Wednesday, 24 January 2007

Worth fighting for

In reading a bit of early church history (Needham's vol 1, and looking forward to getting Ivor J Davidson's 2 vols too), especially on the Nicene creed, Athanasius and surrounding controversy on Christology, I've been struck by just how much these people cared about truth. It wasn't just political power-play, although that was undoubtedly involved.

Often I hear church workers say, on some area of concern in doctrine and unity, "Oh, I don't do church politics." I want to say, "Do you care for God's people? Do you care for teaching them all that fits with godliness so that they'll be completely kitted out for everything good God has for them to do? Do you care for Christ's body, his bride, showing the unity his Spirit has given us so that others would see that Jesus was sent from God and is one with him? Do you care for the flock over which God has given you responsibility, that it not be ravaged and torn apart by wolves? Do you care for the global family into which God has called you, of which Christ is head, that it declare the praises of Him who called us out of darkness into his glorious light?" There might be division - we're not yet in glory - it might not be 'nice' - but is Christ? It might be hard work - we're each sinfully proud - it might be painful - how do you fight a wolf without getting hurt? The people we're serving might not appreciate it - and we might not exactly enjoy it either. But as long as we care for building up the church of God through his Word by his Spirit, we dare not 'not do church politics'. We care for truth.

A student recently objected to me that we didn't need to know the exact ins & outs of how we could be forgiven by God (his justice, how Jesus' death & resurrection related to it, etc.) - our friends never ask us those sort of questions, and if they did, God would help us answer. Yet God's truth is what sets us apart as his people. And it is belief in his word that makes us one, that the world might believe that the Father sent the Son. Compare then with the attitude of a group of women (not church leaders, just believing women) in the 4th century, who lived & died for the ins & outs of how Jesus was both God & man - specifically, that the Son was uncreated:
One Sunday, when a group of orthodox virgin women had gathered for prayer in a graveyard (those who said Jesus was created had taken over the church buildings), imperial troops seized them and kindled a great fire. They then tried to force the women to convert to [the view that Jesus was created] or else be thrown in the flames. When the women refused to abandon the Nicene faith, the soldiers stripped off all their clothes and beat their faces to a bloody pulp. [Needham, p.214]
How can we not care about truth?


Mike Blyth said...

Fine, but the trick is to know what "truth" is worth fighting for and what is not. Perhaps ultimately each question has a right answer. However, that assumes the right questions are asked and in the right way. Is every issue worth dying for? Worth excommunicating for? Worth proclaiming heretics those who believe otherwise? Might the history of the church have been a bit more Christlike if there had been more give-and-take on some issues, often issues which no longer even make sense to us let alone seem to have a perfect answer?

Champion the truth, but with humility and the awareness that you are as likely as the next person to be mistaken in some areas. And the truth you know now is not exactly what you know ten years from now, let alone in eternity.

The book of I John shows this tension (or maybe it's only a tension to our imperfect eyes), between truth and unity. There is a very strong stand for truth, but likewise for unity and love. Modern liberalism has doubtless swung far away from the 'truth' side, but let's remember the damage that has been done by the neglect of unity and love, as well.

Mike Blyth
Jos, Nigeria

étrangère said...

Dr Blyth! You're the Mike Blyth who wrote Aids is real & it's in our church with Jean Garland?? Sid & Jean are good friends of my parents, from Belfast - but maybe you knew that... else your commenting on my post was one of those really far-flung Christian "everyone knows everyone" things? I liked the book, btw.

And yes I agree with your comment. It is a matter for much humility and awareness of what's living & dying for. I work with UCCF (think NIFES in your part o the world :)) so I get good practice constantly at knowing & helping students to work out what's worth fighting for and what's not, what's gospel unity & what's not, what's gospel maturity with give & take and what's being blown around by every wind of doctrine. This is not an easy question. But it concerns me when students in IFES find unity 'easy' - no issues - because all too often it's because they have a low view of truth (rather than a high view of the gospel essentials).

In other words, while acknowledging the truth of your comments, what concerns me is the current climate here which tends to be that students don't see that any truth is worth fighting for, & if you press them on why Christ died, or how we can possibly be forgiven by a righteous God, they complain that they don't need to know. There are still those few who've been well taught who, being young & fervent, would fight for things which are not of prime importance, but that's not usually the problem. The problem here usually us persuading them that truth matters at all. And I'm not talking of those who'd call themselves liberal, but those in "evangelical" churches.

How do you find this issue in Nigeria?

Mike Blyth said...

Yeah, I'm the same person. I think I found your blog not quite randomly, but maybe searching for an author or book or something. I like books. I didn't know you knew the Garlands, amazing!

I agree with your explanation about truth. It seems the issue is actually caring to find the truth at all. One could still argue that the most clearly presented truths are the most important, and that living those truths is more important than knowing deeper ones. But I can see that you're dealing with students (who should be on the cutting edge of seeking to know and understand) who perhaps haven't grasped that there are important ideas to be wrestled with, truths to be sought, and lines to be drawn.

My impression here in Nigeria is that, ideology (or theology) plays a quite minor role. I don't think searching for "truth" is a very popular pasttime. Pragmatism, survival, and identity politics seem far more important.