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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Redefining Liberal Theology

Liberal theology is often defined: "That which I don't believe." It seems that everyone is liberal who doesn't believe exactly as I do.

My church has women deacons (as well as men deacons) and many people, even within my own denomination, would call us liberal. They see that deacons should be men and only men. The churches who believe this also differ in defining who these men should be.  Some think that it should only be married men (the husband of one wife), some think that it must be men who have never been divorced and some believe that it must be men who have never remarried even if their first wives passed away.

There is obviously a difference between a literal following of the scripture and trying to see what the scripture was really addressing. I find it amusing that those who wish to take a very literal understanding (a man, never divorced and never remarried) often do not balk at the scripture which tells women to avoid braiding their hair, wearing jewelry and wearing fine clothes. They seem to understand what the scriptural teaching is in that verse and forget what it is trying to point out in the one about deacons.

Often, pastors, churches and denominations have litmus tests which determine what is considered liberal. It doesn't matter that the "liberal" ones believe that they are fully following God or scripture. The result is a more and more narrow understanding of who will be included in the select group of those who are truly following God.

I have had to come to some basic understandings which have helped me fellowship with others even if they do not believe exactly as I do.  I used these principles to help me determine who is truly deviating outside of God's will. This is not so that I can judge or castigate them. It is so I can recommend them to others.

1. Is this person or group honestly trying to follow what the scripture says? If not, they are probably developing their theology out of political correctness. This theology will always be shifting sand and cannot be trusted.

2. Are they espousing faith in Jesus alone as the means of salvation? This should truly be the definition of Christianity.

3. Is their doctrine consistent with their preaching? Many groups have solid doctrine but preach a message which does not resemble that doctrine. The presence of the Holy Spirit will seek holiness in the church and the individual.

4. Do they believe what the Bible says? In other words, do they believe it is just fairy tales or actual events? Of course, there were times that Jesus told parables which were not actual events. However, the miracles were actual events. Jesus really fed 5000, healed the sick, walked on water and came back from the dead.

 5. Is tradition more important than scripture? One logical problem is thinking that it must be true because I have always believed it. The Spirit must be able to redefine or confirm what we believe. This belief will always highlight scripture. It will always be surrounded by other godly people.

This list may not be as comprehensive as it should be. It has been valuable to me. People are not necessarily liberal because they do not believe exactly as I do. I like to think I am always right but I have to admit that there are some gray areas that I don't know as much as I claim to know.

Mark 9:38-40 (NIV)  
38 "Teacher," said John, "we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us." 39 "Do not stop him," Jesus said. "No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, 40 for whoever is not against us is for us.

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