Thanks so much to Jim Sundberg for the fabulous work he did for us at the Great Cities Missions dinner and fundraiser Friday night at the Ballpark in Arlington. The Rangers great showed up with a whole bunch of autographed baseballs and then auctioned them off with great energy and flair. Baseballs signed by perennial All-Stars like Josh Hamilton, Michael Young, and Nelson Cruz each went for between $500 – $750. But the big money item was a ball autographed by both Nolan Ryan and Greg Maddux that brought a whopping $1,600! A night at a Rangers game beats a boring old fundraising banquet any time. But throw in Jim Sundberg auctioning off autographed baseballs and it becomes a spectacular event to never forget. As a kid in Dallas, Sunny was always my all-time favorite Texas Ranger. That spot has now been solidified forever. Thanks, Jim.
I hesitated to review Leroy Garrett’s book “What Must the Church of Christ Do to Be Saved?” chapter by chapter in this space for several reasons. Chief among them is the fact that Garrett is a bit of a lightning rod in our faith heritage. His books and articles challenging us, pushing us, chastising us, have traditionally had polarizing effects. And he can come across to some as overly critical, overly cynical, and too harsh. But, ultimately, I believe the issues he raises in this compilation of essays and the conversations they provoke are way too important. It’s critical. We need to have these conversations.
Garrett’s next suggestion for saving the Churches of Christ for vital Kingdom work in the future is another angle on what is by now a familiar refrain:
We can believe we are right without having to believe everyone else is wrong.
Again, this idea that we in the Churches of Christ believe we are the only ones going to heaven dies hard. I understand not everybody was brought up to believe this. I know not every Church of Christ preacher and elder has always made this claim. But it is the way I was raised. In fact, recent conversations in my own extended family have confirmed that this position is still held quite firmly in many of our churches. I’m regularly asked by sincere and well-meaning Church of Christ brothers and sisters, “If we’re no better than the other churches, then why should we even exist?”
The thinking goes that if we surrender our claim to exclusive truth we forfeit our right to exist. If we are right — and we do believe we are — then everyone else must be wrong. If we are true and faithful Christians, then those who are different from us are not.
It is one thing for us to believe in absolute truth, which we all do since we believe in God, but it is something much different for us to presume that we have an absolute understanding of that truth. Truth is absolute; our grasp of truth is relative. One sobering truth speaks to that: “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known (1 Corinthians 13:12). So, we can surrender our claim to exclusive truth (only we have all the truth) and still believe in absolute truth (which is a reality that is beyond our perfect understanding).
On the face of it, we are forced to conclude that we must abandon our claim to exclusive truth in order to be an authentic people. We have no right to exist believing that we and we only have the truth. We must admit that we are both fallible and finite, that we, like everyone else, are wrong about some things and ignorant about other things.
And yet we can believe, in common with all Christians, that we have found many precious truths that we live for and would die for.
I’m reminded of those powerful passages in 1 Corinthians 8-10 that speak to our so-called knowledge. These passages outline very clearly the mindset and attitude we are to have as we consider our own understandings of the Gospel as they relate to beliefs and practices:
“Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know.” (8:1-2)
“We put up with anything rather than hinder the Gospel of Christ.” (9:12)
“I make myself a slave to everyone to win as many as possible.” (9:19)
“I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.” (9:22)
“Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.” (10:24)
A claim that we alone know everything there is to know about the will of God and that we alone have everything figured out and that we alone are doing everything right, or at least better and more faithfully than everyone else, goes completely counter to the above passages in 1 Corinthians and, honestly, against the whole of Scripture and the Spirit of Christ.
And, again, I’ll go back to our misunderstanding and misapplication of grace. If we ever actually comprehend that our righteous relationship with God is not a matter of our “rightness” or our worship practices or our baptism or communion theology, but a matter of surrendering to God’s merciful love and grace, we will quickly abandon our exclusive claim to salvation truth. Instead, we will praise God for his boundless mercy. We will then claim only to be a people who are continually seeking the truth as it’s revealed in Jesus. And we’ll eagerly join all those disciples of other traditions and different heritage as equals in seeking and understanding that truth together.