Living within a tradition means engaging its history, reading its theologians again and again, considering its more significant moments and what those moments do to define it, while also acknowledging the cultural influences and biblical arguments that helped birth it. Living within a tradition is hard, you don’t arrive, you just keep on keeping on with it.

I consider myself to be a conservative Reformed Presbyterian. I do my best to pay attention to the wonders and the worts of my tradition and one definite wort that I’ve seen on my own face and the faces of my brother’s and sister’s from time to time is the manner of our polemic – simply put, its an uncharitable ‘othering’ of those with differences to the point of dismissing their contribution or relevance to the Kingdom’s work. I want to be clear here, in no way is that a necessary part of my tradition, but its real and it appears, even on my own face at times.

In trying to understand this and seeing a recent example of this style of polemic I came across an interesting book by Andrew Pettegree entitled Reformation and the Culture of Presuasion. His closing chapter got me thinking about the way we do polemics and the role ‘belonging’ plays on our culture. Pettegree’s work was focused on the 16th century European Reformation, nor out post-Reformation 21st century context, but I can’t help but think we’re still searching for belonging in the way we do polemics, or to put it in Bono terms “we still haven’t found what we’re looking for.”

At first after reading Pettegree’s book I thought to myself, yes that’s it, we’ve found this essential human need of ‘belonging’ and now empowered by it instead of being a ‘welcoming orthodoxy’ we’re at times a ‘schismatic orthodoxy’. (Now this doesn’t let off other traditions, all Christians fall prey to this). What ‘belonging’ should have done for us, ie fostering a deeper sense of self and a deeper acknowledgment of God’s grace has instead caused us to be ‘puffed up in knowledge’ as Paul would say.

Latter I rethought this, No we haven’t found what we’re looking for, in many ways we are a minority in the church and several of us have felt the lash of the exclusion wipe upon our own backs, the severance of church family over the doctrines of grace, and the poverty brought on by our intentionally non-market driven approach to ministry.

So this is a word to my own conscience and my brothers and sisters here: you’ve found what your looking for in Christ, you belong to his family – Jew and Gentile, woman and man, slave and free, Arminian and Reformed

And this is a word to those who would be critical of conservative Reformed Christians, a word from Pettegree (I’m using the quote with a different intent than he originally had here);

…the decision to adhere to the new evangelical teachign was often painful, and pregnant with consequences. It meant breaking or reordering a whole web of associations and loyalties, to family, friends, workmates and even the local state power. It could mean separating oneself from comfortable regimes and familiar practices; it called into question the validity of customs practiced with relish for a whole lifetime, even for generations. Sometimes the Reformation demanded an impossible choice between conflicting loyalties.

While many of these things aren’t felt by Christians who align themselves consciously within a conservative Reformed tradition, several of them are. The ‘Culture of Belonging’ has powerful influences upon us and upon you. May Christ redeem us from darker dimensions of this sociology and may he remind us of his hospitality and his union with us.