Mondays with MacDonald (to open-minded, liberal believers)

by Steve Douglas

June 11th, 2012 | 1 Comment

Now, the one main fault in the Christian Church is separation, repulsion, recoil between the component particles of the Lord’s body. I will not, I do not care to inquire who is more to blame than another in the evil fact. I only care to insist that it is the duty of every individual man to be innocent of the same. One main cause, perhaps I should say the one cause of this deathly condition, is that whereto we had, we did not, whereto we have attained, we do not walk by that.

Ah, friends! do not now think of thy neighbor. Do not applaud my opinion as just from what thou hast seen around thee, but answer it from thy own being, thy own behavior. Dost thou ever feel thus toward thy neighbor, “Yes, of course, every man is my brother; but how can I be a brother to him so long as he thinks me wrong in what I believe, and so long as I think he wrongs in his opinions the dignity of the truth?” What, I return, has the man no hand to grasp, no eyes into which yours may gaze far deeper than your vaunted intellect can follow? Is there not, I ask, anything in him to love? Who asks you to be of one opinion? It is the Lord who asks you to be of one heart. Does the Lord love the man? Can the Lord love, where there is nothing to love? Are you wiser than he, inasmuch as you perceive impossibility where he has failed to discover it?

Or will you say, “Let the Lord love where he pleases: I will love where I please”? or say, and imagine you yield, “Well, I suppose I must, and therefore I will,– but with certain reservations, politely quiet in my own heart”? Or wilt thou say none of all these things, but do them all, one after the other, in the secret chambers of thy proud spirit?

If you delight to condemn you are a wounder, a divider of the oneness of Christ. If you pride yourself on your loftier vision, and are haughty to your neighbor, you are yourself a division and have reason to ask: “Am I a particle of the body at all?” The Master will deal with thee upon the score. Let it humble thee to know that thy dearest opinion, the one thou dost worship as if it, and not God, were thy Saviour, this very opinion thou art doomed to change, for it cannot possibly be right, if it work in thee for death and not for life.

George MacDonald (from his guest sermon to a Unitarian congregation in London, 1879)

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Ouch.

Or, if I were to yield up my pride to express the true extent to which these words convicted me, “YEEOUCH!”

I believe I have been granted – and I do not think it’s prideful to admit it – a rather large share of empathy with those who believe differently than I do; I credit my father’s example for that gift, and credit the gift for my having ever been able to entertain the theological changes in opinion that have so changed me in recent years. I have sought on this blog to bring all involved in Christianity’s conservative and liberal wars to understand the opposing view, and if not that, at least to love and treat with respect those who hold it. But even that larger than average share is not enough: MacDonald nails me dead to rights (which is why I keep coming back to him).

It’s not enough to try to convince ourselves that we love our much mistaken brothers and sisters despite their flaws: we must be passionately devoted to them, even at the dreaded risk of being mistaken for one of them. We must stand up and be associated with them whenever they speak and do what is right without fearing of being branded as “one of those people,” and inasmuch as they are the victims of the sicknesses of awful theology or attitudes, they are that much more in need of our compassion and attendance at their bedsides, holding their hands in prayer for their recovery.

I can’t begin to prescribe – any more than I can foresee – the various practical ways this radical ecumenicism can be realized in our interactions. It cannot always mean shutting our mouths, and it can never mean pretending not to be concerned for bad behavior or harmful beliefs on the part of these, whom we imagine as our theological adversaries. But, I warrant, we’ll know it when we see it, provided we have continuously ensure in each of our own hearts that we are always pursuing the “more excellent way” of Christian love for those opponents. A passion for their well-being, which will be manifested by their well-behaving, should be our very central driving motivation. And above all, we should not be satisfied with anything about our own ethics or theology until we have disciplined our haughty, learned souls into their true place: that of loving siblings to all of the children of our Father.

Any belief of mine – however true- that I allow to get in between me and my brother will leave me subject to the purgative fires of God’s hell until it is put in its proper place. I apologize to all of my “theological adversaries,” from creationists, to penal substitution advocates, to apologists for “disturbing divine behavior” in the Old Testament, right down to Calvinists – yes, even them! – for loving my “better” beliefs more than I have loved you. God forgive me for that.

Thanks, brother George, for the reminder.

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June 11th, 2012

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  • StevenGarmon

    Well said. I too feel my theological beliefs creating a gap between fellow brothers I disagree with. It’s definitely something I need to pray about and work on. Thanks for the post.

    By the way, I was not too familiar with MacDonald before reading your blog. But now I have become quite intrigued with his thoughts and I plan on ordering some of his collected writings soon. Thanks again Steve!