Over the last several years, there has been a distressing tendency for those who disagree politically or economically to also ascribe Final Judgment to those with whom they disagree. That is, we have all too many Christians who argue that if one does not agree with their political or economic philosophy, then they may face Hell itself. They may never quite be bold enough to fully condemn their fellow Christian, but the various statements concerning those who oppose their economic of political agenda point to Hell as the destination of those who disagree with them. Even worse is when we approach the subject of pro-life, we find even worse statements. No, I am not talking about abortion. All conservative Christians, in their various denominations and jurisdictions are against abortion. We are talking about other issues related to life.
For instance, is abortion permitted in the case that the health of the mother is endangered? Well, at that point, conservative Christians split. In my jurisdiction, therapeutic abortion is permissible. Is birth control itself equal to abortion? Well, there are disagreements among conservative denominations and jurisdictions. Is palliative care permitted? That depends on whether you believe that it is philosophically better that people be fully aware, but in desperate pain, or whether you believe that semi-conscious to almost unconscious but in tolerable to minimal pain is a reasonable compromise. One only needs to ask the relatives who are watching someone agonize in pain to know what the most frequent answer is.
There are additional ethical issues in which the answer is not clear. Should a Christian be a conscientious objector? May a Christian be a soldier and fight in war? In fact, the number of issues I could name is incredible. Should we use leavened or unleavened bread at the Eucharist? Lest you think I am exaggerating that was discussion at a Church Council which the East counts as Ecumenical, but the West does not.
But, here is the point. It is dangerous to assume that a failure to think exactly as you do means that the person is doomed to Hell. Let’s think about what it means to be in the Church. Well, first, unless one is preaching an obvious and clear violation of Church doctrine, then it is simply a thelogoumena, a private opinion. Let’s say one tends to believe a private opinion contrary to the Church’s teaching. Even then, if the person is otherwise faithful to the Church, that is not sufficient to condemn them to Hell. In fact, if one looks at the centuries of Church pronouncements, one realizes that the Church’s attitude is to assume that a faithful feligres is in good standing unless shown otherwise. The penalties are sometimes severe if someone is not faithful, but the predominant attitude is that faithfulness is assumed and theologumena is not judged, unless one deliberately contradicts and teaches against Church teaching.
The Church in the New Testament was full of disagreements. But, note that only at very few times is anything said about final judgment. Almost always, disagreements are treated as being within the household of God. Frankly, we need to return to that attitude. There are way too many arguments that assume that a difference in Biblical or Ecumenical interpretation means a difference in destination. And, that is simply not true. Grace is often assumed unless proven otherwise. We need to learn that attitude.