that defy the logic
of a regular, ordered world
and they happen to me
and I must confess
there's a God.
-- Lost and Found, "These Days"
I went out to the 4-H Fair to schmooze my 4-H parishioners and look at their projects. (It's a way of paying pastoral calls on kids.) After a nice visit with a couple of folks, plus admiring rabbits and eyeballing posters, I went up to the Junior Leaders' snack bar and hailed one of my Venturers, who was on duty there.
We chit-chatted for a while, and then he said he wanted to ask me a question. There was a chapel service the day before, sponsored by one of the local churches. He told me which one. It didn't mean anything to him, but I knew it as a Reformed Presbyterian congregation that changed their name to something more post-modern and snazzy. Anyway, he had gotten into a conversation with one of the leaders, who told him that he (my Venturer) was a Modalist. And a heretic. He was confused. "What's a Modalist?" he wanted to know.
I asked him what church he went to. (I had a general idea from our past association, plus I perked up at his description of the chapel leader as a "Trinitarian.") Pentecostal, he said. Oneness Pentecostal? I asked. Yeah, he replied. Well, I said, I don't know enough about Oneness Pentecostalism to know if he described your theology accurately, but here's what Modalism is. And proceeded to give him the down and dirty on Modalism. Then, for good measure, I explained what Arianism is (and was). Once again, I said, I don't know if either of these describe your church's beliefs, but these are some of the prime alternatives to Trinitarian orthodoxy.
Well, my young friend is a very smart kid and absorbs history like a sponge. He wanted to know more, and then more. We went through most of the theological controversies and missional history of the 3rd through the 8th Centuries before we were done, plus the politics of the Roman Empire and the wars of the Goths and Huns. He drank it up. Eventually, we were joined by some other young people, one of whom wanted to know about something else, and then the talk drifted to more general topics.
Anyway, there I was, just minding my own business, when I was inveigled into a theological seminar. As I said to Deanne years ago, you really can't take off the collar. But I don't relate the story here as a confirmation of my calling, but rather as an instance of how to go about dealing with sheep not your own.
I was very respectful of my young friend's church background. I do not call people names, even if (to my thinking) the names are accurate. Then, too, his parents trust me to treat their children properly and not talk down, or try to seduce them from, the teachings of their home and church. So, I begin with that: respect. Then, I answer the questions directly and honestly. And I leave it to the questioner and to God to figure out what to do with the information. I do not compromise my own beliefs, but I make sure they understand that they're my beliefs, or the beliefs of my Church, which they are free to disagree with.
Too many people try to either win the argument (like the RP chapel leader) or try to paper over a compromise that muddies everybody's thinking and compromises their integrity. But "speaking the truth in love" is something else. Truth without love loses its trueness. Love without truth ceases to be loving. Only truth-in-love allows the conversation to go on -- and maybe get somewhere.