If you’ve ever played tennis, you know that on most courts there are two sets of lines. The first set of lines marks the boundaries for a singles match. The second set of lines expands those boundaries for a doubles match.
The boundary lines on a tennis court are critical. Without them, the game couldn’t happen. The same is true for any sport. We have to know what’s in bounds and what’s out of bounds for the game to have any meaning.
And it’s not just games. One of the roles of church leaders is to protect and make clear the boundary lines of our faith. Paul told Timothy that one of his jobs as a young pastor was to “guard the good deposit” that God had entrusted to him and to “follow the pattern of sound words.”
And Proverbs 22:28 says that we are not to move the ancient boundary stones. That command has little to do with geography and has everything to do with theology.
Of course, our plumb line for these boundaries is the Bible. It lays out boundary markers that are sometimes clear (as we read things in 1 John like “no one who denies the Son has the Father”) and sometimes vague.
Some Christians want to stretch the boundary markers as broadly as they possibly can. One author years ago wrote about what he called a “generous orthodoxy.” He described himself as a “missional, evangelical, post/protestant, liberal/conservative, mystical/poetic, biblical, charismatic/contemplative, fundamentalist/Calvinist, Anabaptist/Anglican, Methodist, catholic, green, incarnational, depressed- yet hopeful, emergent, unfinished Christian.”
The author was advocating humility and unity – two cardinal virtues of our faith. And while I believe his desire was noble, his conclusions were toxic.
Jesus’ great prayer for His church was that we would be one, even as He and the Father are one. But some have misunderstood that prayer to mean “move the boundaries to include more people!” That’s not what Jesus was praying for!
The question of where the boundary lines should be drawn comes up over and over again.
Many years ago, when local churches were coming together for a city wide work day to serve our community, the question came up “which churches can participate? The Mormons? The Jehovah’s Witnesses? The local synagogues? The Greek Orthodox churches? Roman Catholic Churches? The Church of Christ? Prosperity Gospel churches?
Where should the boundaries be set?
This spring, author and radio host Hank Hanegraaff, who is known to radio listeners as “The Bible Answerman” announced that he had converted to Eastern Orthodoxy. Several Christian radio stations dropped his program as a result.
Fair, or too harsh?
When the Christian Post asked the question “can affirming gay Christians be evangelicals?” many Christian leaders responded with a conclusive “no.” Others said the issue is a matter of how we interpret the Bible.
Where do the boundaries belong?
Some have said that the boundaries were established in history by church fathers who gave us documents like the Apostles Creed or the Nicene Creed. But those documents were meant to address specific controversies, not to serve as the ultimate boundary markers of our faith.
Over the years, church leaders developed catechisms, like the one we read every Sunday at Redeemer. Those questions and answers help us understand more about what all Christians ought to be able to affirm.
I wish I could answer the question of where the boundaries should be set in a few paragraphs. It’s more complicated than that. But there are few things I’ve learned over the years.
I listened years ago to an eight-hour debate between Protestant and Roman Catholic scholars about the theological issues that still divide us. There are many significant but ultimately secondary issues that Protestants and Catholics understand differently – things like the number of sacraments or whether clergy can marry.
But in listening to the debates, what was clear was that most things tie back to two huge issues.
The first is “what is your source of ultimate authority?”
Roman Catholics are taught that the Church is the ultimate interpreter of Scripture, and that the Bible and Church Tradition (the tradition that made up part of the Catholic faith) are equally and independently authoritative. Protestants meanwhile affirm that church history and tradition are significant. But we see them as secondary and supplementary to the scriptures. This is where the reformation idea of Sola Scriptura was born – as a response to the Roman Catholic understanding of authority.
The second issue that divides the Roman Catholic Church from Protestantism is the question of how a man is made right with God. During the Reformation, the protesters said that men and women are reconciled to God by grace alone through faith alone, and not by any works of human righteousness.
Meanwhile, the official teaching of the Roman Catholic Church is that we men and women are saved by cooperating with God’s grace. Salvation, they say, involves more than believing. It involves obeying God. Protestants argue that obeying God is the result of our salvation, not the cause of it.
Protestants and Roman Catholics can’t both be right. And these are issues where getting it wrong is not inconsequential. These are matters of eternal life and death.
One of the other things I’ve learned over the years came from an interview I did with John MacArthur almost 30 years ago. I asked him the question the Philippian jailer asked the Apostle Paul in Acts 16 – “What must I do to be saved?”
Dr. MacArthur has a simple but wise response. He said he often asks people three questions in helping them determine the authenticity of their faith.
The first question is “Do you love God?” It’s pretty hard to say that someone is a Christian if they can’t answer yes to that question.
The second question is “Do you hate sin?” Again, if a person says he loves God but doesn’t hate sin, we have an issue, right?
The final question he asks is “Are you willing to obey Jesus?” Because we would rightly have issues with someone who says “I love God and hate sin, but I’m unwilling to follow Jesus.”
Those three questions, together with the two questions from the Catholic-Protestant debates (What is your source of authority? And how is a man made right with God?) have helped me define where the boundary lines should be set as we guard the good deposit of our faith. They don’t answer every question. But I think they answer a lot of questions. And they point us in a good direction for answering some of the other questions we will face.
Don’t forget we have a pot luck lunch happening on Sunday. Are you supposed to bring a main dish or a salad? If your last name begins with A-L, plan to bring a main dish or a casserole. If your name begins with M-Z, bring a family sized salad. We’ll provide drinks and dessert.
This Sunday, we’ll have a handy summer calendar to hand out at church with a list of upcoming summer activities. The first big summer event will happen on June 11.
Most of you know that I’ve been working on a video project called The Art of Parenting. FamilyLife will be releasing the video series next spring. But as part of that project, I’ve been involved in filming a feature length movie called Like Arrows: The Art of Parenting. It’s a story that follows a couple from their engagement through their 50th wedding anniversary. Along the way, they face parenting challenges that send them in search of help – before it’s too late.
Only a handful of people have seen the film. On Sunday night, June 11, you can join that select group. And we’ll see if you can spot my cameo…
We’ll plan to meet at church at 6:30 for ice cream sundaes that night. The Kids Small Group team will be on hand to keep the 12 and under crowd busy while we show the movie.
We’ll have more summer fun to announce soon. But for now, plan to be at church on Sunday night, June 11 for Like Arrows!
I expect this Sunday morning to be a significant time for our church. We’ll be taking a break from our study in Romans to talk about where we are and what we believe our focus needs to be as a church in the months and years ahead.
We’ll also have an update on our building plans.
I hope you will make it a priority to be there on Sunday.
See you in church!
Soli Deo Gloria!