"Every generation of Christians is obligated to wrestle with theological controversy." -Rowan Greer
Professor Greer illustrated this truth by taking his students on a semester-long tour of the Church's fiercest and most important fights.
Along the way, he constantly reminded us that Church History is the record of Christian communities and individuals at conflict with the world, and Christian communities and individuals at conflict with each other.
The first major Christian controversy can be found in the New Testament. Right off the bat, Peter and Paul engaged in a dispute that threatened to divide the early Church. The apostles' argument revolved around this question: "Who can be saved? Is Jesus' message only for Jews (Peter's position) or is it for all people (Paul's position)?"
In fact, our argument about the Trinity resulted in the biggest church split of all time-The East-West Schism of 1054. This was one nasty church fight, and, in the year 1000, every culture, every village around the Mediterranean was talking about it. According to Greer, if you went to draw water at the village well, you would inevitably find yourself in a heated argument about the nature of the Trinity.
Really? People were that passionate about the Trinity? If I walked into Central Park right now, and tried-really tried-to engage passers-by in a debate over the nature of the Triune God, not only would I fail to connect, but you would likely see me on the six o'clock news in cuffs!
Times change. What can get one generation of Christians foaming at the mouth can become a (yawn!) non-issue for the next. You might think this fact would bring an end to hot button debates, but it doesn't. That's ok. Our most passionate debates keep us wrestling with what matters. These controversies are our way of asking-again and again-a set of basic but crucial questions:
- How do we read the Bible?
- How do we know God's will?
- Who is Jesus and what does it mean to follow him?
- What kind of ethical behavior does God require of us?
- What holds Christian community together?
For the past 40 years, Christians in North America have been asking these five questions in relation to human sexuality. In particular, Presbyterians are asking these questions as they discuss an especially current question, "Is Same Sex Marriage, Christian Marriage?"...
I have every confidence that we (clergy, congregation and guests) will be able to engage this conversation in a way that considers the issue and that models a faith shaped by and focused on Jesus. I have every confidence that we will be able to hold onto each other with grace and love as we talk about these important matters.