Saturday, November 9, 2013

God's Progressive Redemption and the Denominational Divide

            Salvation in Jesus Christ is not just judicial. It is redemptive and restorative. Christ came not only to count the church righteous, but also to make the church righteous, and, ultimately, to make the world righteous. His redemption is moral, physical, and intellectual. This redemption is both personal to the believer and holistic to creation. It is eschatological. It is the restoring all things back to Christ (Eph. 1:10) to where they began (Jn. 1:1-4).
            Redemption is all-encompassing because sin is all-encompassing. The fall did not only make us morally depraved. It affected every aspect of the world in which we live. It affects us physically, as seen in death, disaster, and disease. It affects us intellectually, as is seen in any professed denial of Christ. Morality itself is difficult to separate from the intellectual. Few sins are carried out without some degree of intellectual justification on the part of the sinner.
            Redemption is progressive, not only in the scope of the cosmos, but in the church, and in the believer. Much of God’s plan for redemption is still future, seen in glimpses of what he is doing currently. What God will do in the new heavens and new earth, he is beginning now, but he has not finished.
            This leads me to my understanding of the denominational divide in church. It has often been perplexing to me that so many of God’s genuine followers can disagree on topics that matter. Why are there denominations? Why does God not lead us all to perfect confessional unity? Why does God not make Scripture more clear? Then I realized that this is coupled along with some other questions that I knew more about: Why does God not fix sin? He is, and he will.
            Denominations still exist because sin still exists. Just as the church is not yet perfected morally, nor is the church perfected intellectually. Our still sin-tainted minds are imperfect minds. We are mentally lazy. Even the most logical of us are not nearly as objective as we would like to be. Even the most genuine of us can be persuaded to one belief or another by less than genuine motives.
            There are two ways that I see of dealing with this. The first is to deny an objective goal for truth and call it all equally good or relative. We see this done not only in intellectual pluralism, but in moral relativism as well. If conviction against certain sins appears too difficult or divisive, it is sometimes denied to be sin altogether.
The second way of dealing with this intellectual divide is to deal with it the same way that we deal with God’s redemptive purposes in the moral realm: patiently, graciously, laboriously, with conviction, and relying on the Holy Spirit’s help. There is a goal and God is accomplishing it. We will fail, but we must be as faithful as we can be.
I see two broad applications to this. First, we must realize that we have yet to be intellectually perfected as individuals. So, we must strive for such perfection, but we must do so with humility, acknowledging our fallibility. We must not see our current degree of understanding as final, but keep open minds to learning God’s truth. But, we must move forward nonetheless and do so with as much conviction as we can honestly maintain.
Second, we must realize that the church is not yet perfected. This should give us humility in our denominational distinctives. It should give us patience with those in other denominational leanings. It should give us a realization that, if someone has the Spirit of God in them, God is redeeming them both morally and intellectually, and, therefore, they probably have something to say that is worth listening to, as unbalanced as it may be. We should have ecumenical hearts. We should have such hearts without the sacrifice of an objective aim for truth. It should simply help us realize that we haven’t yet attained a perfect understanding, and that we as the church must work together and reform together. Yes, we continue to hold our convictions, but we must not do so divisively, but graciously, with hope of unity, a continual understanding of one another. I have found that, the more I listen to Christians with whom I disagree, the more I tend to see the merit in their convictions. 
Granted, there are some hills we much die on, as many in church history nobly have. We must try our best to be wise as to what those hills are. Holding too loosely to primary orthodoxy and holding divisively closed-fisted on secondary issues are both tragic.
So, whether your hope is a postmillennial one, or that Christ will wipe it all clean at the thundering trumpet, with or without a thousand-year millennium in between, we can all agree that Christ will redeem us.

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