What is True Christianity(tm)? (part 1)
It keeps coming up in discussions with atheists that I say certain Christians are wrong about particulars of Christianity. And they are. If I’m right on certain things (which I think I am), then necessarily others who disagree with me are wrong. Not a radical notion.
What do you suppose happens when I call a Christian’s particular doctrine into question? I always get the same response from the atheist. He sarcastically tells me that I believe I’m the only one who has found True Christianity™ and that I believe every other Christian will burn, just like every other Christian he has spoken to, because believers are all that arrogant.
I think that is more evidence of the shallow thinking of the atheist, not to mention their complete ignorance of theology. Atheists, I’m going to make this as plain as I possibly can: There is no such thing as True Christianity™!
Simple as that sounds, there is some complexity to it. There are non-negotiable beliefs and practices, and there are negotiable beliefs and practices. It is in these non-negotiables that we see the unity of Christianity. I listed them in a previous post, and here they are again:
- Existence of God as a Trinity
- Preeminence of Christ over his creation
- Mankind fell into sin, and is now utterly enslaved to it
- Death of Jesus making atonement for the sins of mankind
- Resurrection of Jesus on the third day
- Future return of Christ to judge the living and the dead
Unfortunately, many Christians make too big a deal out of the negotiables.
For example, a hot topic is how one comes by salvation. The Reformed camp says that it’s God sovereign choice, decreed from eternity. The Arminian camp says that it’s the choice of each individual to align with God or not to — whatever God might foreordain, salvation isn’t on the list. And then the Molinists try to split the difference, believing that it relies on God’s middle knowledge as to what worlds are possible, and who is saved by choice in those worlds.
So why would we fight over whether someone was elected to salvation, chose it for themselves, or that the truth to that lies in God’s middle knowledge? Is not the fact they are Christians enough?
Unity in the non-negotiables, grace in the negotiables, and charity to all. But, does that mean I agree with every Christian denomination’s teachings? Certainly not!
If the church, in some way, holds to the principles I’ve enumerated above and tries to make sense of biblical principles of life through exegesis of Scripture, then they’re probably okay. The challenge of living such principles daily should be given to the congregation, and the New Testament offices of bishop (elder) and deacon should be present and supporting the congregation in living out their faith.
Faith should be not just belief, but should be obedience as well — in other words, “faith” is properly thought of as “loyalty.”
Not every church does this; some emphasize faith as mere “belief” and don’t try to question how its congregants live nor condemn clear sins (like homosexuality or abortion). Of course, there’s the opposite extreme, such as the churches that condemn alcohol use even though no clear Scripture exists by which they could do that.
So we get hung up on things not specifically covered in the Bible, like how much alcohol a Christian should drink or the exact method of baptism. And that creates disunity and new denominations. Paul had this to say of being hung up on particulars that don’t exist (using dietary laws as an example):
As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.
Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” So then each of us will give an account of himself to God. (Rom 14:1-12)
“Agree to disagree” is the crux of this passage, but not everything that this passage says. Paul says that the abstainer is the weaker of the two Christians. It means that the person who must abstain from alcohol is weaker than the person who can enjoy alcohol, but the stronger brother shouldn’t judge the weaker one.
Paul also urged the Corinthian church to unite, and not let trivialities divide them:
I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.”Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name.. . . For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. (1 Cor 1:10-17)
So, here, we see that the Corinthian church was divided about doctrine. Some said they followed Paul, some said Apollos, and some said Cephas (Simon Peter). And Paul admonished them, asking if he died for their sins.
So he is imploring them to be unified and to only follow Christ, for it is to Christ that we (his bride) are betrothed. Not to Paul, not to Apollos, not to Peter.
The take-away: Don’t judge others for being weaker. If it happens that someone was sprinkled as an infant for his baptism, welcome him. If another was dunked in a lake, welcome him. If a third abstains from alcohol, welcome him!
Worthy of noting is how Paul continued the passage in Romans 14:
Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. (Rom 14:13-19)
We are not to cause a brother to stumble. When we encounter a weaker brother, who cannot get past a legalistic way of thinking, then we shouldn’t try to fight with them. Let them have this method of thinking; it might help them in some fashion. In other words, don’t destroy God’s church over food, alcohol, or how to properly baptize.
But, there are times when believers can and should fight for the faith, even with other believers. It annoys me when people like James White denounce the shady activities of other believers and Christians get mad at White and say that he has no right to say “mean” things to a fellow believer.
He absolutely does! Part of the Christian witness is that we are to be upright and blameless. Lying is a sin, and no matter how many souls Ergun Caner has won, he did it with a demonstrable lie. So White has every right to call him on it, and every right to call supporters like Norman Geisler on it, too. For what fellowship does light have with darkness?
Next, I’m going to discuss when I think should not simply “agree to disagree” or bow to the weaker brother’s legalism.
Posted on September 29, 2011, in Apologetics, Heresy, Religion, Theology and tagged 1 Corinthians 1, Arminianism, atheism, Calvinism, denominations, denominations of christianity, divine grace, divine mercy, doctrine, Ergun Caner, faith, God, Holy Spirit, James White, Jesus, middle knowledge, Molinism, Norman Geisler, Romans 14. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.