Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Scared by Christian Writers' Conferences

If you think Christians agree, you’re only fooling yourself. It’s hard to find complete agreement in one church, much less in an interdenominational gathering of people from different churches. Let me tie this back to the writing community. A Facebook friend recently posted, “Honored to assist in serving Palm Sunday communion to 350 writers and 75 authors/editors/agents in a beautiful redwood setting.” He was referring to the Mount Hermon Writers’ Conference. I won’t go into the details of my belief right now, but suffice it to say that I have problems with this on many levels.

Someone once talked about Christian doctrine as being in concentric circles. At the core we have the things most Christians agree on, such as, the trinity, the virgin birth, the deity of Jesus Christ, the verbal inspiration of the Scriptures, the death, burial and resurrection of Christ and the return of Christ. Moving outward, we have things for which there is disagreement between denominations or associations. A step farther and we have things for which there is disagreement within the denomination or association. Farther out and we have things that members of a local church may not agree on, such as the type of music that should be sung, etc.

When we look at Christian writers’ conferences and Christian publishing, we find that they try to stick to the very core Christian doctrines. From a business perspective, I understand that. The more specific we are about doctrine, the less room for growth there is. We maximize growth potential by focusing on common ground while at the same time we can make the claim that we are supporting Christians. Okay, that’s all good, but I do see a problem. What happened at Mount Hermon is a symptom of that problem.

The problem I see is that in the quest to find common ground, people are marginalizing the issues that are farther away from the center of our concentric circles. The assumption is that the things Christians agree on are the most important things and the farther out we go the less important things are. This isn’t always the case. Granted, I think those core doctrines I mentioned are important, but lets look at a doctrine that falls in the next ring out, the one that deals with things that denominations don’t agree on. What is required for salvation? You think that might be important? Sure it is. Eternity depends on knowing the correct answer to that question, but throw a bunch of Christians together in a writers’ conference and they aren’t going to agree on that issue, so we put it aside and don’t mention it.

Okay, so you might be thinking that that issue is pretty close to the center and we can move out into the outer rings and we we’ll find things that aren’t so important. In the next ring out, we have the issue of communion or the Lord’s Supper, depending on which denomination you are in. There is disagreement even within some denominations about how this should be handled. Some churches, obviously, will look at what happened at Mount Hermon and they won’t see it as an issue, but another church within the same denomination might look at it and see problems with it. In the interest of Christian fellowship, we might say that since there is some much disagreement anyway, we might as well put it aside and not make it an issue. But let me ask you this, how important is the proper order to communion or the Lord’s Supper?

Let’s not make this a matter of opinion. Instead, let’s take a look at what the Bible says. In I Corinthians 11:30 it says, “For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep.” For what cause? Because they were participating in the Lord’s Supper in the wrong manner. That seems important to me. If how I do something could result in me being sick or even dying, I think it might be wise for me to know how it should be done. And if other people could be dying for doing it incorrectly, then it might be important to take stand on this issue.

I think what we see here is that there is more than one set of concentric circles. There are different levels of agreement among Christians, but there are also different levels of importance. What we find is that some of the things that we agree on aren’t really that important and some of the things that are important are the things we disagree about. Of course, we also disagree about how important these things are.

Now, to get to the crux of the matter and the danger that we face in this atmosphere of interdenominational writers’ conferences and interdenominational publishers. When Christians come together with the intent of laying aside those things that do not fall within the core Christian beliefs, they marginalize the important issues that fall in the areas outside of the core Christian beliefs. I want to get along with all Christians as much as anyone, but we must not call important doctrines unimportant just because there is much disagreement. By doing that, we weaken the impact of the gospel. Throughout history, the people who have had the greatest impact for Christ have not been those who looked for common ground among the Christian denominations, but those who took a stand for what they believed. As writers, we ought to know this. Change doesn’t come, either in the lives of our characters or in the lives of those around us, without conflict. I would rather see Christian writers take firm stand for something with which I disagree than for them to stick to the common ground and ignore the important things.