In this episode John and Gregg discuss feedback from a listener wanting to understand how to continue being part of / partnering with a church where one holds different views from that church’s? John identifies three questions out of this situation: a) What is the church? b) What is a Christian’s responsibility to the church? c) How can someone be part of the local church in such cases, and how can this be productive?
Gregg suggests that, at its most basic, the church is a gathering together of those who believe that / are considering whether Jesus Christ is the son of God. John’s experience is that this notion is actually very problematic, both because its precise definition is very slippery and because Christians use “church attendance” as a way of judging the validity of other’s faith, which John finds alienating.
In good part due to his negative experiences with church John thus would answer question c) in the negative: for him it simply is not possible to part of a local church where one has significant disagreement with the church’s view on a given matter. Gregg is more optimistic than John, and is so not only because of some of his experiences with church but because he has enough experience and education to be able to navigate the potential difficulties (and disagreements of viewpoints) that he might experience in a church setting.
Gregg notes that Christians need to be aware of why and how much they need to “legitimate” their perspectives, and that this is especially true of ministers or pastors. For instance, often the only way for a minister to legitimate their view (i.e., about a particular doctrine) to a parishoner is to engage with that person over a period of time. Trying to do otherwise (and forcing others to “see thing our way”) places the value of biblical truth over loving one’s neighbour, which ends up hurting and alienating people. For Gregg this is means that Christians must focus on dialogue instead of dispute.
Yet when Gregg suggests that “dialogue,” with respect to this particular listen, could amount to inviting him to instead lead his small group on the issue of dissent, John raises the “fear” that in churches everyone needs to believe the same thing. Gregg questions whether we do all believe the same thing, and suggests that there are few essentials that one needs to believe in order to be considered Christian.
Gregg comes back to this definition of church and re-orients it: Christian church is essentially a group of people who love God entirely and who, out of that relationship with God, are being informed about how to love themselves rightly, and therefore try to love others rightly. Thus the Christian church is a group of people for whom loving God entirely and loving oneself rightly and loving one’s neighbour likewise are the top priorities.