Sorry for my recent absence from CHT. I was on vacation and away from internet access for a week.
This is a follow-up to my previous post on this subject.
Currently the tab for the application process at the Baldwin Liberty Church Project website is not functioning. I just sent them an e-mail asking when they think it might be working because I am seriously interested in trying to launch such a project in my area. I have made a few inquiries to guage potential interest. I have been giving this a lot of thought, and I see this as a project that has a lot of promise, but is also frought with potential peril.
First of all, I am currently happily churched in a healthy and active church. I have some theological disagreements with the church’s statement of faith, but not so much that I am overwhelmingly uncomfortable there. We have many good friends there. Most importantly, my wife and kids are happy there, and I am sure would resist a major change. I foresee myself initially as engaging this project in addition to my regular church attendence. That is why I prefer the concept of a “fellowship” as opposed to a church initially. Also, I like the idea of having the service on Sunday afternoon, as they do in Montana, which I suspect is at least partially intended to accommodate such dual congregants.
Second, I am not crazy about the heavy focus on the concept of “Biblical Natural Law” and “liberty.” Biblical Natural Law is both a theologically and philosophically problematic formulation and is arguably an oxymoron. And I don’t believe that the Bible’s focus is “liberty” nearly as much as it is obedience to God’s law. But this is a subject for a separate thread. That said, I am sure Chuck Baldwin is no libertine or antinomian, and I suspect this formulation is largely intended to appeal to a certain segment of the “liberty movement” that isn’t also hostile to Christianity and traditional morality. It’s just theologically and philosophically confused.
If I am involved in launching such a project, I would be very weary about poaching people who are already churched in other healthy, doctrinally sound churches. Therefore, I believe the initial focus for building a healthy fellowship would have to be on devout Christians who are currently unchurched for principled reasons, most likely the tax exempt issue. Building by bringing in the unchurched and new converts would likely have to follow the establishment of a healthy core. So you would have a small pool to draw from to begin with, and let’s be honest, one that is potentially filled with a disproportionate number of malcontents and outliers. As I commented in my first post, strong leadership will be essential to make this work right.
Those concerns stated, here is what I see as potentially promising. As I said above, I have some theological disagreements with my current church. But one reason I remain there is because I would almost certainly have theological disagreements with any church I might join. (Our Catholic friends would say that is a fundamental problem with Protestantism, but again, that is for another thread.) For the record, you can relax. I am orthodox (small o) in my beliefs and certainly do not reject any of the fundamentals of the Faith (the Trinity, the Virgin Birth, etc.). It is on some non-essentials that I have a hodgepodge of beliefs that I believe reflect the Bible but don’t usually come as a whole. (Some things I don’t so much disbelieve outright as I just don’t see that the Bible is definitive enough on the subject to be dogmatic about. The subjects of church government and end times come to mind)
Theology tends to come in packages. You have your Reformed. You have your Wesleyan. You have your Baptistic. Etc. For example, while I reject turning the political concept of separation of church and state into a theological dogma, as my own Baptists do, which might otherwise tend me toward the Reformed tradition, I reject the infant baptism and sacraments as a “means of grace” that comes with that package. As far as I know, there is no package that incorporates all my beliefs. So what is a Christian such as I to do?
As I indicated in my first post, I like the concept of a Christian fellowship united on the fundamentals (which IMO includes basically the historic creeds plus Protestant soteriology), but which allows wide latitude on the nonessential secondary issues. This shows humility that we acknowledge that we really don’t have it all figured out, and allows for sincere Christians to embrace membership without reservations if they don’t fit into a specific theological package.
I was once a part of a model such as this when I attended chapel in the military. I would not recommend this alternative all the time because much depends on the Chaplain, but we had a theologically sound Chaplain. The Sunday School and Bible studies that we had were some of the best I have ever participated in. They were not echo chambers. We had serious discussions about issues from a variety of theological standpoints.
But my main reason for hoping to see a “Baldwin Church” established in my area, is because I feel really strongly about the 501c3 issue, and I think it is important enough to take precedence over many other theological and practical concerns. A church that voluntarily allows itself to be censored by the State is arguably guilty of idolatry as it is allowing something to come between it and the whole proclamation of God’s Word. While the charge of idolatry is likely unhelpfully argumentative, it does indicate the seriousness of the issue at hand. People should be judged in the context of the milieu they are in, and since 501c3 status is currently the norm, I don’t want to be overly harsh. Many people who participate in such mean well and likely don’t know the alternative, but the current state of affairs is very misguided to say the least. As I said in my first post, churches should be non-taxable as opposed to tax exempt. As I understand it, this was essentially the state of affairs before the relatively recent development of the 501c3 status. But also as I said in my first post, since 501c3 status is normative these days, unincorporated churches are potentially wild cards, both theology wise and membership wise. As far as I know, we have only one unincorporated church in my area, but it is a Reconstructionist church so it comes with the whole Reformed package. Having a theologically sound but less doctrinally exclusive alternative would be a blessing IMO.
This post has essentially been me thinking out loud, so I would appreciate your thoughts and feedback. Thanks.