Playing Church

We all agree that a truthful understanding of salvation is essential for the Christian.  However, if you have made it this far in my book you are now aware that those claiming to follow Christ can be categorized into at least three opposing views: the Arminian, the Calvinist, and those confident in the victory of grace for all mankind.  Of course there are varieties and shades of each, as well as fence sitters.  However, let's suppose by some miracle we did all come to the exact same understanding of Christian salvation.

Would we then be one as Jesus is one with the Father, as he prayed in John 17?

I fear that coming closer to agreement on one thing might increase the pressure of the differences on other things.  Squaring one corner could expose misalignment on the other corners.  Frankly, the unity Jesus prayed for seems like a hopeless endeavor.  So we often settle for "playing church" rather than pursuing Christ-likeness.

I feel particularly stretched because I have sincere Christian friends in all kinds of church denominations and theological camps.  All my Christian friends could not even fellowship under the same roof!  And worse, sometimes we are under the same roof, but true fellowship is not happening there either.  We need grace.

However, since I dared light a match to the explosive issue of Christian salvation, while the match still burns, let me light a few additional fuses.  Specifically, we are commanded to follow Christ, so what should that look like?  The whole subject of this book has been how to start a relationship with Christ on the right foot.  A relationship with Christ must begin with the confidence that God has, in fact, paid for all of our sin -- past, present, and future -- and the sins of all of his people.  However, the Christian life does not stop at the beginning!  Now that we have a relationship with God through faith in Christ, we must continue by following him and imitating his words and actions.  We are commanded to follow his example.  We must do this, not to stay saved or to earn and keep the salvation we already have, but instead simply to please Jesus through obedience to his commands.  Obedience to Christ is the mark of the Holy Spirit's transforming work in the believer's life.  So, what should it look like to follow Christ?

As one example, I hold to the view of Christian non-participation in earthly war, as I learned while growing up in a dear Mennonite congregation.  Instead, Christians are called to enlist in spiritual war -- the Great Commission!  Christ's command for Peter to put his sword away was reserved for the last hour at the critical fulcrum between choosing the kingdoms of this world or the Kingdom of Christ.  I have written at length about this in my article, To Battle with the Sword of the Spirit and Prayer!  Yet while discussing this with a friend, we considered a curious question.  Would Jesus have personally pulled the trigger to fire the nuclear bombs of World War II?  One brother said, "Most certainly yes!"

Wow!  Really?  So even if we could agree on the weighty matter of Christian salvation, could we then agree on what it actually means to follow Christ?  Does national patriotism and mere earthly defense trump fidelity to the mission of Christ?  To be sure, God has sanctioned governments to wield the sword.  To be sure Jesus Christ is also the sovereign agent behind every event in world history.  For example God appointed wicked Rome to destroy Jerusalem in 70 A.D. for their rejection of Christ.   Yet those who know they belong to Christ have been conscripted instead to follow the example and commission of Christ into deadly spiritual war.  Guns and ammo will never accomplish peace in the Middle East.  However, the Bible and prayer are powerful weapons with which to wage war.  We are called to leave home, family, farm, job, and country to offer our lives as a sacrifice in making disciples of the nations.  Can one do that with gun in hand?  Clearly one cannot when following the pattern of Jesus.  What part of the word "not" do you not understand in 2 Corinthians 10:3-4?  Please reconsider and read my article, Luke 22:26, Major George Buxton Persuades Sergeant Alvin York.

Where are the recruitment officers for the Lord's army?  Where is the passion for Christian mission?  We Americans have reduced the highest Christian ideal to honoring those fallen in mere earthly battles for our supposed democratic freedom.  Weak "constitutional" theology and weak knees have found the American church hiding behind the red, white, and blue.  Where is the praise for Abel and Zechariah mentioned in Luke 11:51?  Why don't we have a Memorial Day for these men?  They and countless others in history past have lost their lives preaching Christ to their own family and neighbors.  They demonstrated fidelity to Christ unmatched in our present generation!  They carried a cross, not a cross-bow.  Remember them well.

Once I suggested that I go to Afghanistan as a missionary.  Another said he would not send his worst enemy to that country.  Are we then followers of Uncle Sam or of Christ?  Christ came to serve those who counted him their enemy.  Should we not do likewise, if we claim to follow him?  Who is ready to pull the trigger to drop themselves as a "grace bomb" into enemy lands?  Jesus dropped himself into our world.  Friends, we have walled ourselves into a safe game of "American church."  However, the church is called to be the spiritual military camp to serve the nations with the weapons of God's word and prayer.  My view may seem odd or radical to you.  I am well aware that I am in the minority, yet certainly not alone.  Consider Preston Sprinkle's book, Fight, for further challenge.  My own articles Eschatology is the Study of Future Good News! and Eschatology is the Study of Future Good News! (Part 2) explain our need for Christ-likeness in battle.

As another example, while a young Christian, I favored non-denominational churches because they seemed better suited for outreach.  They have a passion for reaching the lost that at least moves them to preach Christ rather than denominational distinctions.  Since then I learned that every church has its issues of course, even non-denominational churches.  Yet problematic denominationalism led me to write the article, Should I Stay or Should I Go?  It is a good question to ask when faced with divisions in your own fellowship.

So if we cannot find a satisfactory Christian fellowship to call home, should we start yet another Christian group?  Can one more denomination or sect be the source of Christian unity?  Hardly!  Jesus could have tried to find better men to start his new movement, but where would he find them?  Instead he stuck with his weak disciples and set a resolute path to die for all mankind in Jerusalem.  Christ determined to love his disciples, the Pharisees, the Romans, and the Greeks -- that is ALL mankind.  So we are best advised to stick with him.  It is true that Christ's work divides us into believers and unbelievers, yet his ultimate goal is not to divide, but to weld his chosen people together with love and himself at the center for all eternity.  Jesus refused to start another human sect, but instead my article title highlights, He Went To Jerusalem.

We near the end of my review of the various views of Christian salvation.  The Protestant Reformation from the 16th century sparked a division over the doctrine of salvation that has cascaded into so many divisions that many churches no longer even hold to the views of their namesake.  The body of Christ has become a divided mess!  Even after reading Martin Luther I do not know if he believed that "faith" is the "pen" that writes our name in the Lamb's Book of Life or the "glasses" that enable us to see our name written there from before the foundation of the earth.  Did Luther think that "faith" was the condition that activated salvation?  What quadrant would he fall into in our Salvation Evaluator?  I am not sure.  But I know that it is even worse for you and me because in addition to Luther's opinion and the thousands of others since then, we now also have my opinion to consider.  I cannot imagine that more words of men can possibly help untangle the mess.

So are we playing church or are we following Christ?  Are we literally trying to walk in the footprints Jesus has left us?