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.
A well written response, Scott. I suspect I would have just sent the first draft…
A less than godly part of me wishes I’d sent the angry letter!
A thoughtful and though-provoking response. Thanks for sharing.
I recently experienced a similar “this is difficult to write” message from a good Christian friend. Your response here is thoughtful. I also responded without anger, explaining my different viewpoint, but also recognising the love and concern in the message (despite my own feeling that for some in the church these days there is perhaps too much of a policing spirit..well about some things anyway).
Hi Megan, it is difficult when people assume the role of the thought police. I find it absorbs a way disproportionate amount of my time and emotional energy, even when i do try to respond gracefully.
I wodner if “R” still expends a lot of energy being right and feeling the need to correct others.
Hopefully R has matured somewhat.
Many churches are like pyramid schemes built on fear. The guy at the top isn’t some sort of evil manipulator – they were merely roped in to it a longer time ago than most everyone else currently involved. Everyone gets involved in paying back the fear they’ve received – keeping the pyramid growing. It’s essential. That was my experience of church – both Catholic and Evangelical. Glad to hear you’re breaking free. I wonder whether there’s more to go though. I recoiled from your comment “Thank goodness this is not the teaching of Scripture.” where you stoop to one of… Read more »
There was a reason Jesus said let me tear down this church and I will rebuild it within 3 days…he wasn’t talking about bricks and mortar!
Hey Melthoid. Do you realise what he actually was talking about? His own body.
Hey Tony. I’m so sad that your experience of church has been an experience of what sounds like a fear factory. In my 18 years as a Christian I have experienced many, many church communities and sadly, some have been like that. Some, but not many. They are all messy in different ways, but generally they all are trying to follow Christ’s example of love and compassion and preach Christ’s message of forgiveness and reconciliation with God. The church I have attended and been actively involved in for around 12 years now – Bundoora Presbyterian – has been a wonderful… Read more »
Simon, Its a terrible thing to say but it may be that you have a lower threshold for indoctrination (often wrapped in the threat of withdrawn love) than I. I should visit your church family before I make such a judgement but it is a possibility. I persist in my suspicion of it based on such mechanisms being there in so many churches I have attended and yet it not being actually noticed by the people attending.They often don’t realize the subtle way it operates around them or are just used to it. Ask those of your church who have… Read more »
Ooh maybe she’s not from your church… she mentions your church is all.
Tony, I’m not sure if this lady is from my church. I don’t get the impression that she is from her blog (not due to the content, but just the lack of evidence of her attendance). In any case, someone’s blog (even mine) shouldn’t be used as evidence of a church’s environment or character. I do think it’s sort of a terrible thing to say that you are so much more sensitive to indoctrination than me. You LOVE indoctrination and are totally oblivious to it… when it is something you agree with. I guess it’s true for most people. We’re… Read more »
You say.”You LOVE indoctrination and are totally oblivious to it… when it is something you agree with ” I hope not. I’m reading at the moment a great book “The War for Childrens Minds” and agreeing completely with it that indocrination is not the healthy or loving way to raise a child. To be perfectly clear I have my beliefs about God etc and I don’t want my child sharing them unless she actually agrees with them. I really recommend this book to you. I believe in offering my child choices and the skills to make those choices. I actively… Read more »
I think there is a difference between parenting and preaching. The role of the church is not the same as the role of a parent (though there is overlap). An example of difference is that I do believe there can be grounds for excommunication (though biblically they have to be extreme), whereas due to genetics, you will always be my biological brother. I realise “indoctrination” is actually a tricky word to define. Should all “truths” be presented as options? No. I don’t think so. I think options should be presented as options and truths to be presented as truths. When… Read more »