Saturday, June 25, 2011

All Christians believe...

Irreducible Minimums of the Christian Faith
            As Christianity advances in regions previously unfamiliar with the faith questions are raised about the distinguishing characteristics of the Christian religion. What makes a Christian a Christian? Certainly, Christianity is not monolithically univocal. Different regions express the same tenets in varied ways. Beyond that, different sects espouse different tenets while still affirming the same general religious system. The goal of this paper is to dig into the faith until bedrock is found. What is the irreducible minimum – the very foundations and fundamentals that make Christianity Christian?
Jesus Christ
            The term “Christian” was ascribed to Christians because they followed Jesus, the Christ. Perhaps the most fundamental distinctives of the faith are Christological. Christians have affirmed the uniqueness of Christ from the church’s earliest days. In fact, they worshipped him as God. Jesus himself repeatedly claimed to have a unique relationship with God the Father (Joh 10:30, 5:23, 14:23, 16:15, 17:21; Mat 11:27). He also claimed self-existence (Joh 8:24-58, 17:5; Rev 1:8). This claim is affirmed by other witnesses (Joh 1:1; Col 1:17; Heb 13:8). Jesus claimed to be God (Luk 22:70,71; Joh 10:30,36). Others confirmed this claim (Mat 1:23; Joh 1:1; 20:28; Act 20:28; Isa 9:6-7; Zech 13:7; Joh 5:17-23, 10:30-38, Gal 1:1). In seeking to define what it always and everywhere means to be a Christian, the first principle is that Jesus is none other than God in flesh. Refusal to believe this key doctrine precludes one from enjoying eternal life (Joh 8:24; 1 Joh 4:3; Mar 16:16).
The Gospel
            The Good News brought to humanity by the divine Christ must be essential to the Christian faith. Of what does that Gospel consist? The Gospel is (at least) that Christ died for our sins, was buried, rose again, and will judge the human race (1 Cor 15:1-7; 1 Cor 1:17; Rom 1:1-4, 2:16; John 5:27, 2 Tim 2:8).
Salvation by Faith
            The apostle Paul makes clear that there is no room for compromise on the doctrine of justification by faith (Gal 1:8-9). Anyone who teaches that Jesus’ work is not sufficient to save is accursed. This truth is not negotiable.
Holy Living
            Not only are certain beliefs are essential to Christian faith (orthodoxy), some practices are necessary attributes of true saving faith (orthopraxy). The Bible clearly teaches that certain lifestyle practices are compatible or even essential to the Christian life while other deeds are incompatible. For instance, no liar is a Christian (Rev 21:8). In fact, no one who refuses God’s commandments can claim to know God (1 Joh 2:4).
            Though it is tempting to add more, these irreducible minimums of the Christian faith should be helpful as we try to figure out what to make of different expressions of faith described as “Christian.” These beliefs are at the core of consensual theology.  Religious institutions that do not conform to these Scriptural beliefs are outside of the ancient Christian faith.