This is the hardest letter I’ve ever had to write…”
So began a letter I received a week after a Moore College student reunion. I had recently completed a Masters thesis and shared with a former classmate that it had raised challenging questions for me about some of the Christian teachings I had always believed. This disturbed my classmate to the point that he wrote to me expressing fear for my salvation and that of my congregation and calling me back to his understanding of truth.
My initial response was anger and offence. Who was he to call into question my salvation and my fitness as a pastor? I prepared an angry response, but didn’t send it. I had learned it was not a good idea to respond to someone while angry. After a few days I recognised that he was only doing what he thought best and was taking a fairly courageous step to try and bring me back to what he saw as true faith.
I never sent a letter in reply, but if I was to do so here is what I’d write,
Thankyou taking the risk of composing a difficult letter in order to repair my relationship with God. While I appreciate your concern I can’t help but wonder if it is not misplaced. At the heart of our faith is the teaching that we are justified by faith. This is remarkably good news. God puts us right with himself not because of the goodness our actions, the brand of our church, or the accuracy of our beliefs, but because we have trusted ourselves to Christ. No matter how imperfectly I follow, as I trust in Christ as the risen Lord, I am wrapped in the warm embrace of my Creator.
It strikes me as somewhat ironic that you and I are graduates of a theological college that is known for its commitment to the truth that we are justified by Christ through faith alone, that you proclaim this at conferences where you speak, yet you seem not to have grasped its liberating implications. It appears that instead of “justification by faith” you prefer “justification by doctrine.” Thank goodness this is not the teaching of Scripture. I am sure that neither of us has our doctrines properly sorted out. Have you forgotten our church history classes which showed the enormous theological diversity throughout the history of the church? If we are justified by doctrinal correctness then we are in deep trouble, for it would be a brave person who thought we were the first generation to get it all right. As the apostle Paul reminds us at present we know only in part (1 Corinthians 13:12).
Yes I have questions about some of the things I have been taught. I suspect that most of us do, that faith should always be a dynamic, growing thing. But I have ceased to be fearful of this, for I trust that my acceptance by God and my relationship with God are secure, that as God looks at me and sees faith in Christ he is mightily pleased, thrilled that I am his child. Like every child of God there will always be areas for growth and change, but never for a single moment will I fear for my salvation and that of my congregation.
I have found this to be liberating. It gives me the freedom to explore and to question, to seek after truth and follow wherever conscience may lead. It gives me the freedom to fail and to err, to face my darkest self and know that nothing, not even my own failings, can separate me from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.
R, I really do appreciate you taking the time to write what was, for you, a difficult letter. Thanks for valuing me enough to make the effort. But please be burdened no longer. Rather let us, you and I, bask in the sunshine of grace and run freely through the green fields of justification by faith, confident that our theological disabilities will never stop us falling into the wide open arms of our Father.