Christumenical

Recently I had a conversation with a friend over an article she found online that described some beliefs C.S. Lewis held that are contrary to standard evangelical beliefs. (The article mentioned that as an Anglican, Lewis believed in purgatory and praying for the dead, among other things. However I should point out that Anglican doctrine does not teach purgatory, so if Lewis did believe in purgatory, it was not due to his Anglican affiliation.) I responded to my friend in a way that might have concerned her, saying that I have long held an ecumenical attitude toward other Christian traditions. She replied:

“I am not concerned that you are interested in ecumenical progress. My bigger concern is the erosion of the foundations of faith that can occur when in pursuit of solidarity. Some things, I feel, are just not negotiable.”

Right-on! Unfortunately ecumenicalism has earned a bad name these days, and justifiably so. Rather than concentrating on the group of Christian traditions that were the focus of its original meaning and usage, the term has come to include Universalism, which promotes the “universal” fatherhood of God and the eventual salvation of all souls regardless of belief system.

That is not what I meant when I used the term ecumenical. Still, so as not to cause any confusion when using a term that has lost its original meaning, I’ve decided to create my own term to describe the promotion of unity among Christian faith traditions: “Christumenical.”

I define Christumenical this way: of or relating to the movement among Christian (Christ-centered) churches and denominations (including Catholic, Anglican, Protestant and Orthodox) to achieve unity through authentic mutual respect and warmth, following Jesus’ observation in John 13:35 that the world will “know you are my disciples by your love for one another.” The key to this kind of love, I believe, is two-fold:

  • accepting each other as brothers and sisters in Christ based on our common beliefs in the essential Christian tenets of faith—that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, was crucified as a substitutionary atonement for all humanity, died and was buried, was resurrected from the dead on the third day, and that He is coming again at some point in the future to bring final judgment upon sin and death; and
  • maintaining a non-judgmental attitude toward the unknowable issues – matters subject to interpretation where the Bible is not crystal clear – that we tend to disagree on. As early Church father Augustine of Hippo wrote, “…in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”

When I read C.S. Lewis (among other non-evangelical Christian writers), I bear in mind that I do not have to believe in everything he believed (purgatory for instance) in order to find valuable Christian insight in the rest of what he wrote. (In fact, while Lewis did not shy away from mentioning his “non-essential” beliefs, he never promoted them.) Additionally, I should not judge Lewis because he believed in purgatory and thus prayed for the dead. Why? Because I do not personally know that purgatory does not exist, and I don’t know of a single person who does. Believing in something, or not believing in something, does not make it so.

What I do know is this—the Bible makes it very clear that the area of judgment belongs to God alone, and I’d best keep my nose out of God’s business. The same can be said about other non-essential issues (outside of the basic tenets of faith). Let’s let God decide, in the long run, what’s important and what’s not, and simply follow Christ’s teaching to His disciples to love one another as Christ loved us.

So here’s my Christumenical word for the day: While many Protestant, Catholic, Anglican and Orthodox practices may look different, even foreign to us who have been worshiping a certain way or with a particular church or denomination for a long time, let’s remember that the core beliefs of these Christ followers are the same as our own. In this age of Christian persecution (a growing problem worldwide, even here in the U.S.), we cannot afford to isolate ourselves from other brothers and sisters in Christ.

Faithfulness

Lately I have been thinking about our old dog, Buddy.  Nothing made him happier than being beside us moment by moment…following Jack around the yard, or me as I went from room to room going about my household chores.  Anyone who has had a dog knows this:  Even though we don’t speak the same language, it doesn’t take long for dogs and their owners to gain a rich understanding of each other.

As strange as it sounds, thinking about Buddy shed new light for me on the parable Jesus told in Matthew 25: 14-30.  I have always struggled with this parable because it seemed to focus on how hard the servants worked to gain their Master a profit, which in turn had direct bearing on their future status and happiness.  Now I see this could not be further from the truth, neither for this story nor for the parable of the Sheep and the Goats that follows.

Faithful dogs will do pretty much anything for their owners.  It’s a trait borne out of a bond of mutual love and respect from time spent together.  Similarly, the real issue in the parable of the talents is how faithful the servants were to their master, driven by their intimate knowledge of what their master was like.  Clearly the servant who hid his “talent” did so out of fear, believing that his master was a harsh, meddling kind of man (vs. 24-25).  Possibly he saw the talent challenge as some sort of test or trick…some fun being had by the rich at the expense of the poor.  Certainly he did not consider it an honor bestowed upon him that the master would entrust the talent to him in the first place.

How sad that he did not know the master well enough to understand the entrusting of the talent was the venerable action of a wise individual who knew that it is our nature to want to prove our loyalty by our good works.  Makes me wonder, did the servant even try to get to know his master, or did he merely go about his duties blindly, with a chip on his shoulder?

It can be all too easy to go through the motions of the Christian faith without any of the devotion that leads to true faithfulness.  And without that, our “works” (whether small or great) will be lackluster at best, and dangerously close to an insult when it comes time to meet our Master face-to-face.

Integrity in the Blogisphere

If you have read my About page, you know that one of my goals for this website is to report on current events from a Christian perspective.  Honestly, I have not done much of this, still being a relatively new blogger and unsure of my footing as a journalist in the blogisphere.  However, I may have made some progress in the woeful tale of Tom White.

Wednesday morning, April 18, officials found Voice of the Martyrs (VOM) executive director Tom White’s body in one of the organization’s buildings.  No specifics were offered except to say it appeared White committed suicide.  The day before, Bartlesville, OK police had opened up an investigation into White, who had been accused of molesting a young girl.  Again, no specifics were offered, but on April 20, the following was offered as part of a statement made by the VOM board:

“The events of the last week are tragic.  On Wednesday we learned that Tom White, VOM’s executive director, had died.

“Allegations were made to authorities this week that Tom had inappropriate contact with a young girl.   Rather than face those allegations, and all of the resulting fallout for his family and this ministry and himself, Tom appears to have chosen to take his own life.”

After the news broke, a Baptist pastor ran an open letter on his personal blog to the victim of Tom’s alleged crime (a 10-year-old girl, who he called ‘Tabitha’).  A few days later, he said he received a phone call from the girl’s father.  In a subsequent blog post he stated that while he would not share details of the conversation out of respect for the victim and her family as well as the family of Tom White, “What I can say is that there is no doubt the abuse occurred.  In addition, there is no doubt the open letter helped this young girl’s family.”

A firestorm of comments spread throughout the blogisphere, on the pastor’s blog as well as on many other blogs where the matter has been dissected, much of which I have been following for the past two+ months.  I don’t have a problem with the original “Open Letter” to the supposed victim of White’s crime.  The pastor wanted to reach out to the young girl, and without contact information his blog was a good choice for communicating his thoughts, concerns and prayers.  But like some commenters, I wonder about his pronouncement of guilt on Mr. White as well as his motivation for writing the second post.  The pastor defends himself against questions about his motives by saying he merely wanted to minister to the girl and her family, but it seems to me those goals were better served through the private conversation he had plus any subsequent private contact that might occur, not through a public blog that the entire world could read.

According to our country’s Constitution, we are all entitled to our opinions and have the right of free public speech.  However, God expects Christians to behave in a way that honors Him and faithfully represents who He is to those around us.  This obligation to be true ambassadors of Christ (2 Cor. 5:20) is higher than the law of the land, but if we are thoughtful, we can do both.

Before going any further, let me make my own position clear.  I am a trained journalist.  As such I understand a person’s First Amendment right to express his opinion in a public forum.  But I also understand the Bill of Rights proclamation that states a person is innocent until proven guilty.  These are rights that all Americans enjoy, yet rights that are easily trampled if caution is not exercised.

As a contract writer for the LA Times and crime reporter for a regional newspaper, my job depended on my faithful adherence to these two important principles with every word I typed.  That is why, attempting to be neutral in their reporting of crimes, reporters use words such as “alleged,” “reported” and “supposed” instead of outright statements of guilt (or innocence) before a trial brings the facts to light and a conviction can be made.

Certainly, by all outward appearances, and using a rational thought process, it seems entirely possible that Tom White molested the young girl.  I can’t imagine any other reason that a person would commit suicide in the face of a criminal investigation.  But just because we can’t imagine something doesn’t mean it isn’t true, and if there is one thing I have learned as a journalist it is that virtually anything is possible.  And so for the sake of the principles of this great American nation, and for the sake of the unknown details of this case, I will not pronounce guilt on Mr. White, and I daresay nor should anyone else outside of a court of law.  To do so would be un-American, and un-Christian.

Un-Christian? What about the call to judgment? What I know about judgment is what Jesus himself taught:

Do not judge, and you will not be judged.  Do not condemn, and you will not be
condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.  Give, and it will be given to you.  A
good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your
lap.  For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.  
—Luke 6: 37-38 (also found in Matthew 7)

Is there no place for criminal judgment in our society?  Of course there is.  Thankfully, the American justice system is still founded on Judeo-Christian principles, whose architect is God Himself.  But White is dead, he can’t be tried in a court of law, one might rightly say.  Yet God’s response is the same whether White is alive or dead: “Vengeance is mine, I will repay” (Romans 12:19, quoting from Deut. 32: 35).

If Tom White committed a crime and a sin, dead though he may be, rest assured God will deal with him. It is not our place to judge him, or his family, or the supposed victim in this case, or VOM.

Back to the topic of integrity in the blogisphere, the point I am trying to make here is that God’s law concerning human interaction should be our plume line when making decisions of judgment, not our culture or any personal opinions we may have based on hearsay (a legal term for ‘rumor’).

I also think it is important to be true to whatever role we currently serve in life.  As I see it, my role as a Christian journalist analyzing current events is to maintain neutrality while hopefully helping others to see God’s perspective in the matter at hand.

So what is a pastor’s role in the world and in the blogisphere?  When I ponder this question, I personally don’t see any diminishing of vocational duty just because the pastor’s blog is personal in nature vs. church related.  Thus I have a strong sense that a pastor’s role is to proclaim truth laced heavily with grace toward all those within his/her realm of influence, including his/her outreach to the Web community.

Truth—that sin is ugly and worthy of God’s righteous judgment (Romans 3:23, Romans 6:23)…and grace—that in Christ, forgiveness (both God’s forgiveness of our own sins as well as the ability to forgive others) and healing are extended to both the sinner and the victim of sin (John 3:16, Romans 8:1).

Obviously we can never fill Jesus’ shoes and live perfectly the example He set.  But we can do our best, and really, no matter what roles we play in society, aren’t we all responsible for what we know of God’s love and grace?  Both Old and New Testaments say that we are.  So whether we’re journalists, pastors, or Mr. or Ms. Average Christian, we can intentionally withhold personal judgment against our fellow human being, allowing God His due as Judge, and let our speech and our actions be sprinkled with the unbounding love of our Redeemer, Jesus Christ.

To God – With Love

We’ve all heard the saying:  “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”  I heard it again recently, and wondered, does the Christian faith have a ‘main thing’?  Something that could be considered the heart message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ?  Certainly, John 3:16 comes to mind.  In one succinct statement, God’s invitation to an everlasting relationship with Him is trumpeted to all mankind.  What about our response?

Jesus proclaimed the key to our relationship with God in Matthew 22:37, when he answered the Pharisees’ question about what is the greatest commandment:  “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (quoting the Hebrew Shema, from Deuteronomy 6:5).  In Luke 10:27, a fourth element is added – to love God with all your strength.

It’s easy to get caught up in a lot of peripheral stuff that clouds this basic message.  But according to Jesus, THE most important aim in life, THE critical goal, THE main thing, is to love God utterly and completely.  To love the totality of who God is (eternal Father, Son and Holy Spirit), with the totality of our whole being, is what the First and Greatest Commandment is all about.Read More