>Although I am quite unfamiliar with the infamous “Godblog wars” that Jeff addressed in a well-articulated post last week, his thoughts on that subject stirred up some thoughts regarding the tendency in our culture to brand and commodify everything, including the Gospel.
Jeff described the phenomenon in the Godblog wars by which factions develop around certain ideas, and more often around a certain zealous and charismatic (a description of one’s personality, not theology) individual. Then, as Jeff describes it, “fanboys” rally around “their guy” and basically become proponents of his ideas, seeking to spread those ideas to as many people as possible and defending them from anyone who questions or criticizes them. In essence, they become disciples of that individual or group’s brand of the Gospel. What is worse, they grow myopic and begin to view their group’s brand as the only legitimate one.
Observing a similar pattern throughout the Church in general, I’ve been amazed and saddened at the number of people I’ve met who can enthusiastically parrot what their leader or group of choice says about the Gospel but have no idea how that view squares with the Bible. It’s too much trouble to do the heavy homework like the Bereans, so they go with whichever brand of the Gospel most appeals to their consumerist mentality, which usually means the brand that has the most engaging spokesman or presents the message in the newest and sexiest way.
And this is far from being a new trend. Paul was compelled to address a similar situation in his first epistle to the Corinthian believers:
”Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment. For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe’s people, that there are quarrels among you.” [I love the irony that Paul was informed of the presence of factions by what appears to be a faction! Of course, it must have been a rather non-antagonistic faction, as no self-respecting fanboy would be caught dead in a group called “Chloe’s people.”]”Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, ‘I am of Paul,’ and ‘I of Apollos,’ and ‘I of Cephas,’ and ‘I of Christ.’ Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized into the name of Paul?” (1 Corinthians 1:10-13)
Imagine the scene. The young church at Corinth was genuinely seeking to impact that notoriously wicked city with the Gospel. And in the context of doing so, divisions arose. I don’t know if these divisions were over significant theological differences (I’m inclined to believe they weren’t, otherwise Paul would have addressed the bad theology, wouldn’t he?), or if they were simply the result of our human tendency to gravitate towards and follow people that we like. The context seems to indicate that the factions may have had something to do with who people were baptized by. If so, this statement from Paul must have been a stinging rebuke to the factious Corinthian believers: “For Christ did not send me to baptize [to initiate into a particular group], but to preach the gospel.” Regardless of the root, the result was that the Body of Christ began to fragment, which had a stifling effect upon the spread of the Gospel in that city.
I’m not suggesting that there is no room for differences in theology or for arguing those differences. The fact that we all see “as in a mirror dimly,” as Jeff pointed out, means that none of us can make a claim to having a monopoly on the understanding of truth. It follows, then, that rigorous debate is one of the best ways for us to mutually refine our understanding of truth. However, when we become so committed to a particular brand of doctrine that we cannot recognize that it is simply that, one of many brands, then any such debate becomes disingenuous and unfruitful. When we are more committed to defending a brand of doctrinal belief than we are to mutually growing in our understanding of truth, we cease to be partners in the Gospel of Truth and are reduced to being competing salesmen of a mere religious commodity.
When this happens, it not only has an adverse effect on the spread of the Gospel. It reveals a profound spiritual immaturity in those who so rigidly cling to their brand. Speaking in this same context of divisions in the church, Paul wrote:
”And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men? For when one says, ‘I am of Paul,’ and another, ‘I am of Apollos,’ are you not mere men? What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one.” (1 Corinthians 3:1-5)
Brothers and sisters, let us strive to be distinguished not as defenders of a particular brand of doctrine, but as “servants” through whom many will believe in the glorious Gospel of Christ as the Lord gives opportunity to each one.