why it matters

I’m sure I haven’t read all the responses to my recent ecclesiastic posts, but of the ones that I have read, (a) all of them have been critical, and (b) none of them, and I mean none, has addressed the actual argument I was making. “Didn’t Jesus denounce false teaching?”” He sure did, but that’s not relevant to my argument. “We can’t abandon church discipline.” We sure can’t. Etc., etc., etc. I won’t go off on a “social media have killed reading” rant, but you know, social media really have killed reading.

Anyway, my argument is simply this: The determination of who is and is not a Christian is above your pay grade, and expressly forbidden to you by Jesus. Again we must return to the parable of the wheat and the weeds, which, like all the parables, is about the Kingdom of God. When Jesus explains the parable, he says that “the good seed is the sons of the kingdom,” while “the weeds are the sons of the evil one.” But when “the servants of the master of the house” want to gather up the weeds, the master forbids them, “lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them.” Note what the master’s verdict is here: he is not concerned that the servants will leave too many weeds; he is, rather, concerned that in their over-exuberance, their hypertrophied zeal for justice, they will mistake wheat for weeds: they will see “sons of the evil one” where they ought to be seeing “sons of the kingdom.” And apparently this tendency is so entrenched in the servants that they are not merely warned to be careful, they are forbidden the task altogether. They are not allowed to identify “sons of the evil one.” Note that the explanation of the parable says that there are indeed sons of the evil one, and merely points out that the servants of the master of the house cannot reliably identify them.

Why does all of this matter? It matters because when someone in my church, or within the Christian fold more generally, says or does things that I believe terribly wrong, or terribly mistaken, I have many options available to me but among them is not the declaration that “You are not a child of the kingdom, you are a child of the evil one.“ That is, if I am going to obey the teaching of this parable, I have to treat this person as a brother or sister, as one of my fellow children of the kingdom — and they have to do the same to me.

And see, once you acknowledge those you passionately disagree with as brothers and sisters in Christ, as fellow members of “the household of faith,” a great many obligations kick in. The letters of the New Testament are full of instruction for how we brothers and sisters are to interact with one another, and almost all of that instruction is sobering in its rigor: We must be patient, humble, gentle, not quarrelsome, encouraging and upbuilding — and must exhibit all those traits even when we believe people are wrong and are striving to correct them. It’s hard work, and I stink at it. But that’s what we’re all called to.