Monday, October 12, 2009

What's The Difference?

Aprille has her alarm clock set to a Christian radio station, KNLR, for 6:15 and she heard something this morning directly relevant to a discussion her and I had very recently.

The discussion was recalling an apologetics series by David T. Moore that we had heard many years ago. In the series, Moore said that there are minor, "stylistic" differences between Christians churches and that this was okay, 'cuz there ought to be different kinds of churches for different kinds of people. This has bothered me for some time because, well, unless it's very carefully qualified, the statement seems to leave a lot of room for post-modernism. It all depends on just exactly what Moore meant by "stylistic" differences. If Moore was referring to the decor of the church, then obviously that is entirely a matter of personal taste and no one ought to leave their church over interior design. I'm not exactly sure what Moore had in mind, specifically… that's part of problem: He didn't give an example.

Suffice it to say that there are differences between churches. Some differences can be categorized as superficial and merely "stylistic" while other differences concern doctrinal issues. And even among doctrinal issues there are issues that have much more gravity and issues that carry much less importance. And it's obvious that no single church is likely to have the right position on every doctrinal question and this means that every one of us will have to make compromises when looking for a church. But that said, some doctrinal issues are extremely important and compromise may not be advisable. While he may not have intended it, Moore's expression could be seen as a capitulation of sorts.

Now I'm not sure who the pastor on the radio was this morning, as I was already downstairs when the alarm went off. But Aprille listened to what he was teaching as she mustered up the will to actually get out of bed. He, he. According to Aprille, the pastor said that he applauded all the different denominations within Christianity and he related the different denominations to the different body parts of Christ as described in the Bible. Apparently he said that all of the denominations really teach the same thing. She knew that this would pique my interest.

A very popular notion outside of Christianity is that all world religions, at their core, teach essentially the same thing… be a good person, treat others the way you want to be treated, etc. Of course, on closer examination, other world religions teach things that are vastly different than what is taught in the Bible. The Bible, for example, teaches that God is distinct from His creation, while New Age religions teach that God IS the creation. Christianity teaches that evil had a beginning and will have an ending, while other world religions (particularly eastern religions) teach that evil and good coexist eternally and that evil will never be done away with. Christianity teaches that Jesus is God and that He is the Messiah, while other religions teach that He is merely a prophet or perhaps an unusually wise teacher. These are not minor details, minor differences. So the claim that all world religions teach basically the same things is shown to be false.

Unfortunately, the pastor that Aprille heard was expressing exactly the same view, but within the more narrow scope of Christianity and the various denominations. He was basically saying that it doesn't matter which denomination you belong to, they all teach basically the same thing. They just appeal differently to different people, and the differences are no greater, no deeper than that. This is post-modernism right in our own back yard, I'm afraid.

Just as careful examination of world religions reveals that world religions teach fundamentally different principles, careful examination of different denominations within Christianity reveal that different denominations teach very different things. The different denominations make contradictory truth claims. And since two contradictory truth claims can't both be true (law of non-contradiction) either one claim is true and the other false, or they're both false. Different denominations, and in fact different churches, teach different things about the reliability and historicity of the Bible, for example. They teach different things about what one must do in order to be saved (and what's more important than that?) They teach different things about whether or not a person can lose their salvation. It's easy to see that this pastor's assertion is every bit as false as the claim about world religions.

In fact, some denominations--or at least some churches--teach that different denominations do not teach the same thing!! (in fact, that's exactly what I'm saying) This fact alone renders the pastor's claim to be catastrophically false.

It's unfortunate, but true: Humans screw things up to varying degrees. We have a tremendously difficult time keeping our own little power-plays out of the game. We slip into ruts in our thinking and pride makes it incredibly difficult to break out of the rut. And yet, it's clear that ruts are not always bad. There are certain 'ruts' that you want to be in. Jesus and His apostles taught that with respect to how one is saved, we should be in a rut. Jesus described such a 'rut' in Matthew 7:13 when He said:

“Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it."

There are many questions that have right answers, and wrong answers… questions pertaining to salvation are certainly the most important, but that's not to say that others aren't important as well. Unfortunately, we're going to encounter bad teaching at some point… it might be about a critical issue, or it might be about something relatively trivial. Knowing where to draw that line can seem a bit tricky at times, but we must draw that line. Pretending that everyone within Christianity is right even though they hold contradictory views is simply not an option. It destroys the notion of truth and opens the door to post-modern thought within the Church. Either it's true that a person can lose their salvation or it's false. Either it's true that baptism is required for salvation, or it's false. Either it's true that you must confess your sins to a priest privately for absolution of your sins, or it's false. Whatever the question, the denomination or church who teaches opposite of the truth is, I'm sorry to say, wrong. And we ought to be able to say so.

Now the question is, how can we know? Simple. By reading and studying the Bible carefully. We are supposed to check this stuff out ourselves and verify that what we're being taught is actually consistent with the Bible. We're to be on the lookout constantly for false teaching (which means we must be able to recognize it when we encounter it) and either do whatever we can to correct that teaching or flee from it.

Imagine if you attended, say, a class on how to design a web site and the instructor tells you that html tags are enclosed with brackets ([]). Is that wrong, or is it just the instructor's opinion? What if the guy down the hall is teaching that html tags are enclosed with greater-than/less-than symbols (<>)? One of the instructors here is teaching something that is false. Are you going to get the same results regardless of which instructor you believe? Absolutely not.

Why do we have so much trouble reaching these same sorts of conclusions about questions of Christian doctrine? Why do we feel the need to say that all answers are equal? We wouldn't do that in any other context, would we? Why is that? Why do we have the idea that spiritual truth is malleable and that the law of non-contradiction somehow doesn't apply in that realm? Why would we think that?

These are very tough questions.

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