I read this morning an interesting article written in 1991 by Andrew Walker, a British theologian.*
In it he warns of the assault on Christianity that has been modernity and the misguided attempts of Christians who have tried to unite in the midst of this tide on non-Christian grounds — pluralism, New Thought, process theology, existentialism, new agism.
He calls instead for a joining of hands based on the road of the historic mainstream of the Christian church, which he describes this way:
It is the road that stands for the sacredness and truth of the Holy Bible. The road incorporates and is directed by the ancient creeds and the great councils of the early church and by the undivided ecumenical councils of the first millennium of Chistendom, which sought to bear witness to a trinitarian God and the risen Jesus who was both God and man. It is the road of Christian pilgrims everywhere who press on believing in not only a God of miracles and revelation but also one of personal encounter.
While reading this article, I wondered how many United Methodists would reject his call because they reject what he describes as the main road of “mere Christianity.” On the one hand, I cannot imagine rejecting these things and calling myself Christian. On the other hand, I know that people do.
I wondered if there was a way for us to move forward in our deepest divisions by first gathering together everyone who would gladly stand on this road. Before we get down to debating the proper use of genitals and other matters, can we get everyone in the room to agree that we are Christians defined by the marks sketched out by Prof. Walker?
I’m not convinced that all the people in our debates these days would desire to stand on that road. And I wonder if that is a large part of the reason why we cannot figure out ways to live together. But in deference to Prof. Walker, I also wonder if the unity of the Church firmly grounded on this central road requires me to accept the hand of Christians who have a vastly different understanding of Christian moral and ethical life.
If we can say the Nicene Creed together without crossed fingers, if we can sing “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” without engaging in metaphorical translation, and if we can read of Paul’s Damascus Road encounter and the raising of Lazarus without trying to explain them away as psychological reactions or literary tropes, then perhaps we should be able to live in peace with one another and unity against the foes who would tear down Christianity. We will continue as separate churches, but perhaps as one Church.
In these convulsive times, it is a hopeful thought.
*The article was in the April 29, 1991, issue of Christianity Today, for which I do not have an electronic copy that I can share.