Friday, May 05, 2006

"A Safe Space"

Yesterday, I commented on Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Albert Mohler's comments on China's policies when it comes to families. Today I wish to comment on some recent statements he's made regarding church membership.

Apparently, a Presbyterian church in Texas has recently admitted an outspoken atheist as a member. I would agree with Mohler insofar as he believes that this is inappropriate. A member of a Christian church should, at the very least, be able to affirm the existence of God and the divinity of Jesus Christ.

But Mohler doesn't stop there. Take this quote, for example:
[The statement that this particular church is "expansive in defining faith"] gets to the heart of a widespread confusion about the nature and identity of the church. There may be strategic places which represent "a safe space and an exciting atmosphere" for a vague and wide-open spiritual quest, but this has nothing whatsoever to do with a Christian church.
While I might stop short of advocating that churches accept atheists as members, what good is the church is if isn't "a safe space" for exploration of spiritual issues? The atheist should be welcome within the church's doors! Where else will the atheist ever come to understand the Christian faith, if not in the fellowship of believers?

Mohler has much to say on this issue, bringing in common (for him) issues of liberalism and the acceptance of homosexuals (an almost random inclusion, perhaps explained by noting that it may be the single greatest "hot-button" issue facing the church today), and advocating for some form of censure of this church for its actions. What it all seems to boil down to is that Mohler has an exclusivist view of the church. A friend of mine recently put it another way: "Where do we draw the boundaries?" "At what point do we say that an act is not permissible for the Christian?"

These are fair questions. However, I would argue that they miss the greater evangelical call of the church. While certain boundaries may well be appropriate, we are to continue to seek ways to be inclusive to all humanity, in the hopes that they might learn of Christ through us. If churches simply close their doors to non-believers, how will non-believers ever change? This doesn't mean that we turn a blind eye to sin. This may mean that we do not accept non-believers as church members (a point I agree with Mohler on). It may mean that we do not ordain ministers engaged in certain sinful acts. But it also means that we continue trying to find ways to reach out to whoever God has put us in relationship with. To do otherwise means that we fail to obey Christ's command to "go and make disciples of all nations.... teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you" (Matthew 19, 20, emphasis mine). Isn't the failure to reach out to non-believers a greater sin than a potential "over-acceptance"?


  1. "While I might stop short of advocating the churches accept atheists as members, what good is the church is if isn't "a safe space" for exploration of spiritual issues?"

    C'mon, you're a smart guy, right? I can see, looking at what you quoted, that you're twisting what Mohler said. He said a church wasn't the place for "a vague and wide-open spiritual quest" — meaning, in effect, this isn't the local freemason lodge.

    The church is first and foremost the family of God, so "membership" ought to be primarily about whether you've been adopted by the Father or not. Jesus called us to "make disciples of [that is, from among] all nations, teaching them [the disciples] everything I have commanded you." This isn't a matter of closing the doors to seekers. It's simply drawing a line as to who's family and who's just "over for a visit."

    You also ragged on him over tying this in with the liberalism/homosexual acceptance issues... and again, it's easy to see what the connection is, if you weren't so gung-ho about railing on the guy. The "can-an-Athiest-join-this-church" question is along the same lines as ordaining homosexual (or female [::snicker::]) clergy: it's tearing down God-ordained barriers because we're more concerned with glorifying man than with glorifying God. When what He says means we have to hurt people's feelings, well... I'm sure He'll understand!

  2. Careful. You're bordering on being insulting with your first paragraph. I will delete posts that cross the line.

    I've fully agreed with Mohler on the matter of church membership, and state so explicitly in the post. However, the church is, I affirm, exactly the place for a spiritual quest, no matter how "vague and wide open" it may be. This is the point at which I argue against Mohler, and you have not addressed it.

    As to the connection to "liberal" issues, the point is that, while Mohler, and others, see this as a huge trend, encapsulating all these things, I see them as distinct issues. I affirm that the church is to be open to all humans, while not advocating for the ordination of homosexuals. Also, while I confess I have a prejudice when it comes to Mohler, I think I've tried rather hard to be fair to him, in this and in the previous post.

    I'm fine with fair debate, but I will not tolerate these kinds of accusations.



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