Sunday, November 04, 2007

theological changes as an expression of personal change

Many, many years ago I was Arminian at an Assemblies of God church. I was persuaded that we had to have free will because if we did not how would God be just in punishing us for our sins? Over time I came to the observation that while we might be free at some level to choose SOMETHING, choosing Christ did not seem to be a strong part of that, and that even being in Christ one could still struggle plenty with sin. More to the point, if I am a slave to sin unless Christ makes me free then how free would I be to have chosen Christ if I was a slave to sin before He found me? And if I was a slave to sin before Christ found me then how would Christ make me free so that I could immediately choose, if I wished, to go back to sin? I began to wonder if the Calvinist side of things had something going for it.

But to say that I became a Calvinist because the propositional truths of the doctrines were truer and more scriptural is a pretty inadequate way of framing the conversion from one type of Christian theology to another. It would be far more accurate to say in retrospect that I changed horses mid-stream not because either one is an illegitimate expression of genuinely Christian thought but because I became acutely aware of a great failure on my part to appeciate Christ in my own life. This is why once I made the change from Arminianism to Calvinism I remained indifferent to what most of my convert to Calvinism friends obsessed about, proving that where they were formerly was wrong.

It is the common problem of the proselyte within Christendom, a tendency to blame the denomination I left for the spiritual problems of my own walk with Christ. It's a spectacularly obvious but easily missed distinction I have noticed with many an ex-Arminian. They will go through Scripture and claim that the only conclusion you can come to is that Calvinism is true. Yeah, well, if that were REALLY the case there wouldnt' be any Arminians at ALL would there? They'd have all stumbled on to the true inevitability of the Reformed understanding of Christ and gone with it. Yet it isn't so. Now I happen to be a Calvinist and a supralapsarian who holds to an amillenial partial preterist view (and that tentatively) but I see no reason to suppose that an Arminian somehow isn't reading exactly the same Bible any other Protestant (or even Catholic or Orthodox) Christian reads.

If converting from within one camp to another in Christianity helps you in your walk with Christ, cool. That's what I did when I switched from Arminianism to Calvinism. But I also hope that in the process of converting you don't forget that the body of Christ extends beyond the visible distinctions we have made within it and have then retroactively attributed to the sovereign hand and will of God. Despite my youthful opposition to any sort of ecumenism in principle I'll admit to being pretty ecumenical now. I am still pretty conservative in my theology but not quite so much in my politics and denominational distinctions are a rather low priority for me now.

The reason I am not likely to change denominational or doctrinal affiliations at this point is not bbecause I haven't done it in the past but because I know that doing so is not finally a matter of knowing Christ better (though it can help that process, obviously). And changing denominational links has not given me a lesser appreciation for where I have been. I still value the things I learned about Christ from my Arminian days and still have those blessings from Christ with me now. If I were to become Lutheran or Presbyterian over the next ten years I would not then regret the time I have been spending at the church I am at. I don't want to hold my ex-churches accountable for my own failure to seek and love Christ any more than I want to credit the church I am at with my love for and apprehension of Christ now. To do that would be to credit the Body with that which only the Head can provide. Certainly I appreciate the help I receive from my church but it takes discernment to know when the Church acts as Christ's body and when the Church is, well, the sinful yet to be redeemed Church.

If that were easy there wouldn't be so denominations across the world. But there were twelve tribes in Israel so if Israel is one nation with twelve tribes it's not that difficult for me to imagine that there are tribes within the Israel which has been redefined by Jesus. This is why most discussions of which branch of Christendom is the "one true Church" seem absurd to me, as it requires a willfully ignorant summarization of the history of God's people as being more uniform than it has ever been. Even within the time of the Mosaic covenant God added all kinds of people whom the Law would have prohibited from acceptance into God's people. In the same way, the body of Christ includes all kinds of people we Christians frequently don't want in the body because of issues like the nature of sacraments or the level of interaction our will does or doesn't have in bringing about either our justification or sanctification when the main thing that unites us is our king.


Doc Burkhart said...

While I may not agree with the conclusions that you reached in getting there, I do appreciate you sharing the journey. It has caused some personal reflection on my part.

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Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

Thanks. I didn't know anyone was still even reading this blog.