I have been raised as an evangelical (‘evangelisch’ in Dutch) amidst a reformed church. Throughout my life I have therefore always been very well aware that Christians have different opinions, styles and theology. I tried to live by the rule of Saint Augustine of Hippo: ‘In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity”.
End of a very short and happy story? Not quite…
Excrements Interacting With the Ventilator
My evangelical background was never such an issue in the reformed church… until we got a daughter and did not baptise her. My goodness… did that theological sh*t hit the fan! Although I loved the reformed church, and especially the people within, I just could not accept their covenant theology as the right way. I wrote a 50 page long research into the topic, and I came to the conclusion that no matter what angle I tried to twist my brain into, I just could not see why one should apply a symbol of faith (baptism) to a baby. Totally unrelated there were two other couples in our Church who did not have their children baptized, which made matters worse and in the end even made it to a national newspaper!
The interesting thing is how people reacted. Most people didn’t care much, they accepted me either way. Some folks however were a lot more dogmatic. While this topic had been on my mind for many years, they thought they could just quote one verse and be done with it. Also the wide variety of thin arguments they had for supporting their position, baffled me. Of course some had really studied it deeper, but more study does not mean we reached the same conclusion. Yet they felt convinced by the Holy Spirit that infant baptism was really Gods way. And I felt convinced the other way around. Both camps felt guided by the same Holy Spirit.
My key question of doubt is the following: Why is God absent from our theological debates?
I can think of two main answers:
“God is absent because it all does not matter, what matters is that we believe in Jesus and live the gospel”
This is the position held by many young, modern and/or progressive Christians. It is the most tolerant way of living together. But really… do these theological debates not matter at all? Does God not care if the Pope is the head of the church… or not? Does God not care if we believe in a Trinity or something else? Does God not care if we fall in the Spirit, or not fall in the Spirit? Does he not care whether we pray to Mary, or we don’t pray to Mary?
The God of the Bible cares a LOT about a LOT of stuff. Look at how Paul gets all worked up over people who force others to get circumcised. Look at how important it is to celebrate the Lords Supper in the right way, or you would die early (1 Cor 11:30). Look at all the rules in the Torah; even though they no longer apply to Christians, we can’t say God is very relaxed about having the wrong ideas or practice.
Plus, if the point is that it all does not matter, why does God not tell that more clearly to all those churches fighting over these issues? They feel strongly led by the Holy Spirit to defend position A or B, but in the end… it doesn’t matter?
“God is not absent; He is guiding us to the right theology”
That view only works if you have lived your whole life in one denomination, or are just unaware of the sincerity of other believers. My wife grew up in a church that basically taught they were the direct descendants of Abraham, so it went from Abraham to Israel to Judah to Jesus to Catholic to Reformed type A, Reformed type B, and then Reformed type C which was the True Church™ in the Netherlands. All other churches were split-offs from this idea of the one ‘true church’.
There is such an amazing amount of denominations (I have heard of 40.000 worldwide) that it is impossible to objectively know which one is right. Most of the non-liberal churches claim they are led by the Holy Spirit to their position, although they will not hold all their beliefs as infallible dogma, of course.
A Confusing Book
While the Bible has many good values and stories, the 40.000 denominations show to me that there is not one obvious and simple way to interpret things. Also the way of the Catholic Church has shown to lead to all sorts of weird ideas that seem just the fantasies of men. Which left me with the impression that the Bible just is not clear and sufficient in matters of faith. Take the infant baptism back for example. Why is the controversy?
If you baptise a child, you have the problem that it is not possible to attribute the ‘faith’ requirement of baptism to the child easily. So one sees many different denominations giving different answers to that (faith of the church, faith of the parents, silent faith, et cetera).
But if you don’t baptise a child, then when do you do it? Baptise the child when it can say “Jesus” (age 2, maybe 3?) When it can give a primitive testimony (age 7-10 or so)? When it has gone through a bit of puberty (age 18)? It is all an arbitrary age that does not make sense given that faith ‘grows’ on a person and there is no real conversion anyway. So it seems to me both sides are faces with weird dilemmas that the Bible simply does not answer well… hence the controversy.
My point is not to repeat the whole baptism debate. My point is that the Bible is often unclear about its dogma, but Christians have to make choices with unclear dogma and then have to start guessing and fighting each other over interpretations. God is not helping them, but seems to be standing by idling while He could easily show up by an angel or whatever and correct the issue right there (as He did in the Torah for example, with Moses being the spokesperson for God).
So what is the conclusion? Again, it seems that all these theological debates make much more sense if there is no God, or at least He is not involved. Then all the bloodshed, confusion, debates and libraries full of theology are just human work, like any other religion. On the other hand, if the Christian God is real, He could do a much better job at explaining what He actually meant when He wrote that book and started a movement that is supposedly led by His Spirit.
This issue therefore also added to my nagging “list” of the pros and cons of the worldviews:
“Gods Absence in Resolving Theological Disputes”
Deistic/Secular Worldview: +5 points
Biblical Christian Worldview: -5 points