Today, Dr. Isham brings us his thoughts on true Christianity. Comments and dialogue encouraged. Enjoy!
I’ve been mulling over something about modern Christianity that I’ve wanted to express for awhile. I’ve always thought that I would (possibly) deliver the idea as a sermon in my local church, but never really gotten up enough guts to outline it and prepare it. I wrote it down here so I can choose my words with care.
I dislike some facets of my particular strain of Christianity. My particular strain seems to value purity. Don’t misunderstand me; purity is a great virtue. But..we spend a lot of time trying to root out any evil within ourselves that we feel Jesus wants us to work on. This (sometimes) spills over into trying to root out any evil we see in others as well. We have our 12 steps to spiritual maturity. We have our list of 47 do’s and don’ts to being a better Christian. We have our music superstars and our prayer formulas. We have a long list – spoken and unspoken – of things we think we need to believe or agree in if one professes to be a Christian.
The problem is that it excludes people. To require belief in one specific thing to be considered a Christian keeps others from the fold. I’m not talking about those who…”well…they are still a Christian, but they aren’t walking the walk.” I dislike saying someone “just isn’t interested in God’s best” or is not “going hard after God” or my all-time favorite….”lukewarm.”
Jesus summed up the law and the prophets into 2 rules. Love God and love others (Jonathon’s simplified edition).
We tend to take things to the opposite extreme. Love God using these 32 prayers and watch out for these 26 ways that the devil can enslave you and make sure not to do these 412 activities because someone somewhere will look poorly on you and think that either they can participate, too. Your example will cause them to stumble or think you don’t love Jesus…because those who love Jesus don’t do that. Or that, or that.
I know I have offended some of you, and I am sorry. I also know that this type of idea (getting rid of our formulas and criteria for what is and isn’t Christian behavior) makes a lot of people nervous. We can’t just throw the doors open and say that God loves everyone and that everyone is going to heaven. Everybody needs Christ’s salvation and cleansing work. I would agree, but the more rules you place on the work of Christ, the more people you exclude from the kingdom. It’s “us” against “them”, but the more tightly you define “us”, the fewer who qualify. Define it too tightly and the only ones that qualify to be in the “us” category end up being the ones making the rules. That, my friends, is a very lonely (and judgmental) place.
So…in the interest of throwing open the doors once again to Christianity and what it takes to be a Christian, here are the things I think all Christians need to believe. This is my “us vs. them” line. To be a Christian, you must agree with the following:
1) There is a God –There are 2 truths in this statement. First, there is something out there we call God that has powers like a being that we would expect of a God like omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence. Second, it is in present tense. He is, not He was. This statement excludes atheists and post-deists (those who believe that there was a God, but he left the building).
2) You are not God – This statement excludes those who believe that we are gods and/or that god is in everything. God is omnipresent, but the tree is not part of God. God is separate from mankind.
3) The Bible is the word of God – To be a Christian, you have to have some amount of trust in the book the entire faith is based on. This statement does not exclude other texts or other ways of hearing from God, nor does it endorse a specific translation of the Holy Scripture. However, if you want to know something about the nature and presence of the Christian God, the Bible is a good place to go for the answers.
4) You have been separated from God though sin – The Bible states clearly how sin separates us from God and how that separation is both through our actions and through heredity. This particular list makes no mention of specific sins (the “do”s and “don’t”s of modern Christianity), but sin is something you need to fully own to be considered a Christian.
5) Jesus is the son of God – to be honest, I’m not sure how this works. God is one God but He has a son and they are one with the Holy Spirit and….huh? I know the Bible recounts the life of Jesus of Nazareth and makes a claim of his virgin birth and chronicles His years of ministry, His teachings, His death and His resurrection. Jesus claimed to be the son of God and God spoke from the heavens and said “this is my son in whom I am well-pleased”.
6) Jesus was God’s choice for payment for our sin – See #4 for how we get sin (actions and/or heredity). Jesus had no human heredity (virgin birth…see #5) and so was a lamb without spot or blemish, which is a requirement for the forgiveness of sins.
7) Jesus’ payment was for me – This is the “accepting Christ into our hearts” part of Christianity. You can believe all the above statements, but if you don’t receive it personally, then you still have no relationship with God. Christianity is all about the relationship with Jesus.
Yeah. That’s it. I know the blog is long, but I’ll bet a lot of you were waiting for more than that. Speaking in tongues? What about the baptism of the Holy Spirit? Why aren’t those two previous statements all in one sentence? What if we believe in evolution instead of a literalistic 6 day, 24-hour per day creation story? What if those people over there don’t agree with me on my Biblical exegesis or my eschatology?
Sin separates us from God. Jesus paid the price for reconciliation. I have accepted that reconciliation through Jesus. I now have a relationship with God. Everything above and beyond that is simply a different flavor.