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Requiem for a Word

Monday, August 18th, 2008

Yesterday, in an interview broadcast on one of the Sunday talk shows, Tom Ridge said he thought he would make a good running mate for John McCain, despite their differences on the issue of abortion.

Speaking of this fundamental and important difference, Ridge commented on Senator McCain, saying, “He’s not judgmental about me or my belief. He just disagrees with me.”

What does judgmental mean anyway? There was a time when judgments conjured up images of courtrooms and lawyers cross-examining witnesses to get to the truth. Being judgmental meant studying the evidence to arrive at a sound decision. Before political correctness was in vogue, you couldn’t disagree with someone properly without being judgmental, because you had to make a judgment about something before you could enter into a discussion.

Times have changed. Ridge’s comment reflects a common attitude that judging someone–whatever that means–is the cardinal sin.

The most popular verse among the unchurched is Matthew 7:1: “Judge not that you be not judged.” It sounds good when your feet are being put to the fire. It’s a Scriptural way to say, “Hey, get off my back!” Of course, in context Jesus’ words were a judgment in themselves about hypocrisy. But few people take the time to look past Matthew 7:1 to the next few verses.

So I’m declaring the death of the word judgmental. Over the last few years it has gotten heavy and old, unable to stay crisp and useful. Not able to keep up with today’s “disagreements” and “spirited debates,” it collapsed on the speedway of American language, and every attempt to resuscitate it has been unsuccessful.

Alas! poor judgmental. I knew him well.

Nondenominational Christianity

Thursday, July 10th, 2008

Studies have shown that Americans are losing interest in denominational affiliations. Forty-four percent of American adults have left the faith of their childhood for another. The demographic benefiting the most is the one that carries people who claim no religious affiliation. People moving into that categroy outnumber those moving out of it by a three-to-one margin. These changes in affiliation are swelling the ranks of nondenominational churches, while Baptist and Methodist traditions are showing net losses.

One of the greatest needs, then, of the church of Christ in the 21st century is a strong sense of her nondenominational character. Here are some practical ways to promote this attitude:

1. Understand the Restoration Plea. Over the years man has adapted the church to every conceivable notion under the sun. There are now hundreds of different kinds of churches in the world. These religious groups are called “denominations” because they wear names that distinguish them from the whole.

This divisive attitude is displeasing to the Lord. Jesus prayed “that they all may be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that thye also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (Jn. 17:21).

The Restoration Plea is a call to follow the New Testament and nothing more. By applying the unadulterated word of God to our hearts, we believe we can be the church Jesus built in the first century.

2. Discard sectarian language. I’m dismayed when I hear brethren say things like, “He’s a Church of Christ preacher,” or, “This is Church of Christ doctrine,” or, “I’m a Church of Christer.” This kind of sectarian language reduces the church of Christ to just another denomination. It isn’t enough to merely declare that we are not a denomination. When we make statements using sectarian language we betray the denominational mentality in our heart (cf. Mt. 12:34). Let our speech communicate that we just want to be Christians in the body of Christ, nothing more, nothing less.

In the first century, members of the Lord’s church were content to be called “Christians” (Acts 11:26). They didn’t have “Church of Christ preachers,” only gospel preachers (1 Cor. 9:16). And the only doctrine they knew was the doctrine of Christ (2 Jn. 9).

3. Communicate our unique approach to Christianity. We have an approach to Christianity that is not only biblical but also unique among all the religious groups in the world. This approach combines doctrinal purity with a nondenominational appeal.

Some groups can claim doctrinal purity, but since their allegiance is to doctrines advanced by manmade creeds and not the Bible, they become a denomination.

Some groups make a claim to be nondenominational and as a result are growing in America’s current cultural climate, but they have sacrificed doctrinal purity so they can remain tolerant of diverse views.

Only the churches of Christ combine these two attractive ambitions. The problem is that we’re not talking about it much.

America’s sick of division and sectarianism. It’s time the churches of Christ adapted to this new climate. We should still warn against denominationalism; Christianity remains greviously subdivided. But there’s a new spirit in America–one of tolerance and unity. I believe it to be severely misguided, but I also think it we have an advantage over many religious groups in this new climate because for the last 250 years we have stood against denominational division and have argued for simple New Testament Christianity. The world is ripe. Will we rise to the occasion?

The Downside of Pluralism

Monday, September 3rd, 2007

Since my last excursis on Global Warming, I have been looking for an explanation for the your-science-versus-my-science politics that clouds environmental ethics. As I was perusing the “Letters” column of Newsweek I found what I was looking for.

Bernard Dov Cooperman, a professor of History for the University of Maryland, called attention to what he believes is the real problem in the Global Warming debate. I doubt that he and I would agree on the issue of climate change itself, but I believe his position on the underlying cause of our disillusionment towards issues like this one is excellent. He wrote,

…our society is more than happy to accept spin…because we have come to believe that all expertise is bias, that all knowledge is opinion, that every judgment is relative. I see this daily in my university classroom. Many of even my best students seem to have lost the ability to think critically about the world. They do not believe in the transformative power of knowledge because they do not believe in knowledge itself. Begley [the author of a recent Newsweek article on Global Warming, D.K.] decries the tactic of making the scientists appear divided, but the corporations didn’t have to invent this tactic. It is built into our carefully balanced political “debates,” into our news shows with equal time given to pundits from each side and into the “fairness” we try to teach in our schools. We need not be surprised that people have become consumers who demand the right to choose as they wish between the two equally questionable sides of every story. Neither global warming nor any other serious problem can be addressed by a society that equates willful ignorance with freedom of thought.

We live in a pluralistic society that takes pride in allowing its citizens the freedom to believe as they wish. Pluralism does provide freedom, but it can also be overwhelming to the point that critical thought is equated with a migraine headache.

Consequently, Americans are choosing their positions by three faulty criteria:

  1. They go with an emotional knee-jerk reaction.
  2. They arbitrarily choose a position based on positions that look appealing on their surface.
  3. Or they decide that critical thought is too draining and fall back on the position best supported by their background.

These criteria, though they may comfort us in the glut of information from sources like the Internet, cable television, the print media, and radio, do not achieve conviction, which is the drive behind achievement.

Let me offer three suggestions for finding the clarity necessary for doing the hard work of critical thinking.

1. Believe in truth. When first confronted by a problem, we may not know which of the plausible explanations is right, but one of them has to be right. The truth may still lie dormant, waiting for discovery but it’s out there. And finding truth is freedom (Jn. 8:32).

2. Separate the principle from its purveyors. It’s tempting to give up on a cause because of the hypocrisy of those who promote it, but we must not quit a principle based on hypocrisy. Inconsistency in a leader is disappointing but it neither proves nor disproves the principle he supports. A report on Ted Haggart’s sex life or Al Gore’s electric bill sheds no light on the controversies we face.

3. Seek authority, not popularity. It’s tempting to trust a familiar face. But truth clings to those who have paid the price for it (Prov. 23:23).

From a biblical point of view, the Scriptures, above all else, should rank highest in the Christian’s list of respected authorities. Finding out what God says ought to be more important to us than keeping our finger on the pulse of society.

America is doubled over in the throes of moral confusion. Not until we learn to believe in truth and search for it will we find pluralism an asset in our quest for answers.