Uniform Christianity: A problem within Evangelicalism

I love this picture made by ASBO Jesus, a cartoon blog that I’ve recently decided to follow. The cartoons on it are designed to make people think about moral, ethical, theological and political issues. This particular cartoon caught my eye. Why?

The other day, my vicar and I were discussing statements of belief and doctrinal bases. We were saying that if we had a visible doctrinal basis that people had to sign up to, then the church would probably have more people going to it. And to be honest, I really do think that’s true.

Of course, we do have some sort of doctrinal basis, except it’s not written down in the way that many people would see one today. We hold to the catholic creeds (OK, don’t get angry on me – I mean the Nicene creed etc) and I guess we would, if we had to, describe ourselves as evangelical charismatic Anglicans. But we don’t explicitly describe ourselves in that way. Neither do we say ‘We’re an evangelical alliance church’ or ‘We’re a New Wine church’, even though we go to New Wine every year and share in the beliefs of the evangelical alliance.

One problem within evangelicalism today is that people want to be uniform. And with uniformity comes a limitation in how much you’re allowed to think, study and research the Bible and Theology for yourself. I’ve talked about this before. And I think a very scary outcome of this limitation is the sort of situation where Christian leaders get scared of people asking questions or objecting to ideas from the leadership. Along with that, Christians equally feel scared to ask questions and are therefore often left in the dark. This results in a stinted growth of discipleship and of the Church generally.

Evangelicalism is not a denomination. It is a movement of Christians who hold to certain key principles, and even those key principles are contested and debated hotly. It’s OK for there to be diversity within the church. None of us are going to get everything right. And a lot of the stuff we believe may be wrong.

But let’s not get to possessive over doctrine just because someone is asking a question. It is allowed.

 

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Dean Roberts

Dean is a Minister in the Anglican Church. Currently he is Curate in the parishes of Bedwas, Machen, Michaelston-y-Fedw and Rudry in South Wales. He was born and bred in Wales, is married to Megan, and has two dogs called Taliesin and Melyn, and two cats named Sinsir and Hâf. He graduated from Cardiff University with a BA Hons. in Theology & Religious Studies, and has studied for an MA in Theology, Ministry & Mission at Trinity College Bristol. He also holds a Cert.RSCM from the Royal School of Church Music. He loves playing music, walking, reading, blogging and horse riding as well as going to the cinema and theatre. Read More @ http://deanroberts.net/about

  • Martin

    Too true.  Too many people within the evangelical end of the church seem to have the attitude that church leaders occupy a space originally held by priests in the Jewish faith, that is they receive insight from God and interpret it to lay people.  My understanding of the new covenant is that God pours out his Spirit on all people, not just those claiming to be a church leader, or blessed by a bishop.  This includes words of knowledge or guidance for the local congregation.  It is very dangerous for church leaders to think that they have any kind of monopoly on this.  That is one of the reasons why the Methodists split from the Anglican church.  Unfortunately for many people who like keeping things neatly organised, this does lead to a slightly anarchic organisation, without clearly defined job descriptions.  Anyone objecting to this will have to take it up with the Boss!

    • I think whilst this is true about leadership and hierarchical positions, laity can also be subject to the uniformity disease.

      There are certain Christians who will label another a heretic if they disagree with just 1 minor theological position that they hold to – hence the quest for comfort in a doctrinal basis or statement of faith.

  • Interesting post Dean, though i’m slightly concerned – I think you are advocating something that definitely isn’t evangelicalism, at least as generally understood?

    As this post, linked to by Rachel Evans on Twitter the other day, points out really well (admittedly in another context), Doctrine IS important:

     

    http://t.co/gP0x7EaX

    • I think you’ve misunderstood, Tom. I do think that doctrine is important.

      The underlying point here is that some people attach and hold too tightly to doctrines that aren’t defining evangelical positions.

      For example, if you believe in evolution (which I think you do?) and you don’t think that the earth was created in 6 literal days, then in some churches they would deny you of the evangelical badge, because to them you must believe in their view of creation in order to be one.

      Clearly, you know that creation isn’t a defining doctrine of evangelicalism…

      I hope you understand what I’m saying?

    • I should also reiterate that even the main doctrines holding evangelicals together is debated… one classic example:

      How far do we go with the doctrine: The Bible is the inspired word of God?

      Literalism? That it is God’s word put passed down through fallible humans? Something else?

  • Good post…  I blogged about the importance of asking questions a while back. I’d go further: asking questions isn’t just “allowed”, it’s necessary if we’re to be faithful disciples.

    We learn by asking questions, by bringing the things we don’t know to God and by investigating them through study, discussion and debate. Believing the Bible on trust is a good first step, but asking questions allows us to really understand the truth for ourselves, so we can not just accept the truth, but delight in it.