Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Sine Qua Non of Conservative Evangelicalism

In layman terms, what do we consider the essential hallmark doctrines of an evangelical Christian? If liberalism, emergence or radicalism in its various forms e.g. liberation theology were to determine this, perhaps there would be no set definition of what constitutes the biblical Christian. If broad, overly inclusive ecumenism is the deciding worldview, there does not seem to be a need to define the sine qua non of evangelical Christianity. In the latter view, there is no ecclesiastical authority, no boundary that can be established, no deciding factor that determines whether one is evangelically true to the doctrines of God and the Good News of Jesus Christ. It is a welcoming body regardless of grace or leaven. But is it true?

Even those who advocate a boundary-less evangelical Christianity with all the trappings of an almost limitless ecumenism establish boundaries of their own with regard to the criteria of legitimate evangelicalism. Whether it is a list of other "isms" or spelled out simply as the necessity of being born again, trusting the Bible to be the revealed word of God, engaged in Christ's commission and having a faith focused on the person and finished work of Jesus Christ at Calvary, every one of us regardless of where we sit on the evangelical spectrum establish boundaries. Confusion sets in when any of us proclaim one thing in the support of one "ism" and intellectually assent to the very opposite position when pressed to identify the essentials. An essential position defies the logic of advocating the lack of essentials. To analogously borrow from the Apostle Paul, we cannot be all things for all people if we are not true to who we are and what we believe.

Looking around at the church world, we can see the wreckage of liberal, emergent and radical elements affecting much of what once were sound and orthodox pillars of evangelical Christianity.  If we pay attention, we can fish the lukewarm waters of overly broad ecumenism and find complicity through advocacy to embrace the very "movements" that are at the root of this wreckage. The United Methodist Church as an example has suffered terribly through the misguided efforts to embrace radical liberalism, feminism and open acceptance of homosexuality not only in the pews but most damningly in the messages emanating from the pulpits. They pursued wide open ecumenism and kissed the world as a result.  Certainly this does not argue against the ecumenical embrace of all the body of Christ. We are instructed to have unity in the essentials, speaking the same things (1 Co 1:10). Yet to have such unity and remain in agreement, the essentials have to be defined. That requires identifying boundaries for determining what constitutes evangelical Christianity.

The conservative evangelical recognizes the need for boundaries, for identified essentials regarding who and what we are. The Bible IS the word of God. Calvary IS important. Being born of the Spirit and rising in a newness of life is an essential. We agree with the ecumenical creeds and councils of the church truly in spirit and mostly in word even if we might craft another prose. The conservative evangelical rejects the notion that ecumenism is good in its own right if the essentials of our faith are left void by a whim. Perhaps most importantly, we agree that the following words of the Apostle Paul as relevant today as when first scribed.

"And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love." (Eph 4:11-16 AV)

While the conservative evangelical might struggle with some non-essential doctrines and allow ecclesiastical dogma to shade his judgment, the liberal or emergent ecumenicist  turns a blind eye outwardly to the essentials of the faith while personally harboring agreement with the very elements he opposes in conservatism…  In a couple of words, doctrine matters.