Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Inconsequential Ideology: A Bifurcation of Beliefs

Inconsequential IdeologyIn this day in age we are told to be “moderates”, “bi-partisans”, “independents”, “open-minded”, “tolerant” among other synonyms that all boil down to being a compromiser. Ideas become nothing but mere opinions to be accepted or rejected with no more validity than the next.
If you adhere strongly to an ideology you will quickly be labeled “extreme”, “partisan”, “rigid”, “close-minded”, “intolerant”, perhaps even “mean-spirited”. Ideology becomes irrelevant & inconsequential in the face of so many ecumenicists. Sure, people will wear their ideals like a boyscout patch but hardly will they ever push their propositions beyond the comfort zone. Be it political or theological ideology it seems the days when ideals meant things is gone. We are left with vague concepts that speak from the “heart” -- as if the heart & mind are disconnected.
One of the most often used examples of why we Christians should be ecumenical in our dealings with other people who advocate & support false doctrine while calling on the name of Christ is the relationship of George Whitefield & John Wesley.
For a little background, Whitefield & Wesley were Methodist preachers in the mid-1700s. While Whitefield followed in the Protestant & Reformed theology which advocated God's predestination of believers & grace, Wesley adopted the Arminian concept of man's freewill & only God's foreknowledge but not fore-ordination of believers. Perhaps this would not have caused such a problem except that as Whitefield went to America to preach, he left his ministry in England to Wesley & Wesley's brother Charles.
To make matters worse Wesley planned to publish a sermon against predestination. Whitefield wrote Wesley privately saying:
"I hear, honoured sir, you are about to print a sermon on predestination. It shocks me to think of it; what will be the consequences but controversy? If people ask me my opinion, what shall I do? I have a critical part to act, God enable me to behave aright! Silence on both sides will be best. It is noised abroad already, that there is a division between you and me. Oh, my heart within me is grieved

Perhaps Whitefield should have welcomed the publication. The truth ought not recoil in the face of lies...especially if the motive is just to “keep the peace”. Indeed, the Bible says “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.” (Rom 12:18) But people take verses like these & make it pointless to speak anything of your beliefs. The moment a proposition of any sort is put forth, that proposition must be assessed & accepted, rejected, or ignored. There is always a risk of “unpeace”. So if we understand verses like these to always apply to propositional beliefs, the only way we can assure living peaceably with all men as depends upon us is to either say nothing or say it in such a vague manner than no offense could be taken. This seems to be the course Whitefield wanted to take. He believed in predestination but did not desire any confrontation on the matter – in effect making the ideology inconsequential. Now, I don't want to detract from Whitefield but his relationship with Wesley is not a good example of Rom 12:18 but rather an example of Isa 5:20
Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; Who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!
Whitefield continued to appeal for peace over truth, as he wrote another letter to Wesley begging him not to publish the sermon:
"Dear, honoured sir, if you have any regard for the peace of the church, keep in your sermon on predestination. But you have cast a lot. Oh! my heart, in the midst of my body, is like melted wax. The Lord direct us all!

Despite the appeals, Wesley published the sermon, entitled “Free Grace” . Wesley invokes the typical emotional disclaimers, trying to blunt & disarm any response before they are even made:
Should any believe it his duty to reply hereto, I have only one request to make, -- Let whatsoever you do, be done inherently, in love, and in the spirit of meekness. Let your very disputing show that you have "put on, as the elect of God, bowel of mercies, gentleness, longsuffering; "that even according to this time it may be said, "See how these Christians love one another!"
As if anyone daring to call into question Wesley's propositions would be by default “unloving” & claiming he is “going to hell” (the typical rant by ecumenicists). So much for that “love” while Whitefield privately, repeatedly plead with Wesley not to publish the sermon. Wesley's ignoring those pleas seems to invalidate his claim he “dare not speak of "the deep things of God" in the spirit of a prize-fighter or a stage-player” since he most certainly was throwing down the theological gauntlet but trying to stifle any real critique from his critics.
Before replying Whitefield continued his sacrifice of doctrine to unity as exampled by this sentence from another correspondence with Wesley. Whitefield said:
"How would the cause of our common Master suffer by our raising disputes about particular points of doctrines!" . . . "For Christ's sake, let us not be divided amongst ourselves"

I wonder when it is ever right in the mind of Whitefield to speak about “particular points of doctrine”? Since doctrine by nature divides. No wonder we have reached a point where even many so-called Reformed Christians are seeking compromise & appeasement over truth. It is one thing to purposely go out & stir up division it is another to speak up boldly against false-doctrines & to even forcefully point out those who have a pattern of advocating false doctrines (Eph 5:11). No, this doesn't necessarily mean we say they are “bound for hell”. That will show through their fruits & even then let God decide such things – yet it is still our obligation to “call evil evil & good good” -- even if we ourselves are engaging in “evil” we must call it evil & repent of it, not justify it or ignore it, or claim no one's perfect.
The irony in Whitefield's desire to avoid division at all costs is two-fold. One, despite Whitefield's reluctance to respond to Wesley, it was said that England “set to disputing” -- mainly because the Protestantism the flourished was synonymous with Reformed principles. Wesley's introduction of his Arminianism was the cause of division. Perhaps had it been forcefully met, it would have been put to silence before all of the division. Secondly, the Bible itself tells us what causes real division is not merely dispute over doctrine but when a person comes with speculations not based on Scripture & the traditions of the apostles. (Rom 16:17-18 & 2 Thes 2:15). It was Wesley's departure from Scripture & the traditions of the apostles that was causing the division & dispute.
Eventually, Whitefield did respond but by that time it was too late, Wesley had completely destroyed the solid Reformed ministry Whitefield had bequeathed to Wesley & turned it into an opportunity to advance the Arminian view over England, which would soon spread in force to America.
Lastly, we are often pointed by the ecumenicists among us to the fact the Wesley preached a Whitefield's funeral. We are supposed to take away from this the great overarching bond of “love” Christians should have for one another no matter their doctrinal differences. We are treated to even more inconsequentializing of ideology, a bifurcation of beliefs on the level of making it useless. Sometimes I wonder why we should ever claim, “I believe....” since it is pointless in this environment; an syncretistic environment fostered by people calling themselves Christians nonetheless. Why don't we just keep our beliefs to ourselves if they are nothing more than opinions. I don't really care to hear your opinions & mine are no better.
Where is Whitefield's apology to Christians everywhere for first, letting Wesley & his brother take over the ministry he started in England, secondly for waiting so long to reply that the error was dug-in & pervasive. The old saying, an “ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” seems very fitting in the Whitefield-Wesley saga, especially now as we even have so-called Reformed Christians pointing to this saga as an example relationship. Really? We see the consequences of delaying calling “evil evil”, yet they applaud that course as the “gracious” course? Rather, let us hold fast to the traditions of Christ & the apostles & oppose the smooth words of friends & foes alike. It is certainly both “nothing personal” AND “everything personal” when it comes to our ideology...our very belief in Christ.
and ‘a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.’ He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. -- Mt 10:36-38
If this is true about people of a person's own household, how much more is this true for those who call “friends”? Perhaps if Whitefield would have dwelled upon this text he would have realized that the matter should have been handled much differently, in a way worthy of love for Christ, above Whitefield's relationship with Wesley.

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