About two years ago I was attending a “theological round table” where about 40 pastor/teachers were assembled for three days to discuss the ecclesiology. During one of the sessions a notable theologian, Sam Storms, made the assertion that a person who does not hold to penal subtitutionary atonement is not a Christian in his opinion. (The exact wording was to the effect of “not have table fellowship” which I take to be clearly another way of saying “is not a Christian.”) After picking my jaw off the floor I began to deal with the fact that well known scholar just said I was a heretic, unbeliever or whatever but I wasn’t a Christian. So, in the near future I will begin a series of posts that deal with my understanding atonement and why I do not hold to penal subtitutionary atonement.
Before I end this post though I would like to raise a question regarding the right that one has to exclude people from the Jesus’ table. I have often wondered if we, based on our own understanding of the Scriptures, do not go to far in defining the necessary beliefs that Christians must have.
The main reason I think this is because God, in a his wisdom, did not give us a clear list. Now, of course, many people believe that they can easily derive a list from Scripture but these lists have great variety. Believer’s baptism? How exactly is Jesus God? Inputed righteousness?
I mean, really, do these things matter? Should I allow for Jehovah’s witnesses to call themselves Christian? How about Mormans? It seems like these questions should be answered individually, that is, as we come into contact with each individual. I have met more than one JW who simply cannot understand how the Trinity is derived as a necessary doctrine from Scripture and so they have found their home in the JH church. This does not mean that they believe all of the “official” teachings of their denomination but that they feel more at home with that particular understanding of Jesus. They love God, love their brothers, good works are their purpose, the Scriptures are authoritative to them. So what is the big deal?
I am not saying I think they are correct (or, for that matter, incorrect) I am merely trying to say that proper doctrinal definition and distinction really foundational for the life of a Christian? Is there enough Scriptural evidence to make this claim? I know, I know, I know; there are lines that are drawn in Scripture. But, who gets to draw the lines that Scripture doesn’t draw? In a recent article by an inerrantist I was struck by the logic that is used to defend the Bible’s lack of errors. The thrust of the the rebuttal was that a person has to be so absolutely sure that his interpretation is correct that they can exclude all other possible interpretations. Shouldn’t we, when the life and fellowship of another person is at stake, take this same cautious approach? The Scriptures were given for humanity and humanity for the Scriptures. Right?