The image is from DM of the Rings, where Aragorn accidentally sends the armies of the dead to attack the Rohirrim. It’s what I thought of during a discussion on evangelism at care group, when someone talked about how she had evangelized a Lutheran friend by convincing her that evolution was a lie.
Sometimes only Jean-Luc Picard can express things properly.
Setting aside the evolution bit for the moment, this girl seems to think that Lutherans are not Christians. She probably shares the opinion I’ve heard often from Mark Driscoll and similar thinkers, that there are Christians in the Catholic/Lutheran/Anglican/Episcopalian/Orthodox church, but it’s despite the teachings of the church, not because of them.
This is, at the very least, an uncharitable and uneducated thing to think. It’s also unbiblical:
Jesus presented another parable to them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went away. But when the wheat sprouted and bore grain, then the tares became evident also. The slaves of the landowner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’ And he said to them, ‘An enemy of mine has done this!’ The slaves said to him, ‘Do you want us, then, to go gather them up?’ But he said, ‘No, for while you are gathering up the tares, you may uproot the wheat with them. Allow both to grow together until the harvest; and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather up the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn.” ‘ ” (Matthew 12:24-30 NASB)
It’s a parable about why the righteous and the unrighteous live side by side in the world, but it’s also an admonition against trying to sort out who’s who. If we make ourselves mediators of who is a Christian and who isn’t, we’ll do a terrible job of it. Yet people at my church do this all the time. They are far too ready to say “Those people call themselves Christians, but they aren’t really.” For instance, a young man gave me this response when I expressed amusement that we’re sending missionaries to the Philippines, a far more Christian nation than our own (92.5% to 76.8%, according to the CIA World Factbook). Certainly there are people who call themselves Christians and aren’t; there are probably a great many of them. But you shouldn’t want to make yourself the mediator of who’s in and who’s out. Who put you in charge? Are you all-knowing and wise?
As far as people go, I’d say you have to just believe people. If they say “I’m a Christian,” it’s probably better to accept that than to erect more divisive walls than necessary. After all, you are not the judge of their hearts.
With churches and other organizations, evaluating whether something counts as Christian or not becomes easier and a bit more necessary, since it seems fair to say that ecumenicalism should extend to things that are Christian and not to things that aren’t. Still, the tendency is to define “Christian” as “someone who agrees with me about everything,” and thus we end up with both the Orthodox position that officially states that we don’t know whether the non-Orthodox are saved or not, and things like the ironically-named conference Together for the Gospel, where a bunch of Reformed pastors get together and talk about how Reformed doctrine is right. (All eight of the headliners are from the twenty-four, by the way.)
If a line must be drawn, I propose the Nicene Creed/Ten Commandments test. Any church or similar organization that acknowledges the entirety of the Nicene Creed and the moral truth of the Ten Commandments and obeys the latter to the best of their ability shall be considered Christian; anyone who doesn’t will not. If someone denies the divinity of Christ, we can draw a line there. Believing in evolution or ordaining women, not so much. You can still have opinions about those issues. You can believe that others are wrong. You can do your level best to change their minds. But you can’t condemn them as heretics. It’s possible they’re not Christians; it’s possible that the one issue you disagree about is the difference between saved and unsaved. However, if the distinction needs to be made, it’s wise to stick with the creed that the church has believed for more than 1600 years and regard the issues that they saw fit to include as important and those that they didn’t bother to mention as peripheral, rather than relying on your own judgment.
Church history buffs will be pointing out that using the Nicene Creed as a criterion would introduce a filiusque problem. Indeed, but if I were to eliminate all splits in the church except that between Catholic and Orthodox, I would already deserve a Nobel Peace Prize.