm keen to start with the question, not of whose is going to hell, but rather, 'what are you in love with?' 'What do you believe in?' 'What is the heaven that you have already discovered?' 'What good thing are you going to share?'
A wise man once said "The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better…this in fact purifies your own commitment and motivation."
Brad Mills enjoys the outdoors and almost any sport... For a day job he's a journalist who works at the Rhema Broadcasting Group in Auckland New Zealand.
Brad Mill's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/brad-mills.html