Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Theology of Estrangement

I've noticed a troubling trend this past year that has finally reached a point in which I must comment. It is a trend that causes relationships between people of the same faith (Christians) to part ways. Little explanation is given and one side of the the equation is usually left alone wondering what went wrong.

Two scenarios illustrate what I am speaking about:
1) A person or group of people are shunned by other Christians because of decisions they have made. These decisions are usually (but not always) poor decisions that are evidence of sin in the lives of the offending party. These sinners are then shunned for "discipline" and/ or because they are simply no longer worthy of Christian company.

We have a friend who was actually abandoned by all of her close Christian friends because she was dating a "non-Christian". She lost all touch in the church world and eventually married her boyfriend. Instead of being a source of encouragement and a picture of Jesus to her new boyfriend, her church modeled, "members only, dress code required". As a result, she never reconnected in a church community and the hurt continues to this day.

2) The second trend I see is Christian friendships ending because of different views about God. Since the differences that have been disputed over the past 2000 years do not have a clear and undisputed winner, it is strange to me that friendships should dramatically weaken and even end when these differing views are considered. Clearly our thoughts about God may cause us to find deeper connection and friendship with others who are like-minded, but should this mean other relationships end?

I personally experienced this year with one person who was close to me. We enjoyed conversations about life and God and in the past few years our views about God drifted further apart. We both believe in the Bible, we both believe that Jesus is Lord and that salvation is found by God's grace, through faith. Our differences are small and in my mind non-essentials, but that sentiment is not reciprocated.

At the end of a healthy conversation filled with questions, encouragement, and some debate, I mentioned that I would love to meet again soon. My friend said, "Well, maybe not". This "maybe not" was because of differences in our views about God and mainly how the mystery of salvation works.

Later I discovered that I was not alone in this treatment from others with similar views to my friend. Somehow the deep rooted conviction about how God works (which we will never really know until we die) is strong enough to result in estranged friendships and, at times, even estranged family relationships. This is a theology that takes lightly Jesus' ministry of reconciliation. It is a lifestyle that longs to know mysterious ways of God's grace, but does not long to extend this scandalous grace to others.

I encourage everyone on any side of theology (or lack there of) to consider the entire consequence of actions. If you believe your theology is worth more than relationships, then your theology says God is not concerned with harmonious relationships. If you do not freely offer grace, then your theology says your God does not freely offer grace. If you don't want to love those who are adverse to the message of Jesus, than your theology says Jesus does not love those who opposed him. If this fires you up and even makes you angry, I want to hear your thoughts. I truly want a better understanding of the basis for this theology of estrangement.

***** Please note that there are many who still hold to the same theological views I question in this post who DO still love, offer grace, and maintain friendships. I deeply appreciate those friends and respect their convictions and will love them and support them in their own journeys with Christ. ****


Kevin said...

Great Post!

I might be in San Diego Oct. 1-4, just saying....

Mr. H. said...
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Scott said...
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Scott said...

This is a good post. You bring up a lot of good thoughts regarding the realities of life, reconciliation and the Church.

I think there is a lot to be said regarding both your scenarios.

1. It is quite possible that those Christians that shunned this girl were completely in the wrong, while it is also possible that they were in the right. Obviously you didn't go into great detail, but my first question would be "Was this girl actively and knowingly participating in unrepentant sin?". Was she sleeping with her boyfriend, living with him, etc.? If the answer is yes, then the matter becomes an issue of church discipline, which is outline in Matthew 18 and 1 Cor. 5. As long as the process was carried out appropriately, I think there is a place to remove her from the community of believers. Apostasy is to be treated differently than the non-believer. If the answer is no… then I agree it was wrong for her to be shunned. In this case the church needs to repent and seek reconciliation. (On a side note: Even if she was treated wrongly by her church community, her walking away from all other church community is her responsibility. We will all get hurt at sometime by the church, that does not mean we leave it behind for good.)

2. If someone walks away from a friendship because of differing theologies, then they are acting foolishly and they need to seek repentance. With that said, I have not met many people who actually walk away from friendships solely because of theological differences. In my own experience I have decided to let friendships go to the wayside, not because of theological reasons, but because of other reasons that arose within the friendship. Despite these others reasons, it was assumed that I let it go because of theological differences, which was not true. I don’t hate these people and I wish them all the best, but for my own battle against bitterness and sanity it was best that I let the friendships go. With that said, it could be that they are totally in the wrong, but it could also be that there might be another reason in which they don’t want to meet again. I’d encourage you to ask them if there are other reasons, besides theology, that make them not want to meet up again.

Ryan said...

Kevin- call me when you are in town.

Scott- Church discipline was not the issue with our friend in scenario #1.
You're right that the Bible does have a few instances of discipline. Unfortunately I think this is very difficult to do correctly (as are many things that deal with inter-personal relationships).

#2- Very good point and warning not to jump to conclusions about people's reasons for friendships waning. I confess I can do a good deal of assuming (which always feels much better than getting the real story). I also appreciate your transparency in some of your own journey.
I guess a fine line exists when theological differences bring about other issues that become a source of division.

I can say that I am thankful that you are an important friend to me even though you read the wrong books and listen to the wrong preachers!

Markchop said...

I can identify very much with these scenarios. I've seen it happen way too often and I've been on both sides of the issue too. In my younger years as a Christian I thought it better to walk away from friendships than to see them living differently than I. I want to believe i've grown up in my faith as well as in my naivety. The person in #1 being shunned for the dating of a non-Christian would have been a perfect opportunity to show what Christlikeness is all about. I agree with Scott that her choice to walk away from it all was on her shoulders. I also believe that the church she attended gave her no reason to think any different. The young thinking of the girl to think that since this church was mistaken all churches are is part of the issue. This also shows that the lack of health at this church in as far as training, teaching what the Word of God says and that there are other churches that also believe what it says. So I'll be praying for the girl (probably now a woman) that she won't give up on God just because a few that say they follow Him did some very hurtful things. Wow...i write as much as i talk too much!
The 2nd scenario. Whether the friend of yours doesn't want to continue the friendship over your views or whether it's tied to something else, as Scott alluded to, I think that it's still troubling to align oneself with a God of limitless grace and have non willing to offer one you've called a friend. It's a poor reflection on Him as well as the maturity of your "friend". My point is that having been in a similar situation it's frustrating. It's frustrating because if the family of Christ can't get it together why would those on the outside looking in want any part of the backbiting and division there's enough of that everywhere else. Now I get that not all friendships last forever and at some point it's better to part ways. This however sounds like a person who had no real intension of even trying to see things from any perspective but their own, which is the heart of the Theology of Estrangement" in my mind.

Markchop said...
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