Archive for November 18th, 2009

It seems if there’s one thing that keeps many Evangelicals up at night, it has to be defining exactly who is and who isn’t an Evangelical.  There’s been all sorts of attempts to craft different statements of faiths and covenants that spell this out.  A couple famous examples are the Lausanne Covenant or the NEA Statement of Faith.  One of the newest attempts to define the boundaries of Evangelicalism is a document entitled “An Evangelical Manifesto“.  Now in and of themselves, these documents don’t bother me too much.  Most of them are vague enough that a majority of people who call themselves Evangelicals wouldn’t have much of a problem agreeing with them.  But then again, if that’s the case, why are these documents need at all?  Why do the framers of these documents feel compelled to draw these proverbial lines in the sand?

This article from the online publication, Patrol Magazine, attempts to answer that question.  And the answer the author gives is largely a negative one – it is out of a sense of desperation and a last ditch effort of self-preservation.  It’s perhaps best stated in the following paragraph:

The fight to define evangelicalism in its latter days also operates on the mistaken premise that an imagined theological purity or conformance to a “lost” orthodoxy, rather than an emphasis on ethics, spiritual discipline and mystery, will revive the power of the Christian church. It is astonishing that so many intelligent Christians seem to believe there is a deficit in emphasis on evangelism and scriptural literalism, and that, if the hatches are just battened down on a more solid “worldview,” evangelicalism can resume explaining the universe to new generations of believers. In this respect, evangelicalism’s true believers resemble the faction of the Republican Party that asserts with a straight face that returning to “core principles,” and not a radical restructuring of priorities, will bring waves of Americans back to the right wing.

I find a lot of truth in this statement.  It seems that whenever a group spend a great deal of time and energy in defining it’s boundaries it is inevitable that the original mission and values get lost to some extent.  In attempting to ensure that people say they believe the right things, it become very easy to push doing the right things to the back burner.  Perhaps this is why it is so difficult for these types of organizations to maintain the same level of influence from generation to generation.  The values that one generation recognizes as life changing simply become words and statements that the next generation is expected to sign on to.  Whether a person has wrestled with and come to terms with these values is of secondary concern.

So am I advocating that we do away with all statements of faith and creedal confessions?  Of course not.  I believe that having a common starting point for discussion is an important element within churches.  But I also believe that we need to be careful that are creeds and statements of faith serve the purpose of bringing Christians together rather than keeping the outsiders out.  If anything, reciting a historical creed should make us remember out brothers and sisters who have gone before us and struggled with the deep questions of their time, and we should remember that many of their deep questions are questions that people are wresting with today.  Additionally, we would be wise to remember that no creed or statement of faith can replace a real encounter with the living Christ.

Grace and peace.

HT: The Internet Monk

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