One of the things I both love and hate about Christianity are the tribes it inevitably creates around theological positions. I love it because there needs to be a sense in which we define what is true and good. I’m not too fond of it because often we settle and become passionate about second and third-order issues at the expense of other people. Tribalism drives me crazy. It makes sense because what you believe is inescapably intertwined with your identity and your worship of God. We reflect what we believe. We worship what we reflect and love. What we love we passionately defend ether for good or for worse.
Here’s the thing. Before we become theologians, before we’re biblically sound, before we know what we believe (if you ever get there right on!) before we keep others at arm’s length because they believe in some different things to us, we must remember that 1. They’re image-bearers like you and 2. You’re a sinner just like them. Do they believe women can be pastors? Don’t forget they’re image-bearers and sinner just like you. Do they think the gifts of the spirit have continued into the modern-day? Remember they’re image-bearers and sinners just like you. Do they struggle with same-sex attraction? Remember they’re image-bearers and sinners just like you. Are they liberal? Are they evolutionists, do they like modern songs more than hymns or vice versa? Are they Reformed, Charismatic, Anglican, in a cult, heretics? Remember they bear the image of God and you are a sinner as well. All of these issues are important and are worth discussing (I love theology remember). However, I don’t believe these discussions and forming opinions and beliefs around these ideas need to necessarily come at the cost of genuine love for neighbour and God. While we naturally want to stick to our own, might I suggest another way? Trans-Tribal Christianity.
Tans-tribal Christianity is a label (ironic I know) I’m throwing out there to define a way of doing Christianity without ostracizing, isolating, or rejecting others within the Faith while still holding to your own beliefs and convictions. You’re going to be naturally drawn to some and not others. Ordinarily, you’ll worship in a church that is tailored more towards your own beliefs and convictions. However, I want to advocate for a more inclusive way of doing Christianity without compromising on “truth.” You might believe in a precise definition of the Gospel, or in the way a Christian should do church on a Sunday. Good. Hold on to that. However, We should have enough love and humility to see the potential wisdom in others. We don’t need to treat others as “second rate Christians” just because they believe the Lord’s Supper should be taken every week rather than once a month. We shouldn’t turn our nose up to people who see the Bible and the world a little bit different to us. Instead of immediately defending yourself and your position begin with the question “what can they teach me?” You might be surprised at what you learn.
Full disclosure. Some of this comes from a reflection of my own experience. I’m an evolutionary creationist. I have a literary approach to Scripture. On occasion I see myself agreeing with liberal Christians over conservative ones. I read scholars who in some circles are seen as edgy and semi liberal, where in others they’re orthodox. I have a Reformed ecclesiology, but I’m more Arminian soteriologically. I’m a mixed bag, and it feels like I never really fit in anywhere. Yet, I have friends from all over the spectrum, and it’s got me thinking. What if we can aim for a little more unity in our theological diversity? What if we can sit down and learn more openly from one another. I’m not suggesting we trade theological accuracy for unity. I’m suggesting we aim for a loving, humble unity – a friendship with others that doesn’t need to compromise our convictions. Friendship, understanding, and empathy with others who are different doesn’t need to come at the cost of our own doctrine. So here are some steps you could take the begin this journey (if you haven’t already):
- God created everyone in His image and likeness (Gen 1:26). Therefore, everyone deserves the same measure of respect and love that God would give them.
- We’ve all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23). Sin is such a part of who we are that it even distorts at times our reading of the Scriptures. This includes you. Never assume you that have the monopoly on truth. Instead, while still holding firm to your convictions, humbly consider that others might have some wisdom and insight that you don’t.
- Know your Bible well (Psalm 1). This speaks for itself. However, in case you’re unaware, the Bible is where our theology and Christian living springs out from. Go to bible college. Read, read and then re-read the Scriptures. Meditate on them for life.
- Read widely and deeply. Read from every part of the theological spectrum (or listen). But read wisely. Not everything is good. Not everything is worth taking on. Use discernment. Don’t forsake the wisdom of your pastors, friends, and from those who have gone before you (church tradition).
- Buy coffee. Treat someone who doesn’t typically fit your mould to a hot cup of single-origin coffee. Please get to know them. Sit, listen and take it in. Exercise empathy. If they don’t drink coffee, then that’s a telltale sign of their depravity and error, and you wouldn’t want to listen to them anyway.