Are there any topics that should never be discussed in church?

There are certainly some topics that belong out of bounds in any reasonable community. No one is going to seriously propose discussing whether the church should return to the ancient cultic practice of child sacrifice. It is unlikely anyone will ask for a discussion on whether or not adulterers should be stoned or whether a disobedient son should be executed (Deuteronomy 21:18-21).

But how is the church to decide that a matter falls outside the reasonable bounds for sensible discussion?

According to Evangelical Covenant Church pastor and Professor of Theology and Ethics at North Park Theological Seminary in Chicago, Michelle Clifton-Soderstrom, there are certain questions in the church that some church members feel have been definitively answered and are too controversial to be brought up in the community for further discussion.

The faithful pursuit of deeper answers in conversation with Scripture generates enormous fear, and this fear is understandable. Talking about [these] questions is divisive in the current climate. Many believe the church has clearly spoken on this topic.

Clifton-Soderstrom  goes on to suggest,

Those ecclesial groups who have engaged it have lost churches and people. Understandably, leaders want to avoid this kind of thing happening under their watch.

So, we cannot talk about questions we believe have already been definitively answered or are too controversial. We must avoid topics that generate fear or are divisive and might cause churches to lose members.

How credible is it to avoid a discussion on a matter that has direct impact on peoples’ lives and well-being, simply because the discussion may cause division and loss in the church? What happens to the Christian tradition of dissent? Clifton-Soderstrom argues,

here is where I, as a Christian ethicist, underscore the importance of faithful dissent. Why? For starters, Jesus did it all the time, and yes, he drove a lot of people crazy. For reference, see Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The fact is, sometimes the majority view gets it wrong. We see it over and over throughout church history.

I do not accept the option of dissent — only faithful dissent.

“Faithful dissent” is an important value to preserve in the Christian church. The church slips into dangerous territory when it becomes a  community in which members are permitted to come to only one answer on any difficult topic.

The church does not need to be frightened of dissent. We trust that God is bigger, wiser and more enduring than all the discord or disharmony  that might ever emerge in any discussion. We understand that human answers to the deepest most puzzling questions of life are always only imperfect.

We fly under the banner of Romans 11:33,34 –

O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable are his judgements and how inscrutable his ways!
‘For who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counsellor?’

Life is hemmed in on every side by mystery. The only safe way forward is to keep close the admission, “I may be wrong.”

Acknowledging that we have not captured the whole truth does not mean we are unable to live with passion and deep conviction. Beliefs can be held firmly but openly.

The real danger is not getting a wrong answer so much as restricting the openness of exchange and the freedom of questioning. If we are going to err in the church, we should err on the side of trusting in that mystery of love that can never be confined to any human dogma or formulation.