I think President Bush’s use of “coalitions of the willing” as a replacement for rigid treaties and lines of demarcation between allies and enemies makes an interesting application to our Christian cooperation with each other. This is particularly true in the sense that modern believers in Christ have factionalized themselves with their own rigid and outdated creedal “treaties,” whether written or unwritten.
If these creeds are not inspired or authoritative (and who would suggest that they are?), then the proper thing to do is stop pretending that they are. Is there anyone who really believes one must read, understand, and assent to the Westminster Confession or some other list of “distinctives” in order to be saved? Of course not. So why do some believe they can’t associate with someone who’s never read or assented to their own opinions? Why not just have organic Christian “coalitions of the willing” based entirely on the consciences of the individuals involved?
Just as the demographic of each country changes from generation to generation, so the demographic of each community of saints changes over time. And well it should, because if a group is not changing over time, it is not growing. Creeds have a way, like formal treaties between nations, of locking in an alliance that may turn out not to be a wise alliance in later years. They also have a way of locking out of our alliances some who deserve to be in it by virtue of the fact that they have been cleansed by the blood of Christ. Why not do away with all formal alliances except our common alliance with Christ? That is true first century Christianity.
Until all consciences are equally educated and mature (an unlikely and perhaps scary scenario), there will always be those who cannot work together in a particular aspect of Christian endeavor. Variations between consciences are understandable and acceptable until human pride and factionalism enters in. But Romans 14 does not assert the need for dissenting brethren to form a faction around their “distinctive” opinions.
Someone will always be found who thinks eating meat is wrong, so to speak, and we all have to do our best to be patient and not destroy him with the liberty that the rest of us have come to realize. There is no reason that two groups of people with differing views on “eating meat” cannot work together in some other aspect of their Christian walk. We ought to forbear one another in love and work together in the areas in which we are agreed, rather than being impatient with each others’ growth and refusing to edify one another in love.
I believe that over time, as we seek to become more Christlike, our differences on “distinctive” opinions will become fewer and fewer. In fact, we might even keep many of them to ourselves. Then our coalition of the willing might include more who are “willing.” Wouldn’t that be great?