(A friend who has been following my Brick Walls and Picket Fences series sent this to me and asked if I would be interested in publishing it. I appreciated that he interacted with what I wrote. For reasons that seem reasonable to me, my friend desires to remain anonymous. For those who are interested, he DOES attend a Southern Baptist church!)
Dave Miller has been writing this past year about Brick Walls and Picket Fences that has caused me to think quite a bit about how I would define who I believe are outside a Brick Wall. I mean, the Picket Fences is to me simpler to explain than a Brick Wall and there are more examples of them. A church that hires a woman pastor would be on the other side of a picket fence. I can affirm them as Christians. I could work with them on a community food bank. I would have less cooperation with them than I would, say, a church that baptizes babies, but not by much. So I began to think, since it seems pretty easy for me to define where I would place the picket fences, I wanted to see if I could clearly define where I place my brick walls. I think the following 3 questions sum up how I would decide who is on the outside of the brick wall doctrinally.
Who is God?
For me to consider someone a Christian, I would want to know first of all who they think God is. Is God just some mysterious force a la George Lucas? Is He the “god of our many understandings” as Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson said? Do Muslims worship the same god as Christians or is the God Christians worship distinct from Allah, making Allah a false god?
For me to allow someone within the brick wall of Christian fellowship, they would have to acknowledge God as a Trinity—one God, three distinct but co-equal, co-substantial, and co-eternal beings who are all God. Further, they would have to recognize God as the One who spoke the world into existence out of nothingness, therefore being the Creator of the universe. That creation would also include the special creation of the first two human beings on the planet—Adam and Eve. I would also add that they must recognize His holiness—His total separation from sin. In addition, they would also have to recognize Him as a truth-telling God meaning that when He spoke He spoke truth. In other words, the Bible totally inerrant and inspired (the Chicago Statement does a good job of giving the singular definition of inerrancy, what it is, and what it is not). In short, someone who could not affirm verbal, plenary inspiration and the inerrancy of scripture including all miracles and the historicity of all events recorded is basically calling God a liar. They would be outside the brick wall.
Obviously, there is no way to adequately define a doctrine of God in a short blog post. However, those points above hit the major highlights of what I would consider non-negotiable items. If a person were to deny any one of those, I could not regard them as Christians or fellowship with them as such.
Who is Jesus?
The next point I would examine is this—who does this person say Jesus is? Again, space is limited so I will hit the high pints of what I consider paramount issues regarding Christology. A person would have to affirm that Christ is the 2nd person of the Trinity, and that He is just as much God as the 1st or 3rd persons of the Trinity are. In other words, He has always existed as God. However, when He came to earth, He became the Incarnate God—the God-man. They would have to affirm His virgin birth. They would also have to affirm His literal, physical resurrection. They would have to acknowledge the miracles He performed as well. They would have to affirm that His death on the cross paid the price for sins and it is only by a person consciously trusting in Him and repenting of those sins that they can be saved. I would also consider it foundational that they acknowledge His ascension to the right hand of God the Father in heaven. In short, they would have to acknowledge Him as being Who He said He was, doing what He said He did, and going where He said He was going.
What is the Gospel?
Finally, because the gospel has been redefined by heretics who actually deny the gospel taught in the Bible (a la Rob Bell, those who preach a “social gospel”, etc), I would have to ask what that person believes the gospel is. For me to understand a person to be preaching the gospel that the apostles preached, they would have to recognize the complete holiness and perfection of God. Further, they would have to recognize mankind as sinful to the core and incapable of doing anything to justify themselves before a holy God. Mankind, then, stands before God justly condemned for their sins. God, out of His great love, chose to send Christ to die on the cross as the atoning sacrifice for sin, bearing God’s wrath on the cross. Therefore, any person who repents of their sin and trusts Christ to save them will be saved. They must consciously trust Christ—hence the urgency for those of us who believe to be about the task of proclaiming the gospel because people who worship other faiths (Muslim, Hindu, etc) are lost and bound for hell outside of a conscious faith in Christ Jesus in this lifetime. In other words, inclusivism is something that Paul referred to in Galatians as “another gospel” and those who preach it are accursed.
Well, there it is—quite short, simple, and to the point. There is room for someone to be a paedobaptist or a credobaptist, charismatic or cessationist, young earth and old earth, Calvinist or non-Calvinist. Now, I personally could not go church planting with a paedobaptist, but I can affirm them as Christians.
We all have to draw the line somewhere. Dave has helped me think about where to draw mine. What about you?