The Problem of Christian Sub-Cultures
I had the following dream in which I was an observer. The dream featured two friends; Phil Drysdale and Steve Harmon, who were engaged in activities that were highly visible to the public. They appeared to serve as ambassadors that represented different nations.
Throughout the dream, they spoke to me and others about different things that were on their minds. Their agendas and motives appeared to be perfectly legitimate. I could not detect any selfishness or hostility in either of them. I saw no malice toward anyone.
Yet their presence seemed to trigger explosions wherever they went. When Phil showed up somewhere an explosion would detonate nearby. It seemed like the explosion was intended to hurt him, but it did no damage. When Steve appeared somewhere, the same thing happened.
There were questions asked about whether Steve or Phil were trying to harm one another. Each made it clear that they had no connection to the explosions and no desire to harm anyone. In the dream, their stories seemed true.
And yet, the explosions continued. [This was the end of the dream]
I’ve become acquainted with Steve and Phil in the last few months and I’ve spoken to both of them recently. I had a 2 – hour Skype chat with Steve the night of the dream. During our chat, we discussed (among other things) the different sub-cultures within Christianity and the tendency we have to become polarized around different beliefs. I think the dream is an illustration of the problems that come from the polarization of the church into sub-cultures.
I don’t believe the dream indicates that Steve or Phil are guilty of any wrongdoing. I think it suggests a general problem in the church at large—not with specific people.
Phil comes from a sub-culture where rest in the finished work of the cross is emphasized and where our own works (especially law-based ones) are frowned upon.
Steve comes from a sub-culture where doing the work of ministry (healing, deliverance and evangelism) is emphasized and where rest (particularly the kind of rest where we become self-absorbed navel-gazers) is frowned upon.
These two sub-cultures have relevant messages for the world. Both emphasize certain truths that are central to Christianity. Both bring glory to God in what they do. But both emphasize certain truths at the expense of other truths that are just as true and just as valuable.
In the dream, neither Steve nor Phil were aware that their camp (sub-culture) was responsible for inflicting damage to others in the body of Christ.
But that’s exactly how sectarianism works. And the dream is about sects in the body of Christ, which today might be called sub-cultures.
Paul’s letter to the Church at Corinth spoke to the dangers of sectarianism. Whether the dividing line is a particular teacher or a set of beliefs, sectarianism is dangerous. It fragments a united body, causing disputes and hostility between sects, which was illustrated in the dream by the explosions.
Nearly every spiritual truth is held in tension by another truth that seems to oppose it. The finished work of the cross can be seen either as a reason to do nothing or as permission to conquer the world. It depends on which sub-culture you’re in.
Are believers justified by faith or by works?
Your answer depends on whether you quote James or Paul. Each argued a different truth.
The Bible is full of truths that are perceived by our minds as ideas. Some of those ideas appear to be better or more truthful than others. Some appear to be less truthful.
Liberty is better than slavery. Love is a better than hatred. Paul puts forth a hierarchy among the virtues of faith, hope and love—placing love at the top. Some ideas are clearly better than others. But many ideas are on equal footing. Joy is not necessarily better than sober-mindedness. Rest is not always better than diligence and forgiveness is not better than justice. In many cases, one idea is no more important or better than another.
When an idea strikes us as being particularly true or important, our mind elevates it to a higher place and embraces it in a stronger way. There is a danger to elevating ideas. When we make one idea our centerpiece, we make its opposing idea (and anyone who embraces it) our enemy. When we zealously defend certain truths, we become blind to other important but opposing truths. We gather with those who elevate the same ideas and separate from those who don’t. The separation over ideas is sectarianism.
The schism over Calvinism and Arminianism would never have developed were it not for the elevation of two sets of opposing ideas.
To his credit, Phil Drysdale recently asked those in the grace movement to consider acting more mercifully toward those who have not yet embraced radical grace. His willingness to extend an olive branch toward his critics displays the kind of maturity that we desperately need. We need to be more tolerant of our brothers and sisters who don’t see things exactly the way we do. It’s my hope that we will one day put aside the doctrinal debates that divide us and instead, embrace the common things that unite us.