Earlier this week, which I saw via Twitter, Justin Taylor linked to the following from Ray Ortlund:
What unifies the church is the gospel. What defines the gospel is the Bible. What interprets the Bible correctly is a hermeneutic centered on Jesus Christ crucified, the all-sufficient Savior of sinners, who gives himself away on terms of radical grace to all alike. What proves that that gospel hermeneutic has captured our hearts is that we are not looking down on other believers but lifting them up, not seeing ourselves as better but grateful for their contribution to the cause, not standing aloof but embracing them freely, not wishing they would become like us but serving them in love (Galatians 5:13).
My Reformed friend, can you move among other Christian groups and really enjoy them? Do you admire them? Even if you disagree with them in some ways, do you learn from them? What is the emotional tilt of your heart – toward them or away from them? If your Reformed theology has morphed functionally into Galatian sociology, the remedy is not to abandon your Reformed theology. The remedy is to take your Reformed theology to a deeper level. Let it reduce you to Jesus only. Let it humble you. Let this gracious doctrine make you a fun person to be around. The proof that we are Reformed will be all the wonderful Christians we discover around us who are not Reformed. Amazing people. Heroic people. Blood-bought people. People with whom we are eternally one—in Christ alone.
And a lot of you already have your hackles up on both sides of this statement. Welcome to the internet.
Personally, I completely get what he’s saying here: given that Augustine didn’t believe everything we “reformed” folks believe, and Aquinas didn’t believe everything we believe, and frankly Calvin and I would have some robust disagreements, and Jerome and I would have some disagreements, and in the other direction Wesley and I would give each other the angry eyebrows, and Billy Sunday and I would probably not see eye to eye, and in the end Billy Graham and I would probably not agree, and Chuck Colson and I would probably disagree ... given all that disagreement, can I find in these men some kind of trace of their status as redeemed people?
I think that’s Pastor Ortlund’s question here: how perfect (in our opinion, btw: God didn’t hand you a sheet of orthodoxy litmus paper to test the saints for the appropriate amount of systematic perfection) does someone have to be for you to fellowship with them? Specifically, how “perfect” does their ability to spell out all the consequences of the Gospel have to be? How perfect does their spelling of p-r-o-p-i-t-i-a-t-i-o-n have to be to allow them your fellowship and your brethrenliness in Christ?
I think that’s a great question – because it reflects directly on how we conduct ourselves in church, yes? I mean: many of us want a pastor who would recite the Heidelberg Catechism every week and make the same exceptions we would, and anyone who will not be under that teaching with all humility (our humility taken for granted, because we agree with all of the agreeable parts, so we are humble – disagreement makes one as unhumble and sassy) should either repent or get out. How can we join a church where there are people who are not really exactly like us?
That’s a hard question, y’all, because let me suggest something: they are really all just like us. That is: they are all sinners just like us.
So when Pastor Ortlund says, “What proves that that gospel hermeneutic has captured our hearts is that we are not looking down on other believers but lifting them up, not seeing ourselves as better but grateful for their contribution to the cause, not standing aloof but embracing them freely, not wishing they would become like us but serving them in love,” I’m completely with him. What’s amazing about the Gospel is not what it makes of other people (for good or ill): it’s what it makes of me, which is that I am acceptable to God, and therefore I am acceptable to other people – not a lost cause which other people should rightfully shun.
In my own right, my own merit, I am a lost cause who ought to be shunned. Anyone in their right mind should not associate with me for what I am on my own – because I’m a loser on my own, morally, socially, and spiritually.
But in Christ, by what Christ has done, I have the right expectation that I am right with God – and that other who are like me in this regard are also right with God and therefore in the same standing and beautiful family that I belong to.
That expectation should make me generous to others spiritually, not stingy. And it should, as Pastor Ortlund says, make me a joy to be with.
Is that who you are? I know, I know: there are other questions to ask here – and I’ll ask them next week. Right now, let’s ask ourselves if our theology makes us people who are grateful to the point that we want to fellowship with everyone who is equally-blessed.
I suggest that it does not – and that’s a pretty serious problem.
What do you think?