Hank wrote in a comment (edited for typos and to expand abbreviations),
As you know, Jay, many of the articles here have been written in an attempt to point out the inconsistencies of “conservative” brethren who do “draw lines” (set boundaries) in terms of what other Christians believe, how they organize themselves, and in what ways they worship. Personally, I became involved in these discussions (blogs) after learning of bro. Todd Deaver’s book “Facing Our Failure.” For as already mentioned, while he did a fine job in pointing out said inconsistencies of brethren who do “draw lines of fellowship,” what he fails to see himself is that he (and everybody else), only has three options:
1. Be just like the conservatives you so regularly take to task. In other words, go ahead and reveal where your lines clearly are in every case (female elders, motocycle blessings services, Catholics, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, practicing homosexual church leaders, whatever). And then explain how you know the line is actually where you suggest it is in every case. And not by merely giving some subjective guidelines, but actual examples of beliefs and/or practices that are sinful to God. But then, you too would be just as inconsistent as the brethen you oppose and would be be forced to “face your own failure.”
2. Maintain the apparent progressive approach. In other words, refuse to ever actually say that to believe and /or practice “thus and such” (or, Catholicism, Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, etc., is against the will of God and therefore sinful). In essence, accept, embrace, and tolerate virtually every conceiveable false belief and/or practice. (So long as the people believing and/or practicing the sin honestly believe that they are pleasing God).
3. Place yourself somewhere betwixt the two. In other words, admit that a actual and specific belief and/or practice is contrary to the revealed will of God, but not pretend to know exactly how God will handle (judge) those who believe and/or practice the sin. Be willing to say you are not sure sometimes whether a certain person, or church has actually “gone too far” (crossed the line) in terms of wehther or not they can continue believing and/or prcaticing the thing and still be considered by God to be “walking in the light” (and saved). Of course, this position will end up having you encourage people to “play it safe” in many areas. The very thing progressives apparently hate to suggest.
It’s a shame that you so misunderstand the progressive point of view. It’s not betwixt 1 and 2, and it’s not 1 or 2. Let me try to explain.
1. is legalism. It’s all about the rules, and it defines salvation based on getting the rules right and obeying the rules.
2. is antinomianism. There are no rules.
3. is anything in between 1 and 2. But anything between 1 and 2 is legalism, too, because it’s still about the rules, just fewer of them.
Now, the problem is that this way of looking at Christianity is all about the rules. Christianity is not about rules. To focus on rules is to miss the point.
There are, of course, rules. I’ve written over 1,000,000 words here in about 3 years laying out my understanding of lots and lots of things. And there are rules, and I’ve said so repeatedly. But Christianity is not defined by rules. Rather, the rules there are are consequences of much more important things. And when you try to define Christianity (or Christians) by reference to rules, you necessarily miss the more important things.
It’s like marriage. Husbands and wives will have certain rules they agree on (I get the TV for Monday night football. She gets the TV for “So You Think You Can Dance.” We pray that they never move “So You Think You Can Dance” to Mondays.) And there are certain rules inherent in marriage, imposed by God himself (sexual faithfulness, for example). But if you define your marriage in terms of rules, you’re a deeply confused person. Imagine your wife saying, “I love being married to Hank. He has found and strictly enforces exactly the right rules. I know he’s the man for me!”
If we were to compare the marriages of friends of ours, trying to decide which couple has the healthiest, most godly marriage, we’d not start by asking what the rules in their marriages are. Of course, if the spouses were cheating on each other, we’d know they have a very unhealthy marriage. But non-cheating isn’t the definition of a healthy marriage. It’s necessary. But it’s not nearly enough.
No, we’d start by looking at their relationships. Do they love each other? Do they support each other? Do they cooperate? Do they resolve conflict in healthy, productive ways, or are they passive aggressive? Do they enjoy being around each other? Is their relationship harmonious and peaceful? Do they retaliate for perceived wrongs or do they work those things out with forgiveness, apologies, and reconciliation?
Now marriage is a God-ordained, God-created institution. So is the church. And God routinely speaks of the church in terms of a marriage. It’s his metaphor. And he uses Christ’s service and crucifixion as a description of how he wants us to behave both in our marriages and in our churches. I’m not just making this up. This is deep theology.
So when we read Rom 12 or 1 Cor 12-14 or many other instructions from Paul about how to live as the church of Christ, he talks about the virtues we should have and how we should relate to one another and to Jesus. And this of absolutely critical importance. Indeed, it’s “the most excellent way.”
(1 Cor 13:4-7) Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Paul here is talking about congregational life — and we apply it to marriages, because it’s also true of marriages. But it was written to tell us how to live as the church of Christ.
Therefore, if you want to put churches and theologies on a biblical continuum, you should arrange them by how well they teach and live out passages such as these. There are hundreds of more commands along these lines than along the lines of how to worship or organize a church. And as we must let God tell us what’s most important, we should emphasize in our teachings the same things that God emphasizes in his teachings. And what he emphasizes regarding how to live as a church is love as modeled by the crucifixion of Jesus.
Now, the 20th Century Churches of Christ were deeply infected with attitudes inherited from the 16th Century Reformation, that is, the need to find boundary markers to separate themselves from other denominations — acts of worship, form of organization, etc. And these thus became “marks of the church” — even though the vast majority of these “marks” are barely evidenced in the Bible at all.
Thus, a church that violated every instruction in 1 Cor 13 — filled with impatient, unkind, envious, boastful, proud, rude, self-seeking, angry, grudge holding, evil-delighting people was considered “sound” and “faithful” for having no piano, whereas a church that modeled 1 Cor 13 attitudes was damned to hell for worshiping God with a piano. The result was to take an inference built on inferences and make it the very definition of God’s church in contrast to actual, real, God-given commands given, not as inferences, but as commands.
Do you see the problem? Jesus himself taught that love is a mark of the church. But it’s not in a single book I’ve read on the “marks of the church.” Why not? Because love doesn’t separate us from other denominations. The goal wasn’t to search and teach and practice the scriptures. The goal was to find ways to distinguish ourselves from and so claim superiority to other denominations. And thus things like love became less important than they should have been.