Risky Business

Running an interactive blog site is one of the more risky things a person can do. Indeed, it is almost suicidal. No matter what you do or what you write, you will get all sorts of people outraged, and plenty of angst and anger will get directed your way.

It is expected of course that those who hate Christianity or morality or the family or life will come here with all guns blazing. But there are plenty of fellow Christians who will also vent their spleens and pour out their acid tongue on me as I dare to differ from their particular orthodoxy or pet hobby horse.

So if you want to live a quiet and peaceful life, you would be mad to do a website like this. And perhaps I am. But this is what I am called to do, so I guess I will just have to wear all the flack and abuse, even from other Christians. And a great example of all this occurred with my most recent post: billmuehlenberg.com/2013/03/14/on-pope-francis/

I had just written on the election of the new Pope, and sure enough, the guns are already blazing. I realise it is rather in vain for me to plead for a bit of grace and respect on these hot potato issues. Twice in that article I made it quite clear that this was about the election of the new Pope, not about the theological differences between Catholics and Protestants.

As I have said so often already, there are thousands of sites where Protestants can bash Catholics all day long. And there are thousands of sites where Catholics can bash Protestants all day long. My CultureWatch site is not one of them. I am a Protestant evangelical, and unashamedly so. And I am quite aware of our major theological differences. But those battles can be waged elsewhere.

Yet sure enough plenty of people have insisted on getting into more sectarian warfare here, despite my pleas. Some of the more belligerent and nasty comments have gone straight into the rubbish bin, and some which were a bit more on topic and irenic I have allowed to be posted there.

Thus as I expected, all hell has broken loose, with some folks effectively accusing me of being in bed with the devil, being the antichrist, etc. Never mind that my CW homepage clearly states that this site is about offering commentary on the crucial issues of the day. I would have thought this was certainly one such issue. Yet for daring to even write about this, some zealous believers are already set to burn me at the stake as a heretic.

Co-belligerency

A good part of the disquiet of some of these rather irate critics is their utter rejection of the idea that on some crucial issues there is a place to work together with others. I believe that there are key moral battles and cultural battles that will destroy all of us if we do not fight them, and to do this, limited and tactical working together is essential. But I have made this case elsewhere:

billmuehlenberg.com/2010/09/02/on-co-belligerency/
billmuehlenberg.com/2009/11/27/on-biblical-cooperation-and-separation/
www.equip.org/articles/should-christians-be-cobelligerents-in-ecumenical-coalitions/

I also did a piece on Francis Schaeffer and co-belligerency. He can hardly be described as a theological liberal or an apostate, but he clearly saw the importance of all this: billmuehlenberg.com/2012/06/30/8405/

In those four articles I make my case for working together in some limited causes for the common good. That does not mean for a moment jumping into a vat of the lowest common denominator theological mush. That does not mean minimising key theological differences. It simply means acknowledging that there are some crucial cultural and moral battles being fought, and if we care at all about such things as the sanctity of life or the sanctity of marriage and family (and Christians should deeply care about such issues), then there may well be a place in working together with others at least on those particular battle fronts.

But another writer has just done a piece tying both together: the new Pope and culture wars co-belligerency. I find his insights helpful, so I will share some of them here. They come from P. Andrew Sandlin and his article, “Sectarian Culture Warriors Trump Ecumenical Culture Wimps ”.

He writes, “Francis’ conservatism (he is the first Jesuit Pope) also means he is unlikely to be on the vanguard of Catholic-Protestant ecumenism. Traditional Catholics believe — wrongly and presumptuously — that there is ordinarily no salvation outside the Roman communion. But we theologically and culturally conservative (that is to say, Biblical) Protestants are not especially troubled by this intransigence. After all, we were not eager to join Rome in the first place. Such serious disagreements stand in the way of any thought of either organizational or organic unity (the locus of authority, the appropriation of salvation, the nature of the church) that only squishy lowest-common-denominator religionists on either side of the Catholic-Protestant divide would seriously consider serious ecumenism.

“We orthodox Protestants have too much respect for Catholics like Francis than to expect them to pretend the differences are bridgeable. For there to be a huge union, there must be huge changes. Papering over differences under the guise of Christian charity is a slap in the face to doctrinal orthodoxies on either side.

“But doctrinal orthodoxies do not forbid cultural orthodoxies — nay, they produce them — and those cultural orthodoxies in turn generate cultural ecumenism. Which is to say, we Protestants stand as cobelligerents with Francis and his cohorts in championing a culture of life (and against aborticide and euthanasia and cloning and human egg harvesting), a culture of the family (and against homosexuality and all other extramarital sexual license), and a culture of liberty (and against political tyranny).

“You cannot stand for truth in culture without standing against evil in culture. And in standing for truth and against evil, we orthodox Protestants stand shoulder to shoulder with orthodox Roman Catholics in the culture wars.

“The squishy ecumenists on both sides will likely find the traditionally sectarian Francis a less than stellar champion. But we Protestant culture warriors much prefer a sectarian culture warrior to an ecumenical culture wimp. We can live (and have lived for nearly 500 years) with theological sectarianism.”

Now I realise that some Christians think the very notion of co-belligerency is straight out of the pit of hell, and that I am a heretic or worse for daring to even promote it. Well, at best, I can say we will have to agree to disagree here. And at worse, I again ask you to respect my wishes here, cut me some slack, and show me some Christian grace. If you are unable or unwilling to do that, then you are free to take your fights elsewhere. No one is holding a gun to your head, forcing you to be here.

I will do what I feel God has called me to do. If that is not to your liking, well, I can’t do much about that. I rest my case.

docsandlin.com/2013/03/14/sectarian-culture-warriors-trump-ecumenical-culture-wimps/

[1170 words]

25 Replies to “Risky Business”

  1. Thanks, Bill.
    Thank you for putting up my post in response to your post on Pope Francis. I wanted to be as respectful as possible, while disagreeing with you. Bear me witness that I have nor called you a partner with the devil, or antichrist, or some such. I do, I really do appreciate what you do; but I still maintain that co-belligerency sends the wrong message to the world at large, and especially to the Christian world where the profound differences between Protestants and Roman Catholics are neither known nor cared about.
    For myself, I have very good dealings with Roman Catholics in my work at U3A, and they even appreciate that Luther made a positive contribution to the Church’s teaching. However, that does not blind me to the very real issues with Rome, which remain.
    We will have to agree to differ, however, on the wisdom of co-belligerency as a policy, no matter who has come out in its favour.

    Murray R Adamthwaite

  2. Thanks Murray

    Of course I did not say that you did call me those names, and I did mention that the more nasty comments were deleted – and there have been plenty of those, both now and in the past. And of course I have said repeatedly that there are major theological divides here.

    But I think Western civilisation, for all its faults, has been in many ways a gift of God and is worth fighting for, even with those I may not fully see eye to eye with . I am not ready to give up on freedom, the rule of law, etc., without at least a fight. But this is old ground here and we have been over it quite often, so no need to belabour the point further. So yes, we will simply have to differ here. Thanks again.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  3. I am not Catholic, but my mother was, and I still have contact with a number of people. But if pushed on doctrinal matters I will make my position clear, which I have done on occasion. However with the state of the world as it currently is in, with Australia and the USA having closet communist leaders, and the UK a fake conservative, all of whom seem to not just accept the societal decay around us but want to actively accelerate it, I think I can be very happy that Pope Francis takes seriously the major issues of the day.

    If I decide only to converse with people I absolutely agree with on everything, the world will quickly become a very small place. And I must remember that I am not perfect either, with a large array of things that are likely a stench to God in my life. I don’t know where the balance lies with this subject either, but maybe that is precisely the point – we are continuously seeking to please Him in everything we do, with the answer always just out of reach of our imperfect lives. So we must continue to rely on Him in all these situations and not ourselves. As humans, one of our chief failings is that we are always on the lookout for easy and ‘neat’ solutions, but I don’t think there is one here, bar looking in faith in all things to God.

    But in response to Murray, I don’t think things like attending March for the Babies here in Victoria – which tends to be mostly populated with Catholics – is something that would send the “wrong message” to the world. Quite the contrary.

    Mark Rabich

  4. Thanks Mark

    Yes I am with you. We had this same problem last year didn’t we? The purists, in true Pharisaical fashion, refused to lift a finger to get rid of the worst US President ever, because they could not accept temporarily working with Romney to get rid of Obama. So now we have this evil man with his evil policies for four more years, and America may well be destroyed in the process. Yet these purists can sit back and feel good about themselves: “Well, at least we remained uncontaminated”.

    The same with so many other of these key battles. And the many critics of co-belligerency fail to make an elementary distinction between being an ally and being a co-belligerent. Schaeffer (who I link to above) made this incisive and helpful distinction:

    “I have two words which I would recommend to anybody . . . and they are ‘ally’ and ‘co-belligerent.’ An ally is a person who is a born-again Christian with whom I can go a long way down the road . . . now I don’t say to the very end, because I’m a Presbyterian and I might not be able to form a church with a strong Baptist . . . but we can go a long way down the road – and that’s an ally. A co-belligerent is a person who may not have any sufficient basis for taking the right position but takes the right position on a single issue. And I can join with him without any danger as long as I realize that he is not an ally and all we’re talking about is a single issue.”

    Because we fail to grasp this basic point we allow all sorts of confusion and fuzzy thinking to abound on these topics. But it will only get worse I imagine. Just think if Ben Carson ends up running for POTUS in 2016. There will be plenty of these misguided purists who will also refuse to vote for him, simply because he is SDA. So the whole world will continue to go down the drain, while the purists pat themselves on the back and take pride in how “pure” they are. It is all so frustrating I must say.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  5. It is sad when people engage in personal abuse. Bill, you undertake your calling with wisdom and integrity. You are the watchman on the wall. The evil one will encourage the church to a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the arms. No wonder you cope abuse when you sound the alarm. Take courage brother.
    At the end of the day we are all co-belligerent no matter how tightly we lock our arms in unity in defence of righteousness, we all differ on some point or the other.
    Des Morris

  6. We are in a war which is just as devastating if not more than a conventional one using bullets and bombs. During WWII we did not refuse to fight because there were others of different faiths, nay different brands of methodism or anglicanism in the ranks. Do Christian politicians refuse to join parliament because they are not all Christians. If there were an outbreak cholera or some other gem warfare in the town, would we refuse to join hands with others of different faiths – even Muslims God forbid- in fight this? Indeed what we are fighting is the most devastating kind of warfare we have ever experienced, that is intent on destroying the most intimate parts of our children.

    David Skinner, UK

  7. Bill,
    I am very much in the camp of Covenantal, Evangelical, Protestants. However, in many cultural areas, I have seen the Roman Catholic stand far more Biblically and faithfully than many Evangelicals over the years (they understood the dangers of secular education when the Protestants were setting up secular, free and compulsory education in Australia; they have stood against abortion from the beginning, when many Protestants had not care in the world over the issue). Jesus said, “By their fruits you shall know them.” Lifestyle is important. You can be as sound as you like, theologically, but if your fruit is humanistic, then beware lest you fall. Believe it or not, there are some very Christ-like Romans Catholics. I love fellowshiping with them. There are some very un-Christlike, Reformed, Evangelical Protestants, and even Jesus has a problem stomaching their hypocricy. “Many will come to me in that day and say, Lord, Lord, did we not … And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'” (Matthew 7:21-23).

    Keep up the good work, Bill. You are doing a great job.

    Lance A Box

  8. The following story seems pertinent to this discussion. I heard it come from the mouth of Jim Spillman – once an erudite and highly scholarly Baptist pastor. Spillman was like this prior to his coming under the influence of Kathryn Kuhlman and the charismatic renewal movement in the 1970s. Later in his ministry his scholarship was very strong, but far less remote than it had been in his earlier years.

    Around 1995 I heard his tell the following story. It almost has an apocryphal feel to it; but was presented as true.

    Spillman spoke of a friend, a Southern Baptist, driving his rather large convertible down an American highway. At the time, the Lord spoke to him (as an experience presented in John 10 v 27). He had been thinking some some reason about some Catholics in Latin America. And as the story goes, the Lord said to him:

    “I want you to go and work with those nuns in Latin America.”

    The Southern Baptist pastor’s response was:
    “Lord, I can’t do that. I don’t believe what they believe!”

    To which the Lord replied:
    “Why not? I work with you, and I don’t believe everything you believe.”

    Chris McNicol

  9. I think your reference to Sandlin is so apt here Bill especially when he says: “You cannot stand for truth in culture without standing against evil in culture. And in standing for truth and against evil, we orthodox Protestants stand shoulder to shoulder with orthodox Roman Catholics in the culture wars.”

    Do keep doing what you feel God has called you to do Bill. You are so courageous and have my utmost respect!

    Paula Pike

  10. Perhaps I should clarify my own position in this debate lest I be lumped together with “purists” who refused to vote for Romney in order to get rid of Obama (perhaps they simply said “Better the devil you know…”), and various other purists who insist, “Touch not, handle not…”
    I can certainly endorse Lance’s point that Evangelicals were abysmally slow on abortion, and have prevaricated on other issues, but this is, I believe due to the pervasive influence of post-modernism in the Christian culture.
    Bill’s point, quoting Schaeffer (whom I much admire for the most part), is a distinction between alliance and co-belligerency. That may have some validity to some extent, but I fear that distinction wears thin in certain contexts, not least in the present one over reaction to the new pope Francis. I for one will not be following Rick Warren in his call for a time of prayer – and fasting – for the new pope, nor in his announcement that he is right with him.

    My own view is that it much depends on what banner one operates under. I support Roman Catholics in the US in resisting Obama’s demand for abortion compliance under Obamacare (I forget the details here; perhaps Bill can fill us in), under the banner of natural justice and religious freedom.
    I support a March for the Babies under the banner of basic human rights, esp. the right to life, which is the proper lot of everyone, be they Catholics, Muslims, Hindus, Confucians or Kalafumpians.
    However, if one is to oppose e.g. abortion on Christian and Biblical grounds, i.e. under the banner of Christianity, and then seek common cause with Catholics and say Mormons, there I have a problem: the fine line from co-belligerent to ally has been crossed, and that is a bridge I cannot cross. Similarly with any of the other major issues of our time.
    I could not, for example, join forces with religious liberals in ‘social justice’ concerns, because it would ostensibly be a common Christian banner, and yet I know full well that concern for the poor as I would conceive it is very different in concept and on a different basis from the way a religious liberal sees the issue. It would indeed send the wrong message.
    There is more that needs to be said, but I thank you, Bill, for opening up this vexed question. I trust that my own contribution is seen as given in an irenic spirit, as from my point of view it is.
    Murray R Adamthwaite

  11. Thank you Bill and thank you Schaeffer. When working with others on these life issues – and having in fact worked with them for some time – and observing their spirituality and commitment to God, through Jesus, I am momentarily “shocked” to find that they are Catholic. That realisation (so unnecessary) fills me with great pleasure and I take delight in saying so. Indeed, some of their radical predecessors may have martyred some of mine – the name of John Fox appears somewhere in my ancestry – but to work together with them in the present in what it means to be created as the Imago Dei and the intrinsic value of all human life is a huge privilege. Thank you to any of my Catholic friends who may be reading this and may God continue to bless our work together.
    Lachlan Dunjey

  12. Hi Bill, As a long time participant in the culture wars I passionately agree with your position.
    The fact that you differentiate between orthodox cultural positions and orthodox doctrinal positions is incredibly important and needs to be trumpeted loudly throughout the ‘evangelical’ campsites.
    I have experienced first-hand the Pharisaical hate within the Christian community which is so easily directed at perceived expressions of cultural/creative difference.
    For example in South Africa a Christian creative expression I was part of, named Friends First was preached against by large segments of the church because we (Friends First) were unashamed to mix the races in both public forums and in our personal lives (a criminal offense in South Africa during the apartheid era). In effect we saw the church preaching against racial reconciliation.
    Allow me to encourage you to continue with your very brave and powerful ministry, you are an inspiration to many and your words travel far beyond your website.
    Your blog is one of the first I log onto for insights into what is happening politically and culturally and for that I am very grateful. I have been inspired by your wisdom and have incorporated your observations into many messages that I have had the privilege of communicating.
    Shalom…..Mike McMeekan

  13. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.”

    ‘The Way Toward Wisdom’ [2009] Fr Benedict Ashley O.P. (1915-.d.2013)(Renowned Aristotelian-Thomistic Philosopher 2013)

    “The greatest gap between cultures today is that between Secular humanism and the other major worldviews supported chiefly by the so-called world religions. Secular Humanism relies on an interpretation of natural science that denies or ignores a superhuman spiritual realm of reality, or reduces it to a purely subjective psychological and aesthetic construction. Most other major world views, on the contrary, hold that the phenomena studied by natural science somehow manifest the dependence of material reality on a greater spiritual reality in which human beings participate and on which their salvation depends. Often today those who hold to these worldviews are driven in self-defense to a rigid fundamentalism that doesn’t do justice to these open perspectives on reality.

    Those worldviews that include a spiritual realm, whether they claim to know, its reality by reason, by mystical experience, by revelation, or in all these, ways,today confront a dominant Secular Humanism that threatens them all. This major dichotomy between Secular Humanism and all spiritual worldviews stands in the way of dialogue among all world views for several reasons. First, Secular, Humanism has achieved its dominance by its economic and political superiority and its control of higher scientific education. Second, the hegemony of Secular Humanism tends to privatize spiritual religion and close off public forums to its adequate expression in the public media. Third, Secular Humanism tends, as does any dominant power, to retain that power by a policy of divide and conquer. Thus it tends to pit one spiritual worldview against another in order to refute them in the interest of its own intellectual empire.”

    Martin Snigg

  14. In a very basic format, if someone wants to help me do God’s work then praise God regardless of their relationship with the Lord.
    Daniel Kempton

  15. Bill, I believe your point on co-belligerence is entirely valid. Neither Roman Catholics nor Protestant Evangelicals are likely to receive unreserved approbation on social and public ethical issues from Liberal theologians, followers of the New Age movement or secular humanists. The service of Christ in the “culture wars” presents opportunities for Evangelicals and Catholics to better understand and respect one another – total theological agreement between the two theological traditions is highly unlikely. In Oxford Movement clergyman, Frederick Faber’s words, “There’s a wideness in God’s mercy” with which both Catholics and Evangelicals ought to come to terms.
    John Wigg

  16. I believe the Purists have it wrong on 2 accounts, the first of which was very well illustrated by Chris’ story. Even Paul did not claim to have “attained” to perfection yet. By holding their position they also do not acknowledge that only God knows the beginning from the end while we are still stuck in the process of time. All goodness belongs to the Lord, so, wherever we find truth and goodness would we not support it, first of all because the Lord would want us to, but also as an encouragement for those who are yet strayed on important issues that through our cobeligerancy on those things they already believe is true could find their way to Him who is the Truth in all its entirety.
    Martin, I have to disagree with you in your first point of the explanation why we find it so hard to fight against the secular humanists. I believe, instead of having created their own economic and political superiority, they have hi-jacked the economic and political strength and stability that our christian heritage has created.
    Many blessings
    Ursula Bennett

  17. Billy Graham faced similar antagonisms over whether to include catholic churches in crusades. Many from those churches who truly met Christ will be forever grateful the evangelist held firm.
    Francis speaks courageously from a biblical theology on great matters of primary importance to society. Whatever his ‘group’ there are those from Nicodemus to Schindler who in diverse ways have done similar.
    Ian Clarkson

  18. I agree with you totally, Bill. We are fighting issues here, mainly to do with law, not gospel. Ian Clarkson and Billy Graham, however, muddy the waters because they deal with what are supposed to be gospel issues. Clarity is needed here, but on the issues covered by Culture Watch your stance is fine. Purists win pyrrhic wars outside the real world, which do not help much.

    Peter Barnes

  19. I can’t imagine God saying to us on Judgement Day: ‘why did you side with the Catholics on the issue of abortion? On true marriage? Or on exposing the secular agenda?’ I think, rather, he will ask some us why we didn’t!! Mark 9:38-41 may be a good context in which to place the issue.

    Geoffrey Bullock

  20. Agreed, Geoffrey. Stay big-minded Bill and don’t let the hyper-purists get you down. As we well know, the “ecumenical trenches” battling for the sanity of marriage and sanctity of life are disproportionately filled with our Catholic friends; and they love their Lord as much as any of us do.

    Mind you, it doesn’t help when the Sandlin quote merely reinforces misunderstanding. He is wrong that Catholics say “there is ordinarily no salvation outside the Roman communion”; Catholic teaching is clear that baptism into Christ is the mark of salvation, and is (or should be) present in all churches. Sandlin could have looked up s.1271 in the Catechism online and read “Baptism constitutes the foundation of communion among all Christians… Justified by faith in Baptism, they are incorporated into Christ… and with good reason are accepted as brothers by the children of the Catholic Church.” Hmmm… we may find a lot of the cultural trappings of Pope Francis’ South American catholicism odd, and some doctrines bewildering, but the shared basics of baptism and being loved by God are something we all share.

    David van Gend

  21. Jesus made two very interesting comments that shed light on this discussion. At first they seem confusing but start to unpack them and we get all sorts of revelation including about God and ourselves.

    In one place Jesus says “He that is not for Me is against Me”. I find this comment a little scary and causes me to assess my life to see if there are any elements of not being for Him. He alone knows my heart and I rest in His grace.

    In another place He says “He who is not against you is for you”. This is very different and encourages us to take risks even of co-beligerancy with those whose ways and thoughts we might not even understand let alone agree with.

    The question here is two fold. Do we feel safe or threatened? If we feel safe we can readily work with them.

    The other side of the question is more important perhaps and that is; Do we make people feel safe, or feel threatened? If we can hold our moral and theological ground and still enable people to feel safe in our presence, then that is a gift that bears fruit. We can work together.

    Thanks Bill for paying the price that gives the initial and ongoing value to discussions like this. If one is not threatened then one does not use the flight or fight reflex. Instead one can look the other in the eye and get some serious discussion or work done.

    Bruce Knowling

  22. Hi Bill,
    Thanks for the information you provide that gives us insight and understanding as to what is happening on the spiritual front around the world and here in Australia. I fully support you on these issues and am saddened by the unchristian attitudes by those who claim Christ. May our Lord GOD continue to bless and encourage you as you stand in the gap for His name sake.
    Paul Mewhor

  23. Are we talking about a theological issue, a denominational issue, a purity issue, or the issue of saving the lives of innocent babies who have done no wrong.

    I couldn’t give a damn what anyone believes or does not believe if he/she is determined to save babies from being murdered, we are on the same side and the same page.

    What I will say however is that I have yet to attend an evangelical church that is passionate about saving the lives of innocent babies.

    To my way of thinking, that is nothing short of disgraceful.

    Roger Marks

  24. First of all, I am staunchly Protestant. I listened to the new Pope speaking not long after his election, and was impressed by what he had to say. He called on the Priests, Bishops and other clergy to always preach Christ and nothing but Christ. This is a homily that many Protestant Pastors could acknowledge.
    Thanks for the great work you do Bill.
    Joan Davidson

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: