Written by Dr. Todd Mangum
Wednesday, 25 April 2012 00:00
The church where I am a member and erstwhile elder is fundamentalist in background. About ten years ago, when Biblical Seminary took “the missional turn,” our church did, too.
As a church, we’ve been working at what it means to recognize, understand, and, perhaps most importantly, live out the missional character of God. One ministry we’ve taken up over the last five years is a ministry to the homeless; as part of this ministry, we have now joined “the Interfaith Hospitality Network” (see http://www.homelessfamilies.org/).
Now, this would have been impossible for our church 20 years ago. We were a “separatist” church, meaning we could not fellowship in any way, much less partner in ministry together, with another church that differed from us so significantly in doctrinal convictions. Four years ago, we started our homeless ministry by serving as a “buddy church” with a neighbor church less than a mile from us.
That church was a “United Church of Christ” church. One of their pastors is a woman (our church does not ordain women), and it’s part of a denomination that has a well-known reputation for “liberalism” – faulty doctrine and less-than-solid stances on social issues, too, from a conservative evangelical perspective.
Let me just clarify here: I still think our church’s doctrinal commitments are superior to this church’s. I would not, to this day, want to trade our church’s doctrinal convictions for theirs – and being missional does not require such a “trade,” either! “Missional ecumenism” is different (better) than the “old ecumenism” on this point, for which I am glad.
But here’s the thing: our church just got started on this ministry to the homeless four years ago. That “liberal” church, with which we were partnering as “junior learner church,” had by then already been doing this ministry for more than a decade. Speaking just for myself, I frankly did not know before participating in this ministry that there were enough homeless people in the Souderton-Telford area (where I live) to even justify such a ministry; much less that there were so many as to strain the resources of a dozen or more churches in our area joining together to try to meet the need!
I don’t have to think about that long before I’m forced to contemplate once again how our focuses, time and energy align with what is most important to God. I have searched in vain for anything that suggests that, on Judgment Day, the number one concern God will have is doctrinal correctness. I have yet to find even a single judgment described in Scripture that has a doctrinal test as the criterion.
Matthew 25:31-46 is very clear, though, in what will distinguish a sheep from a goat in the judgment described there. And, it has nothing to do with doctrinal adherence – in fact, the people involved, as described there, are not even cognizant of the significance of their action (or inaction). The criteria in that passage consist of things like, did you feed the hungry? did you take care of the stranger, did you house the homeless, shelter the indigent, give clothes to the poor? What about those in prison – did you ever even visit them?
What if things like that turn out to be what is most important to God? I can’t help but think that, if Matthew 25 criteria turn out to be the standard of judgment on judgment day, will “liberal Christians” (and I can say, “despite their liberalism,” rather than “because of their liberalism,” but still: will they) end up faring better than “fundamentalist Christians” on Judgment Day? Merging Matthew 25 with Matthew 23, will Jesus end up saying to fundamentalists and recovering fundamentalists (like me), “Good that you tithed your doctrinal mint and cumin, but you really should have tended first and foremost to these weightier matters – and it’s not that you had to neglect the other, either, to do so”? . . .
Todd Mangum is the Academic Dean and Professor of Theology at Biblical. He is ordained by the Southern Baptist Convention. Todd is the author of The Dispensational-Covenantal Rift, and of several articles seeking to bridge divides among Bible-believing Christians. He is married to Linda and they have three sons. See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/todd-mangum