A fanatic in action.
That’s right. I’m a swivel-eyed extremist. I’m a close-minded fool. A totally un-modern man whose quest in life is to encourage hatred among people. At least that seems to be the claim of a mailing I received this week for an up-coming conference.
The conference is run by Free to Believe the liberal equivalent of the Group for Evangelism and Renewal. Their conference title is: ‘Interfaith – The New Ecumenism?’
Here’s where my fanaticism is named and shamed:
There have always been two definitions of ecumenism. In the narrow definition, ecumenism is simply another word for Christian Unity. In practice for the last 100 years the ecumenical movement has essentially been a movement for Christian unity and a huge amount has been achieved. Attitudes have been largely transformed. Denominational differences matter infinitely less than they used to. Apart from a few fanatics, most people no longer care about the labels anymore.
I bolded out the relevant section. I think that classical, Reformed theology and ecclesiology is closest to the Bible. I have serious issues with Baptists (on baptism), Methodism (on the role of man in salvation and perfectionism) and Anglicanism (prayer book, bishops, Roman accretions). Therefore, I am not those things. I believe they are my Christian brothers and sisters but there are important things that separate us. I’ll happily be called a fanatic.
However, it goes on:
At the same time it is now self-evident that some of the hopes invested in Christian unity were misplaced. Many people believed that if denominations united this would lead to a missionary break-through. In fact whatever was keeping people out of churches, it clearly was not the existence of separate denominations. All united churches have declined faster than the divided churches they replaced! No-one can now believe that the Anglican-Methodist Covenant or the creation of the United Reformed Church were decisive events in the remaking of faith. As a result, the movement for Christian unity, while still part of our commitment, has unmistakably lost drive and enthusiasm.
So, those churches who pursued unity have declined. Why? Could it be that in trying to bring about unity we’ve compromised so much that we no longer have anything worth believing or preaching? Notice my objections to other denominations above. They’re all objections to classic forms of those denominations’ practices. Would the average Methodist have any idea what perfectionism is nowadays? That makes my point, I think.
But rather than see the ecumenical project come to an end, Free to Believe want to see the project expanded to include other faiths. I think Private Eye have that project summed up pretty well in their satirical organisation Drawing All Faiths Together (DAFT).
So here I stand. A fanatical Reformed Protestant who believes that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the only thing that can save sinners like me. It’s not cool. It doesn’t make me look clever in the world’s eyes but here I am anyway. Thank God for his wonderful grace in drawing me out of the liberal quagmire and into glorious freedom. And may God bring Reformation to his church.
Recently, Hall Gate United Reformed Church met with the Islamic Society of Doncaster for a lunch. we took the time to find out more about each other’s faith. I was sat with a very intelligent man named Azam who seemed to be the chief apologist from their group. He came armed with Biblical quotes to show how Islam wasn’t so different to Judaism and Christianity and then came with Koranic verses to show how Islam was the true religion.
What I found interesting was what he told us about Islam’s uniqueness. He listed the following things.
God is one.
Only God can forgive sins.
We must pray to God alone.
To which this Protestant was inwardly saying: “yes…and?”
In saying these things Azam was showing the real dividing line between our faiths. His problem was with the person of Jesus. Jesus was not divine. Jesus cannot forgive sins. You cannot pray in Jesus’ name. And, of course, the Koran says that Jesus did not die on the cross.
Islam strikes me as being a great example of a religion. It provides discipline and morality. However, that has never been enough. Despite how disciplined or moral my life is I will never be able to stand before God on my own merits. And even if I believe that Allah is God and Mohammed is his prophet I will still have to pay for my sins in some way. I will never be righteous by my own efforts. What am I to do?
Thankfully there is one who is righteous. There is one who lived a perfect life. There is one who was my representative in going to death on a cross. And there is one who could not be held by death but was raised and sits at the right hand of the Father. This man was Jesus but this man was fully God. And in him God was reconciling the world to himself.
Jesus has always divided the world. The religious authorities of his day did not recognise him for who he was. Mohammed could not see him for who he was. The Socinians and Unitarians could not see him for who he was. The Mormons, the Witnesses and scores of others cannot see him for who he really is.
But he is the only way.
Jesus is the God-Man who has brought peace between God and Man. He has assured that you can stand before God with boldness because of what he has done. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. Trust and rest in him and his finished work.
Soli Deo Gloria.
You’ll be glad to know that I passed my driving test. Thank you for all the kind words of support before the test and the congratulations after it. I’ve now been whizzing around Doncaster and beyond using my new-found skills for a few weeks. I’ve had a few problems, though. The major one is that I’ve realised that just because I passed the test, it doesn’t mean I instantly became the perfect driver. I’ve been a little guilty on occasion of going too fast and pushing it to the limits of my ability. I’ve also realised the danger of being distracted, even for a split-second. I sometimes wonder whether it was worth it but when I’m coming home from a meeting or squeezing in an extra visit I realise the benefit driving has brought to my life.
As we move forward together as a church there’s always the danger of going too fast. Some of you may be worried about the pace of change and feel a little lost as the church does things a little differently. However, there’s always the danger of going too slowly and we miss the opportunities that are coming our way.
In both cases it can be easy to be distracted. The history of the Church is littered with examples of taking the path of least resistance and being distracted by the world, rather than focussing on those things which have been given to the church to do.
All of us should be committed to the future of this church. We should be committed to being grounded on the Bible and rooted in prayer. If we are committed to that then it means we may have to be relaxed about some matters of lesser importance.
I’m excited about what the future may bring. I’m excited about what God can do and I’m excited about seeing that come to fruition in the coming years.