Liberals and Conservatives in the Church

I’m writing today to offer insight into a deeply dividing issue among Christians today. I see two distinct sects (There are probably more than this, but for the sake of argument lets go ahead and reduce it to two) within the Church today; I’ll call them liberals and conservatives.

Now these classifications, like the argument they’re going to support, are more for the sake of simplifying terms than for accurately identifying specific people within the church. Let us now, if only for the next 400 words, break free from preconceived notions about what these words typically mean. Perhaps after further description you might even see yourself more in one camp than in the other.

In this case, the conservative is one who sees The World as a list of things Christians ought not do, and sees the Bible as a list of things Christians can do.

On the other hand, the liberal is one who sees The Bible as a list of things Christians can’t do, and sees The World as a list of things Christians should be able to do.

Where might you fall between these two definitions? Perhaps you see some of yourself in both, which is all right. I believe we all inherently lean more toward one than the other, so I might ask you to narrow down your own personality a bit further. Some people may see these categories and their definitions as comical, but in a way they are all too true; and each camp has something to learn from the other.

There comes to my mind a relevant passage in Colossians, in which Paul seems to address things of this nature:

And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of your Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. (Colossians 3:17)

TO THE CONSERVATIVE

This is truly a great call to worship. Paul commands believers to glorify God, and give thanks in everything we do. This is a beautiful truth, but perhaps there is more than just one meaning to this text. I would call your attention specifically to the first line; look at what Paul says: do everything. Now, obviously there are conditions along with this, namely that all things should be done in an attitude of worship. However, there is no limitation placed on the things we can or cannot do. Paul doesn’t seem to care as much about the specifics of what we do, just the attitude with which those things are done. I believe there are many things a conservative might immediately condemn that can actually be used as a means for glorifying God.   I pray this can open our eyes to the reality that Jesus doesn’t call us to live with our heads in the sand, but invites us to live a testimony of His grace and mercy as we walk among a fallen world.

TO THE LIBERAL

This may seem uncomfortably religious to some, but this is one of the simpler commands in the Bible. We are called to do everything in the name of Jesus. Now, before we read this as a free pass to participate in the sinful pleasures of the world, let’s remember Paul’s stipulation. Is it possible to sin in Jesus’ name? We could try it, but that’s what we commonly refer to as hypocrisy; something God does not take lightly. I pray that the liberal might recognize that while all things are redeemed in Jesus, not all things are productive for becoming more like Him. Being a follower of Jesus doesn’t inherently mean you can continue to do whatever you want. There are in fact things Jesus specifically tells us not to do (A master list of these things can be found in the Bible).

I hope that this could be helpful to you as we navigate a world of lines that grow increasingly blurry.  We all as Christians are united in a single pursuit: to bring glory to the One who made and redeemed us.  May this always be the greatest joy and desire of our hearts.

2 Comments

  1. HERE WE GO
    I think it’s problematic that you are asking your audience to immediately polarize society and then pit themselves against one of the two sides. I also do not think your definition of “liberal” makes sense. What do you mean by the Bible contains things that they cannot do? Many liberals still believe that the Bible is divinely inspired and contains some authority (though possibly less than conservatives give it). Equally I do not fully understand how the world contains what liberals believe they should be able to do.
    I feel like it’s also risky to telescope a Pauline verse out of its context to support your argument. We have to understand the slant Paul has because it will dismiss authority for a lot of people because Paul was a Roman citizen and so encouraging a submitting to authority is always going to be a bias Paul writes with. To write to both conservatives and liberals and only use the Bible as your supporting evidence forces your audience to consider the Bible as an ultimate authority on their lives which as you put early on, liberals do not have this perception of the Bible.
    Now some Jesus thoughts. Do you think “follower of Jesus” and “Christian” are synonymous? How so? How do you think they might be different? Continuing with Jesus and biblical authority, does Jesus actually tell “us” people living 2000 years after his life to not do things? Could it be that Jesus was actually speaking just to the people he was speaking to? Did Jesus even say everything he is quoted with in the Gospels? A lot of research has been done that believes that the writers of the Gospels and other Biblical texts have manipulated their platforms in order to maintain or sustain power.

    ANYWAYS THOSE ARE MY THOUGHTS LET ME KNOW WHAT YOU THINK! MAYBE WE CAN BE BETTER FOR THE COMMUNITIES WE SERVE BECAUSE OF OUR DIALOGUES.

    1. Hey Colby, thanks for your thoughts! I honestly enjoy and value the debate in all of this. Here are three things that may be helpful in clarifying some of my ideas and addressing your concerns:

      1. When you talk about liberals and conservatives, you seem to be speaking in terms of (I think) the theological spectrum. On your assessment of both sides’ treatment of scripture, I think I’d agree with you; but these are not the people about which I’m writing. “These classifications, like the argument they’re going to support, are more for the sake of simplifying terms than for accurately identifying specific people within the church. Let us now, if only for the next 400 words, break free from preconceived notions about what these words typically mean.” My goal in writing this qualification was to make clear that I was not speaking of liberals and conservatives in the context of politics or theology, but in a hypothetical category that I myself created. So these two sides, liberal and conservative, are merely opposite ends of the spectrum of Biblical interpretation (and not a formally recognized spectrum) that I outlined in their respective definitions. In this hypothetical generalization, both sides affirm biblical authority, the distinction is merely in whether they view the Bible as freeing or limiting.

      2. What you call “telescoping” is in fact the end result of careful study and evaluation on my part. Though you’re right about Paul’s Judeo-Roman biases, I don’t find them critically at play here, insofar as they might detract from my argument. The choice to only include one verse rather than, say, the whole chapter was intentional; not to weaken the text or bend it toward the argument, but to express complex ideas in fewer words. In my opinion, Colossians 3:17 does an excellent job of eloquently and succinctly outlining one of Paul’s larger themes from Colossians: An emphasis on faith that is rooted in Christ and is fundamentally set apart from the sinful nature of the world. (Colossians 1:21-23; 2:6-23; 3:1-17 for reference)

      3. My personal belief is in the inerrancy of Scripture. I believe that the Bible is a collection of texts written by fallible human authors who, through the miraculous power of God, produced a work that is without error (honestly don’t have time to talk about that further, but my argument is far more nuanced than this and I promise I’ve spent many hours studying it. We can get coffee sometime and talk about it). So there are certainly different voices from author to author, each with a unique audience, but my commitment to Biblical authority/inerrancy is not founded upon any of the human authors. It stems from the divine inspiration that led to this collection of texts.

      To answer some of your questions briefly, yes in this case I’m treating the word “Christian” to mean one who is born again and believes that the Bible is the authoritative word of God. Yes Jesus’ teachings are relevant today, though they require wise interpretation (which is why there are so many church denominations!) and should be read with a healthy understanding of first century culture. The issue of Jesus’ exact quotations is irrelevant under the scope of Biblical inerrancy. Whether He was quoted directly or paraphrased does not discredit the inerrancy of the whole text, which, in conjunction with my trinitarian theology, would actually suggest that Jesus said every word in the Bible, not just the red stuff.

      Hope those are helpful in clarifying why and how I wrote this article. Luv you a latte.

      -Josh

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