There is great diversity in modern Christian Churches. In America, there are around 330,000 Churches, associated with an amazing assortment of denominational creeds. In general, they do good Work. In one way, they often do not. They do not follow Jesus' example, in making broad, sweeping edicts that are supposed to apply to every single Christian in every single situation that arises in a complicated modern world.
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Christianity involves a number of core beliefs. On these matters, a Church should allow or tolerate no variation or modification from their stated beliefs. Most Churches have a Statement of Faith which enumerates these core beliefs, or they have an official position of following certain Creeds and / or Confessions or the results of certain Church Councils.
Apart from these matters, each and every Church has the responsibility of interpreting the Scriptures for each individual person and situation. There are unique characteristics in every situation that is brought to a Church's attention by a Congregation member. Often, the subject matter is very personal and emotional to the individual. Those uniquenesses must be considered when consulting Scripture. Many of these matters are not specifically encouraged or forbidden by Scripture. A judgment needs to be made as to the apparent intent of Scripture.
Virtually all Churches have fallen into having dogmatic, universal positions on a large number of subjects. There is actually good reason for this. It is far easier to teach compliance with Christian ethics when there is a firm and fixed set of stated rules in which to live. If Christians in general thought that there was flexibility in those rules, many would tend to try to bend more of the rules, by the influence of their sinful natures, and then to try to rationalize their sinful actions on the basis of flexible rules. This is obviously not acceptable.
However, ALL rules have exceptions. There are always unusual and unique situations where the rule must be put aside. Absolute rigidity in applying dogmatic rules of living is inappropriate in such situations. In fact, it is un-Scriptural and un-Christian.
All modern Churches have the responsibility to do the same.
What if, any time you faced some complicated matter such as indicated here, you could go into a back room and have a private conversation with Jesus? You CAN! He is always there! You might need to think about what He might say to you, but the Holy Spirit will help you there!
Occasionally, it is necessary or appropriate to mention some other Denomination or religion during a Service. Unfortunately, in the many Churches I have visited during my life, these references have virtually always been derogatory references. Let's imagine what Jesus would say in our private conversation on such a matter. "Lord, I need to mention those terrible Roman Catholics (or Methodists; or Baptists; or Orthodox; or Pentecostals; or ???) and I am trying to formulate my comments." "Well, each of those groups attempt to Worship My Father and to Worship Me. Please keep that in mind when you make your comments about them." "But, Lord, they do everything wrong! They don't Baptize properly. They have too many Sacraments. They sing and yell and cry during Services." "Yes, they each Worship My Father and Me differently than you do. They have come to understand Scripture slightly differently than you do. Whether people think their methods and beliefs are slightly better than your or inferior to yours is not important to Me. You each believe that you are following the 'correct' methods and beliefs in Worshipping My Father and Me, and that is really all that is truly important."
(Note: My apologies to our Lord for attempting to discern what He might say in such a conversation. As a mere mortal, I could never really know for sure what He might say. My hypothetical conversation above is just to try to remind us of some bigger truths than we sometimes get mired in. It is also presented to suggest the sort of introspection we should apply to our Faith when faced with matters that are not clearly addressed in Scripture.)
It is suspected that fewer mean-spirited or hateful things would be spoken or thought about other Christian belief systems. Our Lord must certainly be pleased if His various followers would attempt to get along better.
There are many very personal situations that come before the Church. For example, all Christian Churches rightfully and properly teach against abortion. It is correct and proper to present this in a very rigid and strict sense, to minimize any possible misunderstandings about what is considered proper Christian behavior. However, there are certainly individual situations (usually presented after the fact) where such a rigid, universal position is inappropriate. In the event of a young woman being viciously raped by a stranger and thereby becoming pregnant, or in the case of incest which results in pregnancy, there seem to be compelling reasons to consider the alternative, if it would reduce the likelihood of destroying her and her child's future lives. No universal rule or dogmatic statement should be applied in such situations. Instead, we should consider such a situation individually and uniquely and ask "What would Jesus have said and done?" to be able to develop a path of guidance for that specific situation. He clearly would have strongly been against abortion, had it been a common procedure in His time. However, His compassion for the future lives of the girl and her child would certainly have been prominent in His thoughts. What if He could see that both of their lives would be totally wasted? What would His guidance be in that situation? The thesis here is that He would have INDIVIDUALLY given guidance, based on the uniquenesses of the specific girl and circumstances.
I am certainly not Jesus, or even Solomon, so I cannot say what the correct decision for guidance would be in each case. I only insist that the Church has the responsibility of treating such matters individually and not by applying dogmatic, universal rules. A Church should rely on guidance by the Holy Spirit in developing its opinions about each specific situation.
This approach, of generally considering what Jesus would have thought and done when approached on a specific issue, should guide our Churches in many subject areas where personal matters are involved. As long as the stated core beliefs of that Church are not in question, and as long as Scripture is silent on the specific situation, judgment should be offered as Jesus might have presented it.
Actually, the approach described here, which might be perceived as being "liberal", is actually even MORE strict than that of many modern Churches, BEFORE the fact. There is no doubt that Jesus would have been very stern in His teaching of the Lessons of the Bible. For example, can you imagine His reaction to the large numbers of "lazy" Christians, who only go to Church and "waste" their time there, because it is supposed to be compliance with the "minimum requirements" expected of him/her. Such people's actions are empty, and virtually meaningless. The main hope for any Church is that, potentially, regular exposure to Christianity might some day get through to them. Just going through the motions won't cut it. Actual Faith and Passion is necessary!
The significant variation here is in the dealing with a person who has already committed some sin, AND WHO SHOWS EVIDENCE OF REMORSE ABOUT IT. In such a case, there is no doubt that Jesus would have been Divinely Compassionate.
The result is that this approach is not necessarily any more "liberal" than other Churches in our Teaching of Christianity. The difference is in applying Compassion in dealing with human situations, where Compassion is called for.
Carl Johnson, Pastor,
A Christ Walk Church
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