My Question: Have you seen liberal churches unite with conservative? What is required?

(Steve Kell) #1

Hi everyone,

My wife and I went through a year and a half of trying to find “The Church”. We wanted to see if there was a community outside the one we had been faithful to, that would encourage us and spur us on to greater faith. We visited a wide spectrum.

I saw sincere faith, or what appeared to be sincere faith in very conservative churches, and very liberal churches. It was also easy to identify the criticisms implicit and explicit from both sides. I truly believe the faithful are intermixed within these churches. There are people who truly love God, yet emphasize different parts in their lives.

Have you experienced unity in these opposite groups? What made the difference? Have you ever seen an attempt at unity fail? What was the critical reason? Do you believe that entire churches are going to be saved? Does the idea of individuals across these spectrums being saved give you a negative impression? Is there anything that unites so-called liberal churches with so-called conservative churches?

Psalm 133:1 Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!

(SeanO) #2

@skell Hey Steve, that is a wonderful question. By liberal and conservative do you mean politically or theologically? For example, do you mean Churches that agree that Christ has physically risen from the dead but might disagree on immigration / social policies? Or do you mean Churches that might disagree about the deity of Christ / reliability of Scripture?

I have seen Churches who hold to the absolutes of Christ’s resurrection and deity, yet disagree on some social issues, come together to serve. I think the idea of ‘levels of doctrine’ is important when discussing these types of questions. I think the idea of conscience is also important. If the orthopraxis - the lived reality - of another Church violates our conscience then we cannot unite with them in fellowship, though perhaps we could serve together in some other capacity - to help the poor for example.

In the past few years I had to leave a Church I had come to really like because the pastor refused to teach clearly about sexual ethics. I did not realize this fact until I attended the membership class. The Church held to the Nicene Creed and I think there were genuine believers in the congregation. But both Christ and Paul were terribly serious about sexual ethics - and indeed living out our faith in general. And I think trying to disconnect the Gospel from obedience to God’s commands is a severe mishandling of Scripture and ultimately submission to the idols of our culture.

Levels of Doctrine

Not all doctrine is equally important. Some beliefs are at the very center of our Christian faith and to deny them is to deny Christ. Other beliefs are important to how we practice our faith and are therefore the cause of disagreement between many denominations, but these beliefs do not place us outside of Christ. Still other doctrines, such as eschatology, are difficult even for very learned and godly people to understand clearly and are therefore a matter of opinion.

The below article offers a fuller explanation of levels of doctrine and gives a helpful summary list of 4 levels of doctrine.

  1. absolutes define the core beliefs of the Christian faith;
  2. convictions , while not core beliefs, may have significant impact on the health and effectiveness of the church;
  3. opinions are less-clear issues that generally are not worth dividing over; and
  4. questions are currently unsettled issues.

Where an issue falls within these categories should be determined by weighing the cumulative force of at least seven considerations:

  1. biblical clarity;
  2. relevance to the character of God;
  3. relevance to the essence of the gospel;
  4. biblical frequency and significance (how often in Scripture it is taught, and what weight Scripture places upon it);
  5. effect on other doctrines;
  6. consensus among Christians (past and present); and
  7. effect on personal and church life.

(Steve Kell) #3

Sean I appreciate your thoughtful response! I am sure it would be interesting to consider every part of these levels you’ve illustrated.

If you were one of the ones it was spoken of where Jesus had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd, where would you go in our day? What if you chose ‘the wrong place’ but sensed a spirit of godliness and friendship and ended up staying to love and serve with the people there and wound up being there for twenty years, content in your love for God?

Secondarily, if many people in our own specific church do not have a lived faith, in terms of daily taking up the cross-yet we have fellowship with them-on what basis do we exclude fellowship with others? Is claiming beliefs enough, how can we hope to truly know the people around us and assure they are worth our investment?

Is the church a hospital or a think tank? How do we offer a redemptive message to some and also a tempering, sanctifying message to others?

What is the church? Who are the church? Do denominations as a whole become saved? or is it individuals who stand before God? And again I ask, ‘who are the church?’

If we wanted to seriously cover the question from start to finish the above questions would have to be answered. Conventionally we see churches as places where imperfect people with imperfect understanding come together. Is there a way to find unity with people who love Jesus but have a misunderstanding of the message as we see it? I chose liberal and conservative because I think it is a standard differentiator. We could choose many others, when I think of the church in Acts I think of people coming together citywide, not according to their favorite flavor of Christianity. So my question is more related to have you seen people of goodwill second, and sincere love of God and Christ first, come together in unity? (With true love for Christ how could it fail?)

I wouldn’t say fellowship, in terms of meeting together for mutual encouragement is condoning every point of theology but rather considering the other group as an eye, arm or leg, and acknowledging their work in the body. If they don’t love Jesus, what is the point?

We can’t justify every person in a congregation, can we? Can we also allow for sincere lovers of Christ to be within congregations that are imperfect?

I’d like to know about places in the country where people have set aside the biggest discrepancies and sought unity while keeping their strongly held doctrines. I’d like to hear stories of the good and bad that might have come from such and effort.

(SeanO) #4

@skell I have witnessed Churches who love those who disagree with them theologically. So I can say ‘yes’ it is possible and it does happen. But I think that we should distinguish between leaders and folks in the pew. I think we should be in a Church where the leaders are committed to orthodoxy - to truth - and yet communicate it with such love that people who do not agree still feel safe and welcome to come and see exactly who this Jesus is that we worship.

I’m curious if @KMac or @WarnerMiller have any additional experiences they could share?

(Warner Joseph Miller) #5

Hey there guys!!! Very interesting and valid question, Steve. I think for me to give a quality perspectives, I’d want to know exactly what you mean when you use the terms: “conservative” and “liberal” with regard to church fellowships.

(Steve Kell) #6

Most of my initial question was simply to ask if you have seen Christians come together in spite of different beliefs locally. I could say Baptist and Brethren, Mega church and small denomination church, conservative mennonite with charismatic. Any practical, actual unity where you have seen something great come of it, or something bad.

I’ll give you a super minor example. I go to a Church of the Brethren church: 100% European heritage. Many years ago the pastor was involved with a minister in Cleveland, and hour North of us. The Cleveland minister and his entire congregation had African heritage. They are an interdenominational church.

For nearly twenty years we get together twice a year for fellowship. Their views and lives are so different from ours. Their style of singing is drastically and powerfully different, they stir our souls, they present an entirely different kind of worship.

I have never theologically tested them, to my knowledge there has never been a theological reckoning between us, though a I am sure at the early stages conversations were had. I have thoroughly enjoyed my conversations with many of the folks in that congregation and at times am presented with ideas I thoroughly disagree with, yet listen to them stated with sincerity. In the end I do not doubt their love of God, and faithfulness to Jesus. I see we disagree and find it encouraging to know that we set aside differences for our mutual benefit.

I wish I had not used liberal or conservative in the question yet find it so interesting how much hinges on the terms. I also appreciate the distinction between leaders and people in the pew. Define the terms however you wish, in as extreme a way or minute a way as possible.

Have you seen great examples of brothers coming together in unity? Have you seen those attempts fail? What were the critical reasons you’ve seen them succeed or fail? I would love to hear someone’s practical experience. A network of nationwide Christians coming together on connect to share stories has to be one of the nicest ideas around. I would love to glean from the experience others have had.

(Steve Kell) #7

Another example I have is a literal “House of Prayer” where someone, who attended a main line denominational local church, opened their home to worship on Fridays with an open invitation for people from whatever church background to come pray and worship. My wife and I stopped attending because the topic of message became exclusively end times. Previously the focus of our time together had been praying for the local church and the sermon on the mount. Many people we knew weer encouraged by that brief time of fellowship and the unity of many people from faithful Christian backgrounds. UCC members, pentecostal, conservative mennonite, everything in between… Truly sweet moments.