There is a true difference between Potestants and Fundamentalists. Control is the objective of all religious fundamentalisms. Whereas Protestantism is about freedom of Christian conscience before God. Fundamentalism defines Christians as only those who hold onto every point that is considered essential Christian doctrine. Protestants define Christians as those who wish to follow Jesus. One is open. One is not. It really is very simple.
Now I am ready to discuss what it means for a Protestant to call out heresy. This post comes about because of a mistake I made on social networking the other day. The discussion got me to thinking about this important distinction between how Protestants view heresy and how Fundamentalists view it. When a Protestant calls out heresy it is a very serious matter. It gets to the very root of Salvation. Heresy means “divides.” And it is an ironic accident to note that almost every major heresy has been borne as an attempt to correct corruption in the church to get to the original purity of gospel doctrine. And it has always been a challenge to salvation by grace through faith.
More than one occasion has presented itself in my time in ministry where a family from a church I served became interested in sending their children to a “christian” school. Usually, these schools asked on the application for a testimony from the Pastor. There would be a list of doctrines peculiar to the sponsoring church. I would be asked to attest that the family upheld these doctrines. While knowing that some of these tenets were definitely not United Methodist beliefs and teachings, I would often ask the parents, “is this what you believe?” Often the answer would be, “we guess so.” I would sign that this is what they said they believed.
I acted this way for conscience’s sake. Take for instance the Awana Clubs that have been used in various churches. At one time the program refused to charter a club at any church affiliated with either the National Council of Churches of Christ or the World Council of Churches. Such a position left out mainline Protestant Churches including The United Methodist Church. Some UM churches altered their church name in order to get a charter. I considered that practice dishonest. Now the prohibition from Awana has been removed. There is still a Statement of Faith that is required. And it still goes beyond what the United Methodist doctrinal standards state. Christians with a fundamentalist background (like me) have found it strange that our new denomination does not have an actual doctrine of last things. No standard statement regarding the “end times” are involved. We have no doctrine that defines what exactly happens to the soul after death. There is no need for rebaptism to become a part of our fellowship. Holy Communion is not restricted to members only, etc.
Fundamentalists often make approval on such positions tests for Christian fellowship. To be in “error” on such points as ordaining women, holding an uncompromising view on the Right to Life, “scientific creationism,” or scriptural inerrancy (or many others) is to be a heretic – a disrupter of the body of Christ. There is no fellowship with such “unfruitful works of darkness.” And there can be no discussion. The feeling is to pull out one thread would unravel the sweater.
Protestants – those who do not claim the Fundamentalist mantle – accepts a person as a Christian based on that person’ response to the light God provides him or her. We believe that one is saved by grace through faith. This doctrine of salvation was not invented by Martin Luther, John Calvin, or even St. Paul. It is attested to by the whole Bible. Salvation is tied to grace which has to do with the Sovereign Divine knowledge and practice of Justice and Mercy. Sacraments, worship, prayers, and good deeds flow from this knowledge of grace and faith (even when we doubt a little…or a lot). Grace is the only basis for Christian fellowship. Denial of it is the only basis for withdrawal from it. Denial of grace is the heresy that blasphemes the work of the Holy Spirit in bringing salvation to humanity.
It is the shame of the churches of the Protestant movement that we have not understood this point better and based our fellowship on Grace rather a fear of that some beliefs might not be true. The only way to overcome this shame is to trust God’s forgiveness and love and start letting the Divine Son lead us back together.