Friday, April 21, 2006

On Blessed Mistakes in Religious Identity

It's been a quiet week at CCU, my hometown. Actually, it's been a quiet life here. Nothing ever changes on The Hill, and when things do change, they all the more stay the same.

One example--well, two really, but two of the same thing--has to do with who in the world this crazy bunch of Christian students, professors, staff and hangers-on actually are. People from the "outside" generally don't manage to work that out. Our double recent examples of this singular phenomenon is/are as follows:

Example one: Clark Pinnock (motto: "Changing My Mind on Significant Positions Since 1965") spoke recently on campus for the Stone-Campbell Journal Conference (an event hosted, not sponsored, by CCU). In this course of his stimulating remarks, he mockingly disparaged himself as a "Baptist" to the "Holiness" group that had invited him.

Example two: Bart Campolo (motto: "Like all Campolos, Finding Ways to Distract People from My Core Message Every Time I Speak") spoke recently on our campus for Urban Concern Week. In two of his messages he referred to our campus as "Charismatic."

SWNID finds these remarks amusing but largely uncontroversial, not only for us personally, but for those others on our campus who attended these events. No one is talking about these gaffes. We don't care much.

It's not that we're actually, in any historical or sociological sense, adherents of a "Holiness" or "Charismatic" denomination, fellowship, or secret society. It's just that our undenominational religious identity is so blessedly easy to get mixed up about, and deliberately so.

The Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement began as an effort to remove denominational boundaries and unite Christians on the authority of Scripture alone. Its most distinctive practices are utterly un-distinctive historically: we dip converts in water in the context of their conversion, and we share the bread and cup as Lord's Supper on the first day of the week, styled the Lord's Day. We call ourselves "Christians" only, but on our best days try not to project the notion that we are "the only Christians."

We are, in a word, generic.

So is it any wonder that we can be confused for other Christian groups? The truth is, we don't want to stand out. Standing out is bad in the SCRM POV. We should relish those moments when our identity is mistaken, for that means that we're succeeding in being Christians only. We are a distinctive group with something distinctive to contribute, but we don't want to be a distinct group.

Or to put it as SWNID friend and fellow Neutestamentler Bob Hull put it awhile back:

I have discovered that it is possible to be evangelistic without being an evangelical; possible to be catholic without being Roman; possible to be orthodox without being Eastern; possible to be mainline without being Protestant; and possible to be congregational without being independent. You have to keep a lot of balls in the air, but I don’t mind.

No comments: