Somewhere between sectarianism and latitudinarianism lay the Biblical approach to dividing good from evil.
The sectarians see their own secondary denominational distinctives as critical for faith and fellowship, and excommunicate — literally or metaphorically — almost everybody who doesn’t toe the party line. The sectarians divide the Faith and faithful over such ancillary issues as sign gifts, baptism, predestination, communion, church government, home schooling, liturgy, prophecy, Bible translations, and contemporary worship music. By “The Church” they often mean their church. If they are confessional Lutherans or Reformed, they permit no deviation from the theological symbols of the 16th and 17th centuries. If they are Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox, they recognize other Christians as, at best, “separated brothers” and, at worst, outside the pale of salvation. If they are fundamentalists, they posit their churches as the “separated, pure” churches and others as tainted with compromise. If they are charismatic or Pentecostal, they patronize believers who do not share their experience of tongues speaking or Spirit-filling. And so on. Fortunately, many among these godly sectors of Christianity are not sectarian, but the sectarians are often the most vocal — and, by their very nature, the most divisive.
Thus the sectarians.
Alternatively, the latitudinarians recognize almost nothing over which Christendom should be divided, simply because nothing is all that important — except, of course, latitude. The chief point of the latitudinarian program is unity, though it is not entirely clear around what issue latitudinarians are unified apart from the principle of unity itself. The infallibility of the Bible; the full deity, humanity, substitutionary atonement, bodily resurrection and literal Second Coming of Jesus Christ; the integrity of marriage and licit heterosexuality; the sacredness of innocent human life, especially preborn children— all of these bedrock truths of the Bible are negotiable by the latitudinarians. They lament the divisions in Christianity, and, sensing the havoc wreaked by the sectarians, they are often correct to do so. They are the Rodney King Christians: “Why can’t we all just get along?”
There is a simple answer to that question. We can’t all just get along because certain viewpoints and actions are irreconcilable with others. The fact that sectarians divide over comparative non-essentials is no excuse for unity despite disagreement over essentials. The rallying cry of “unity” tends to grace the lips of those well intentioned that have suffered the schismatic pains of the sectarians. The good-hearted unity-tarians, however, soon discover that the list of non-negotiables grows ever shorter, when “unity among all who profess Christ” is the heart-felt rallying cry. The Bible’s infallibility (“After all, why quibble over details?”), the atoning death of Jesus (“There are all sorts of ways to understand Jesus’ death”), the exclusivity of the Gospel (“But the loving God could not demand that everybody actually trust in Jesus to be saved”), and the inviolability of Biblical sexual ethics (“But abortion and homosexuality are such complex issues”) are eventually excised from the list of non-negotiables. What’s left is little more than a vague affirmation of Christian evangelism and increasingly strident calls for unity.
Many years ago I was asked to participate in the local permutation of a National Day of Prayer (this is long before the NDP was declared unconstitutional). At the meeting of the steering committee that was planning invitations to leaders to pray over the impending event, I asked if the Apostles Creed might not be a good doctrinal basis for the invitation. To this one of the ministers (it was woman) offered the prickly reply, “Well, we don’t want to exclude any true Christians from leading us in prayer.”
To which I rejoined: “Lady, if somebody can’t say the Apostles Creed in good conscience, he isn’t entitled to be called a Christian.”
The Apostles Creed is a necessary, if not always sufficient, line in the sand. If you can’t affirm that God created the world, that Jesus died for our sins according to the Scriptures and that the Holy Spirit is the Lord and Giver of Life, you have no business calling yourself a Christian — and other Christians need to draw a line in the sand keeping you away from the National Day of Prayer (of course, secular judges today occupy the august role of keeping the President away from it).
Today with latitudinarians to the left us and sectarians to the right, we should be gloriously stuck in the middle with a virile, gutsy Faith.
Where the central truths of the Faith are questioned or denied; where Biblical ethics (read: the sanctity of preborn and elderly life and the inviolability of marriage) are derided; where unity at all costs is declaimed — there Biblical Christians in all churches and all Christian ministries must draw a line in the sand.
“Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; Who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” (Is. 5:20)