Thursday, August 24, 2006

Mainliner's Lament Part 2

There wasn't meant to be a Part 2. That was before I discovered this well-reasoned vitriol-free diatribe from Mark Driscoll about mainline denominations via iMonk. Truth be told, I can't and won't defend against everything he says. Caricatures tend to contain even a kernal of truth to them. But this will mainly be the points of disagreement. Of course, these are only my responses. I can't speak for every mainline denomination, local church, and member. That'd be silly.

My son Zac and I recently attended a Mariners baseball game for his seventh birthday. On the way home we were rolling along in my 1978 Chevy truck with a bacon air freshener and passed a liberal mainline church. He asked me what that church believed and I told him they do not believe people are sinners, do not believe the Bible is to be taken literally but is more like a fantasy video game, do not believe you need Jesus to go to heaven, and do believe that being gay is cool with Christ.

"Do not believe people are sinners." - False. Perhaps "sin" is defined differently, but the notion of sin is alive and well in mainline circles. We tend to think more of sin in corporate terms - the sins of governments and businesses against their people, which has plenty of Biblical grounding particularly in the OT prophets and the story of the exodus where Egypt and even Israel and Judah oppress the poor, the orphan, and the widow. But there's plenty of personal sin that is acknowledged and addressed in mainline churches as well. Besides the Big 10, there is much discussion of the violation of loving God and neighbor, i.e., selfishness, pride, hatred, violence, greed, and so on. I'll venture that the big holdup here is probably The Gay Thing, i.e., "homosexuality is okay, that must mean that they think it's all okay," which is a terribly illogical argument. I'll admit that there is a presence of "cheap grace" in mainline churches, but that's not just a mainline problem. Never has been.

"Do not believe the Bible is to be taken literally but is more like a fantasy video game." - Obviously we need some help here with the definition of "literal." I don't want to presume that "literal" has one definition, but more often than not people tend to mean that every last punctuation mark of the Bible is to be taken at face value and provides an eternally relevant and applicable meaning for Christians, including but not limited to refraining from eating shellfish and making menstruating women sit outside the city in Leviticus, the killing of a mixed-race couple in Numbers 25, people refusing to give everything to the apostles falling over dead in Acts, and a general regulation of indentured servitude in both Testaments. A view of the Bible fairly prevalent in mainline churches has more to do with the Bible being an evolving story between God and humanity that believers are participating in, can learn from, and are actively writing today. And don't read that as "re-writing the Bible." Instead, it is continuing the story. The UCC's own "God is Still Speaking" slogan is meant to convey this and is not, by the caricature of many, "Do what you want when you want." The acknowledgment here is that God did not stop speaking or acting 2000 years ago.

"Do not believe you need Jesus to go to heaven." - Mainliners tend not to have such a simple view ("simple" meaning "easy," not "stupid"). There is a great emphasis on service, based again in the prophets, Jesus' parable in Matthew 25 about the sheep and goats, and the book of James. Adhering to truths about Jesus isn't enough. Living truths about Jesus, what my denomination may name as "accepting the cost and joy of discipleship," is what really counts. I could rattle off the Apostle's Creed, but how has my life changed by my ability to do that? This is not "works righteousness," but does take into account God's commands in scripture to serve and pursue what James calls "true religion." Of course, the intent here was probably more along the lines of mainliners thinking that Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and Wiccans are okay just the way they are. But I'd rather stick with what "need Jesus" means and then we can start judging and damning others.

"Do believe that being gay is cool with Christ." - Well, here's the big sticky point; the new litmus test for who's a faithful believer and who isn't. First, I've already addressed the "literal meaning/video game" point, so perhaps here is a good opportunity to say that reason and experience tend to play a role in mainliners' thought processes when deciding an issue. So we come to The Gay Thing and listed off are the dozen or so texts supposedly condemning homosexuality. Because it has become such a hot topic, it behooves us to be absolutely sure, so there is a need to examine original languages and cultural beliefs and practices, as well as current scientific, psychological, and environmental studies on the topic. This also applies to other issues such as stem cell research. All this together has caused a chunk of mainliners to conclude that "homosexuality is not a sin for the following reasons based on my own analysis of the Biblical world and our own." But as I recall, Driscoll once heard all of this from Brian McLaren and with one "homo-evangelical" comment dismissed all the careful reasoning laid out for him to debate and discuss. So maybe there's little hope for reasoned discourse here.

Driscoll continues his rant with a few incidents ripped from recent headlines and lifts them up as universally supported by mainliners. There's a beautiful response to this part in iMonk's comments by a poster named bookdragon, and I commend that comment to my readers rather than parse it all out here.

There are, however, a few other comments tacked on after this initial rant that I want to respond to as well. It doesn't look like they're even from Driscoll, but I've read enough from Driscoll to presume that he shares the sentiments. Here they are with some quick replies:

Last year the Episcopal church had a document on its women's ministry web site telling the women priests (the how I wish I was a wiccan types) how to preside over a Milk and Honey ceremony. This instead of that broken body and shed blood ceremony Bible thumpers insist upon.

The Didache, one of the earliest Christian documents--even earlier than some New Testament writings--includes a communion ceremony utilizing fish among other elements as part of the service. Where does the Bible mandate that one may only use bread and wine/juice?

Additionally, the mainline faithful recently gave to the world an online finger Labryinth. Oh yes, you no longer need to walk to a sissy maze while doing Yoga out there in the real world. Now you can sit in your chair and "re-center" from any wifi hotspot on the planet.

Since there's no real theological analysis here, I won't reply with one. I just don't see the need for this other than to take a potshot at "feminized" believers who find meaning in the labyrinth as a spiritual practice. "Finger labyrinths" are for people for whom a real labyrinth is not readily available and for people who cannot physically walk one due to age or disability. And when will people understand that a labyrinth is not a maze? I'd also be interested in hearing why the labyrinth is considered "sissy" at all, but one needs a basic understanding of what a labyrinth is first, and judging by the maze comment, I don't think this writer has one. It just somehow "seems sissy" to guys with bacon air freshioners.

Just think, when someone gives you the finger in traffic, you can just go to the office and move your little finger through the Labryinth and peace and calm shall return to you.

And this statement was just stupid. See? I tried to hold out until the very end to resort to useless name-calling. But it was really just stupid.