The Wrong (not the Rite) of Excommunication

Since the Reformation it has become part of the landscape of the Church that whenever a group of Christians disagree with each other strongly enough the idea comes up that either the group/church/denomination should split, kick out the minority who disagree, or mutually anathematize each other and head off in different directions each declaring that they, the small cohesive group, now represent the One True Church and all the rest are infidels.

This kind of dividing of the body of Christ began with the east and west split between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches, it widened with the Reformation as we divided into more and more groups under the broad label of Protestants. And, it has continued very much so in the US with denominational bodies splitting into smaller and smaller splinters.

There have been counter movements to reunite the Church in different ways through national and world councils. In the 1960s we saw mergers such as the creation of the United Methodist Church and the United Church of Christ bringing together kindred bodies into one family of faith.

But with the rise of the religious right in US we have seen now an accelerating movement towards again breaking up the body of Christ into smaller and small pieces.

This week I ran across an article by Al Mohler, the President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, who is most definitely a leader among fundamentalist Baptists who is declaring that not only do conservative and liberal Christians have different views on issues in our society such as differing understands about sexuality, marriage, Biblical interpretation etc. But those Christians who disagree with Dr. Mohler are actually in a different religion. That they (“they” means me and most of you by the way) are not really Christians.

Here is the short article for your reading.

Well what has happened here is that Mohler has followed what has now become the Christian tradition of promoting division and excommunication in the name of purity as a way to solve almost any larger difference that confronts the Church.

Now while I will admit that if we look at enough history and enough historic Church splits there may be a few times when such a split became unavoidable, I don’t believe the Scriptures or Christ Himself support the notion that the Church is supposed to be divided. And, I would contend, that when we divide we are usually failing our faith, failing the Church, and failing the command of Christ that we should be one. That faith that the Apostle Paul declared to be “one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all.”

United Methodists and many other Churches are confronting difficult and divisive issues around the changes in our culture, around sexuality and how we will minister to people who are different than we are, and how we will treat those in the Church that disagree with us.

The temptation is to simply divide, or worse, even declare the other side to be unChristian or Non-Christian and thereby chop up the body of Christ into smaller and smaller less effective, less meaningful, and less open pieces.

But the world is watching us. Young and old people inside and outside the Church are watching us. Gay people and straight people are watching us. People in need of grace, love and forgiveness are watching us.

They are watching to see if we really love each other and them, if Christians who claim to be light bearers and tellers of good news will continue to love their own sisters and brothers in the Church or if we will break up the family again in the name of being right or righteous (neither of which human beings can claim.)

And if we do split our denominations and our churches again, many will decide that the entire faith of Jesus Christ was nothing but a sham and that being right or getting our way was more important to us than God’s love.

As much as I might be more comfortable if Al Mohler and I were in “different religions” and as much as Dr. Mohler appears to want that to be the truth, Christ is the head the Church and Christ will decide who is “in” and who is “out.”

My suspicion is that Jesus will welcome many many more into the feast of the lamb than any of the rest of us would have been comfortable inviting. But then he always preferred the company of sinners over the company of the Self Righteous.