Tuesday, January 1, 2013

What it really means...

I've been doing a lot of thinking lately about Christianity and its various denominations, and what it really means to be a Christian.  So many denominations have split and split again, all over fine points of theology.  I think that's sad.  Churches are splitting over little piddling bits of theology, when we should be focusing on the things that unify us.  So I've spent several middle of the night feedings lately pondering what it REALLY means to be a Christian.

I told my cousin Jim about my conclusions.  His response, "Yeah, that's what happens when you start thinking theology at 3:00 in the morning, you throw out half the Apostle's Creed."  Still he listened.  Jim's fantastic, and he needs new lungs, so go help with whatever you can (www.jimhenrymedicaltrust.org).

So when it all boils down to it I think all that's really required to be a Christian is to believe in the first half of the Apostle's Creed.  Not even the whole thing!  Not that there aren't plenty of important theological issues that aren't covered here, it's just that they're not core to what it really means to be a Christian.  You can come down on either side of many theological discussions and I don't think it has any impact on the core beliefs of Christianity.  So what does it really mean to be a Christian?

1. I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
Yes, this is core to Christianity.  I have to believe in God, and that he made everything.  Doesn't really matter HOW He made things.  Whether He did it in 7 days or 7 millennia  and whether He created everything as is or used some sort of directed evolutionary process doesn't matter.  What matters is that He did it.  That's not to say you can't believe strongly in your opinion of His methodology, but all that's core belief is that He did it and it was good.

2. I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord.
This doesn't take any belief at all.  Jesus was a historical figure, this is verifiable fact.  If you're gonna believe in God the Father, then he has to be father of something, so it makes sense that Jesus is that son.  There are a lot of prophecies that point toward Jesus, and that He was God's son, so it follows that if God is, then you're going to believe Jesus is His son.

He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.
Does it really matter how Jesus was conceived?  Really what does it matter whether the body that bore his human form had ever known a man?  Not saying it wasn't miraculous and all, but God made the whole world, I don't really find one virgin birth that significant.  Not that I don't believe in the virgin birth, I do, I just don't think that it really matters in the big scheme of things so it's not worth arguing over.

He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.
Again, historical fact.  The most miraculous thing here is that Jesus kept a good attitude through it all!

He descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again.
Doesn't matter where He was those three days.  For that matter, the rising again is just a symbol of God accepting Jesus's sacrifice for our sins.  What matters is that He accepted it, not how he showed that acceptance, so again even the rising from the dead is not a required belief for Christians.

3. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
Ok, so it makes sense that Jesus is in heaven with the Father.  I'm not sure it's required believing, but I think you could make a pretty good case that Jesus just hanging out in the world wouldn't be in keeping with God the Father accepting his sacrifice, so I'll give you this one.

He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
Really?  It'll happen whether I believe in it or not.  His judgement stands whether I believe in its validity or not.  Yes, I believe He's coming, but I think it would be really self-important of me to think that my belief in His judgement has any impact whatsoever.

4. I believe in the Holy Spirit,
This goes along with God's omnipotence and omniscience.  Yep, gotta believe that God is with us all the time. 

the holy catholic Church, 
The church exists whether I believe in it or not, and whether you call it "catholic" or just a group of Christians doesn't matter.  However you can be a Christian and live as a hermit somewhere, so you don't have to actually participate in the church in any way shape or form.

the communion of saints,
I don't even know what this means.  Is it that we commune with other Christians  (see hermitage) That we take communion? (don't see how that's required either)  I figure if I can't understand it then I can't very well claim that its belief is core to what it means to be a Christian.

5. the forgiveness of sins,
Well, this one's kind of gray to me.  The whole point of Jesus's sacrifice is that it allows our sins to be forgiven.  But outside of my own self-importance it doesn't really matter whether I believe that my sins are forgiven or not.  What matters is does God see fit to forgive them.  And I should live my life the same way whether I believe my sins are forgiven or not, because if I believe they're all forgiven what's to stop me from just going out and sinning all willy-nilly.  That being said, if I didn't believe that my sins were forgiven, then I might be likely to point to one sin that I committed, throw up my hands, and give up.  I don't think that's what God wants us to do, so I think it's important that He gave us hope, a reason to live on and do better.  So I say forgiveness of sins is a core Christian belief if only because it allows us to start anew every day.

the resurrection of the body,
Um, this happens after I'm dead.  Really I have nothing to do with it whether I have a body or not after I die.  Not core.

and life everlasting.
It's nice to think that we have a reward coming for all of our believing, but really God's well within his rights to do whatever he wants with his creation at any time he wants to.  Do I believe that I have a soul that will live forever?  Yes.  Do I believe that you HAVE to believe you have a soul that will live forever in order to be a Christian?  Nope.

I look at this list, really a very short list, and I hear Christians quibbling over immersion vs. sprinkling, predestination vs. free will, wine at communion vs. te-totaling.  It makes me very, very sad.  Here we are claiming to love each other, and love all the people, but we can't put down our harsh words and focus on what really matters.  So instead of one Christian church we have all these denominations, and the ones that are the most similar are the ones that spend the most time throwing stones!

I'm not saying I don't have beliefs about anything other than the basics.  I certainly have no problem with the idea that God created the world in seven literal days (after all, if He's going to create adult people why not create an adult earth, complete with rocks that include a fossil record).  And I can make a case for infant baptism (Acts 16:33) but I feel better about "dedicating" myself to raising my child to know the Lord, and she can be baptized when she's ready (and I pray that she will some day be ready).  I really don't give one flying whoop whether you baptize by dunking or sprinkling, but moisture makes my hair frizz up so I completely understand someone wanting to use as little water as possible!

My point is, none of these issues are worth the time we spend arguing over them!  The church's focus should be on outreach, not on internal squabbling and beating itself up from the inside.