Turning Around the Mainline

Posted on June 22, 2012

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I was asked the last week if would consider returning to the congregational development committee of our diocese which has left me thinking quite a bit if I would be able to serve the Lord there faithfully. What I have learned in my years off the committee is that a reformation of doctrine, a return to orthodoxy, must precede any congregational revival in a denomination. In 1 Kings 18 Elijah rebuilds the altar of the Lord that had been thrown down and neglected by an idolatrous people before the fire came down.

I have not made a decision as yet, but I recall Thomas Oden on the problem with the mainline church’s infatuation with dialogue that make up so much of committee time:

Lowercase orthodox believers are not seeking a debating society that would aspire to be a religious version of the United Nations. They do not see organic union as the final objective, especially if that objective is reduced to rhetorical evasion and organizational tinkering. What they want to see is the living confession of Jesus Christ transforming human, personal, and social experience. Wherever they see that, they know instantly from the heart their deep affinity with it. Wherever they don’t hear that, they know inwardly how alien and distant are these temptations.

The seductions of dialogue typically draw believers toward subjective feelings, mutual congratulation, and institutional horse-trading. They thrive on negotiation or arbitration models of interaction. They thereby draw us far away from the truth that is declared in Jesus Christ in whom all believers are called to participate by faith. So it should not be surprising that classic Christian believers tend to regard undisciplined dialogue as a temptation…

Confessing Christians have a long history of experience with the frustration and futility of such undisciplined dialogue not ordered under the written Word. It less often leads to the question of truth than to the question of how we “feel,” and how we can accommodate or negotiate our competing interests. That is different from the question of truth announced in the gospel, which alone engenders the unity of believers.

If the central question of Christian unity for classic Christian believers is the truth of the gospel, then the apostolic testimony made known in Jesus Christ is the first step toward unity. All other dialogue, however altruistic it may appear, is truly a diversion, a pretension of searching for truth, a ruse that substitutes narcissistic talk for integrity. What seems an innocent and generous invitation to dialogue actually amounts to a disposed predetermination to replace the truth question with what we “feel” about our own experience. In this way dialogue becomes an instrument of manipulation already shaped by the wrong premises. Global orthodox believers seek unity in the truth, no unity apart from truth, not unity as a substitute for the truth, but unity in the truth of the revealed Word.

Turning Around the Mainline, pp. 66-67