By Sheila Wray Gregoire
Many years ago I served on a search committee for a youth pastor. In one of our preliminary meetings the chairman suggested we decide on the doctrinal “must haves” for any potential candidates. The committee identified five issues that were non-negotiable. I slunk deeper into my chair. I was 0 for 5.
I was quite well respected in that church, but until that moment I hadn’t realized how out of the mainstream I was. It was not that I didn’t have opinions on each of those five issues. I just wasn’t willing to say that my opinions were necessarily right.
I believe wholeheartedly in everything in the Apostles’ Creed. But I don’t think many doctrinal issues, like once-saved-always-saved, or pretribulation rapture, or even a woman’s role in the church, are as cut and dried. In fact, I can argue both sides of most debates from Scripture. And if Spirit-filled Christians have been debating these things for centuries, how can I be sure I’ve got it all figured out now?
Of course, when I was in university I knew and understood everything. But over the last 25 years I seem to have become increasingly dumber – or at least more confused.
It began with The Hiding Place, the movie of Corrie ten Boom’s ordeal in Second World War Holland. In it, a German officer calls the great Dutch lady into his office and turns up the radio so they can’t be overheard. Then he passes her the name of an informant. He’s trying to help the Dutch, and he knows Corrie is in contact with the Dutch underground. She can slip the name to them.
Corrie ten Boom in front of the hiding place where her family hid Jews during the Second World War.
A neat and tidy solution isn’t always just one Bible study away.
Corrie is horrified and refuses to take it. She doesn’t want to be responsible for the man’s certain death. To the German officer’s consternation, she walks out of the room.
I love Corrie ten Boom, but I would have taken that paper in a heartbeat, without the least bit of guilt. But then I wasn’t called to have her ministry of absolute forgiveness and grace. If she had taken that paper, it would have been wrong. But that doesn’t mean those who were engaged in violence were necessarily wrong. The Allied soldiers fighting to defeat Hitler weren’t wrong. Maybe Corrie and those who stormed Juno Beach were simply appointed to demonstrate different aspects of God’s character. Maybe there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer to many moral and theological dilemmas.
Christians are awfully uncomfortable about ambiguity. But a neat and tidy solution isn’t always just one Bible study away.
Take the once-saved-always-saved debate. One side says you can’t lose your salvation. Say the sinner’s prayer and mean it, and God will save you in the end. (And, of course, if you do fall away, it’s likely you weren’t saved in the first place.) Then there’s the other side that says no one else can snatch you out of God’s hands, but He does let you jump.
I’m not comfortable with either extreme. I know a man who led his university Christian group and was a great evangelist. In his later years he turned his back and rejected God and his family. To say he wasn’t saved in the first place is a cop-out. To say that he’s still in the flock, when he has loudly stated he has no intention or desire to be so, feels wrong too.
I think of another man who served God his whole life, and then was the sole survivor of a car crash that killed his wife and two of his adult children. He became an alcoholic and died shortly thereafter. I have a hard time thinking that man isn’t saved just because of the tragic last two years of his life.
I think the answer to most things is rarely on the extremes. God sees the heart. And the heart is messy. Why then do we expect our faith not to be? Doubt is okay. Struggle is okay. In fact, maybe that’s more to the point than having all the answers. The struggling, the wrestling, the journey, all push us closer into God’s arms.
And so I’m proud to be 0 for 5. I’m proud to say that in many cases I just don’t know. Let’s not be scared of confusion and ambiguity. If we knew it all, we wouldn’t need God. And I’d rather have a hug from God than an encyclopedia of answers.
Sheila Wray Gregoire of Belleville, Ont., is an author and speaker. Find more of her Faith Today columns here. Subscribe now to make sure you don’t miss any of Sheila’s columns, or any of the other great Faith Today material.