Evangelicals, Ecumenism and Truth
How we handle theological and social or political differences within the context of Christian community says a lot about us. Something of a personal conversation that has arisen in my own context is discerning how to navigate convictions versus beliefs, whether the two are even different, and what that means in terms of participating in a community.
A conversation that took place in a class this afternoon addressed the great difficulty that Evangelicals have in maintaining unity in the face of differences of opinion, belief and practice. Denominations splinter and churches believe others are not doing “church” right, not preaching the Gospel, or are unbiblical. Those are strong words. The underlying sentiments in these critiques is a great fear of worshiping incorrectly; false theology leads to false worship. For many Evangelical churches, this same fear is the hindrance to gender equality and women in leadership, welcoming and affirming queer persons, or administering the Eucharist openly.
I think the reason behind all of this fear is that we worship truth (I think worshiping truth is appropriate language, but feel free to push back if you think it’s too strong). We equate truth (and are quite fast to affirm objective Truth) with God and godliness, or holiness. It is only natural, then, that prize correctness and theological rightness over anything else. We equate truth with God and aspire to draw nearer to God through our rightness. This justifies our separation and rejection of people who believe differently than we do. The question we have to ask ourselves is whether or not the quest for truth and correctness is more important than joining in with the greater body of God outside of doctrinal and theological constructs.
That question presents a problem for both progressives and conservatives, though. Most progressive Christians will want to push particular issues forward to wrestle with as a community, those who are more conservative among that community may not be ready, or just unwilling, to have those conversations. This is the difficulty of community, and the presence of so many denominations proves how difficult this tension is. Do progressive Christians compromise by pulling back on particularly pressing issues to preserve unity, or do those who would consider themselves more conservative open themselves to discussion and compromise in order to preserve unity?
Rather than following God via the quest for truth, I think that the story of God invites us to find God in risk. Following God means heading into risk. Love and risk always go hand in hand. Through the incarnation, God risked the misinterpretation and misunderstanding of the revelation––the blending of human and divine––in order to achieve greater relationship and intimacy with creation. Risking our propriety on truth opens us up to greater intimacy with God, each other, and the rest of creation.