In one of his last public talks, Dallas Willard made the following statement to pastors and others in ministry: “The most important part of your ministry is that to other ministers. Come to know them and begin to get over the idea of separation and competition.”
This is such a great statement and a noble idea. Yes, Dallas speaks the truth.
But putting his words into practice is much more difficult.
I am a pastor, and I enjoy getting together with other pastors in my own community. A few weeks ago I had coffee with a local Catholic priest, Father Patrick.
Every few weeks, I attend a weekday noon mass where they read from Scripture, confess sins, and celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus. Father Patrick has a great heart. His parish includes a large college campus and I was encouraged to hear that they have 300 students involved in Bible studies.
They challenge the students to be chaste and sober as they follow Jesus and obey his commands. Fr. Patrick’s desire for his congregation, old and young alike, is that they (in his words), “have Jesus in their hearts.”
We did not talk about Mariology, transubstantiation, or papal authority.
A few days later I attended a Wednesday night Bible study at a local (primarily African-American) Pentecostal church. His church is part of a world-wide denomination that would be labeled “Oneness Pentecostalism” – which affirms the unity of the Godhead, the deity and humanity of Jesus Christ, and the deity and activity of the Holy Spirit, but doesn’t line up with the historically orthodox understanding of the Trinity.
I’ve become friends with Pastor Derek and we’ve had many conversations together. He loves God, loves the Bible, and wants his congregation to grow in their trust and friendship with Jesus.
We did not talk about modalistic Monarchianism or glossolalia.
Finally, within that same week, I had lunch with Pastor Richard, who pastors a small Baptist church that reads the Bible ONLY from the King James Version and only from the 1611 authorized version of the KJV. They don’t even trust the New Kings James Version (NJKV) in that, there are “thousands of changes and entire verses left out.”
I attended one of their Wednesday night Bible studies (with my KJV-1611 in my hand). He taught about the prophet Elijah and genuinely encouraged me with some things he said. When we had lunch, we talked about the highs and lows of ministry; times when we’ve heard the voice of God, and our mutually shared commitment to biblical teaching and preaching against the tide of culture.
We did not talk about Byzantine texts, Alexandrian manuscripts, the NIV, NLT, or ESV.
Now, you may understandably have some red flags, or at least yellow flags waving in front of your eyes as you read about the heresies (or near-heresies) that I apparently tolerate.
I get it.
Your commitment to doctrinal accuracy and clarity is something I share. In addition, I likely share your zeal to test every doctrine against the inspired and authoritative words of all 66 books of the Bible.
Love One Another
Because we have these shared bedrock commitments, we care deeply about what Jesus said after the Passover meal on the night of his betrayal after washing the disciples’ feet:
So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples. (John 13:34-35)
Notice he did not say: “Your doctrinal correctness will prove to the world that you are my disciples,” or “Your smug theological contempt for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”
I grew up in a church environment where “doctrinal correctness” and “smug theological contempt” for other churches/denominations was normalized if not esteemed.
For the first decade of my own ministry, I couldn’t imagine why anyone serious about Jesus and the Bible would attend any church other than the one where I was employed (we, of course, served solid meat while other churches only offered lite-fare salad bars).
So what I write here serves as a continuing rebuke from God of my own competitive smallness of soul and love-lacking arrogance of heart, which still can show up more than I care to admit.
Truth matters, right? Or have we now plunged in the raging waters of the Sea of Tolerance and the Rapids of Inclusion all in the name of “Love Wins?”
Truth matters. Biblical truth matters enormously. It matters what we know, understand, and believe about Mariology, transubstantiation, papal authority, modalistic Monarchianism, glossolalia, the Byzantine texts, the Alexandrian manuscripts, the NIV, ESV, and NLT.
Before going to seminary I was a middle school math teacher. In that world 2 + 2 = 4; a 2+ b 2= c 2 (in a right triangle); and two points determine a line. When evaluating tests or quizzes, student responses were evaluated against time-tested truth.
Zero points for totally incorrect responses; full credit if they nailed it; and at times, partial credit if their response displayed some evidence of comprehension or accuracy.
But how are we evaluated against the truth? Sometimes I wonder if we imagine some major theological entrance exam at the last judgement, where many of us are relatively confident that we will score 98-100 percent correct on theological positions major and minor, so that we can hear the words, “Well done, thou good and faithful scholar/thinker/teacher. Enter now into the joy of the Lord!”
Tomorrow we will talk more about the Spirit of Christ and put all of this together.