Over a year ago a friend sent me this note about her church that was unfortunately splitting over a theological issue. For me it highlights one of my favorite aspects of the faith to discuss: staying "in the center of Biblical tension" also called "the radical middle" in Vineyard churches.
Essentially, several ideas in scripture might seem contradictory, having two seemingly contrary sides that are clearly supported. This can be a great test of faith for some - for me it has been an exercise in humility and trust as I explain later
First is the note I received from my friend, followed by my response...
Our church has basically divided and split due to this debate over free grace vs. lordship salvation. I think that I won't tell you what side of the fence I am own because I don't want to sway your opinion. To me, from what I have studied, there is one view that is clearly leaving out some important points. However, I, of course, am no theologian. I would appreciate your unbiased opinion on the subject matter.
The bottom line is that it is Satan. Our church was growing and growing and growing. We built it up (literally from the ground up in a 3 day quick build) from about 20 people to over 300. Satan got a little scared and started causing trouble. It is an unfortunate situation. The Bible tells us to seek many counselors, and so that is what I am doing.
I'll try to give some thoughts off the top of my head.
First - it breaks my heart when churches divide. The church is the bride of Christ, His special organism for bringing the Kingdom on earth. Look at Mt 16:15-18. The church is built on one rock - the confession that Jesus is the Christ. If we can agree on that, we should be able to do church together.
Second - there are many tensions in scripture. In any tension it is easier to fall off on one side or the other. For example, work and family. Neither is wrong, but if you spend all your time at work, somethings wrong. If you spend all your time with family, well somethings wrong because you aren't supporting them! It's the same with predestination and free will - both are in scripture - it's a mystery how it all works and really should lead us to worship God all the more.
So it is with free grace and Lordship salvation. Indeed we are saved by grace through faith (Eph 2:8), a free gift of God (Rom 6:23). At the same time Jesus says to "be perfect" (Mt 5:48). Also, check out 1 Jn 1:5-2:6 for an interesting defense of the Lordship side of things, particularly 1 Jn 2:4 "whoever says 'I know Him' but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him...". Then there's always James 2:14-26 which clearly says in 2:24 "a person is justified by works and not by faith alone". What the...?!
For humans it is easier to fall off on one side of the fence. As Christians we are called to live in the "center of Biblical tension" or "the radical middle" as my last church called it. I think it keeps us humble...from ever thinking we have it all figured out. It leads me to worship a God who is both imminent and accessible yet concurrently transcendent and mysterious.
So what of a conclusion? As I said - to me the big issue is the Lordship of Christ. This is certainly nuanced, but in your church I think all should agree with this. From there, what should a church be doing? Should it be dividing on unclear theology or should it be reaching the unchurched? Should it be catering to the saints or reaching the sinners? Are both sides "wrong" in a sense because they have lost sight of the greater mission of the church in the first place?
I pray for the unity of the local church because I believe, like Bill Hybles, that it is indeed "the hope of the world"!
Hope that helps, late as it is.
What tensions have you faced in the faith? How do you think about them?