“May I never lose the wonder; oh the wonder of your mercy….”
I was doing some reading for Seminary while waiting my mom to finish her Bible study at one of the churches she planted, when I heard those lines of Matt Redman’s “Mercy” song. I stopped reading to listen to the song. I replayed it once more. There was something in that song that hit me.
I was reading about the importance of articulating a proper Christian theology in and for the cultural context we are rooted. I have seen people taking their impressions and opinions on what in their understanding the definition of Christian is to Facebook. They went to the point of implying that one of America’s largest congregations is not Christian at all. Then a question arose in my mind: “who am I to say whether that particular church in that particular Christian denomination is, by no means, Christian at all?”
There are, indeed, some guidance in which we can base whether one particular group is or not Christian. The basic rule by which we can examine a teaching or a group to decide if it is Christian or not is by examining who they say God is. Who they say Jesus is, how is salvation gained, what do the say about Scripture. For a group or Chruch to considered themselves Christian they ought to believe in the doctrine of the Trinity. God is three in one: The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit. They must preach sin entered the World and forever corrupted mankind due to mankind disobedience, and that the direct consequence of that corruption is eternal separation from God (spiritual death). They also must adhere to and preach that God so loved the world to the point of willingly giving his only begotten son as the ransom for humanity’s spiritual death. Jesus perfect atonement for mankind gained it eternal salvation. If a Church or group preach that forgiveness of sin is attainable only by placing faith in Jesus death on the Cross, that He raised back from the death on the third day. Like it or not, they are Christians. They are obliged to believe the Bible to be perfect, inerrant, and authoritative as it was breathed out directly from Him. There are the main points for someone to be considered Christian.
There are a lot of expressions within the Christian faith. And it is good. According to Scripture, we are one body (1 Cor. 12:27; Rom. 12:5). A diverse one I’d say. We can’t expect everyone to express their faith just like we do. Take a look at your family. Your father has a unique way in reach out and demonstrates his love and care for you. Your mom will do the same in an entirely different way. Your siblings will express their love and care for you different than how they would to your parents. Within the Church the same occurs.
We might not agree on some practices, we may not even agree with how we do Church. We even hold differences in the way in which we interpret and apply some passages. Doctrinal differences within the body of Christ are expected. Let us remind that doctrine is the sum of beliefs a particular tradition or denomination considers important enough to require as a criterion for membership. In the words of Stanly J. Grenz and Roger E. Olson “denial of these beliefs does not necessarily strike at the heart of the gospel…“. We cannot use doctrinal differences to state whether someone is Christian or not. Doctrinal differences do set forth ground for denying or allowing fellowship within a particular Christian tradition or denomination.
I identify myself with the conservative wing of the Church; I am not an ultra-conservative evangelical Christian, though. Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Plymouth Brethren, Lutherans, Anglicans, we all identify ourselves as being conservative. There are doctrinal differences between Presbyterians and Baptists. The former baptize infants while the latter recognize this practice as non-biblical. Baptist will require, in some instances, that a person to serve in a particular congregation need to be baptized again in that particular church. The Plymouth Brethren will see this act as non-biblical for they believe that once you are baptized you are not to do it again in the future. Pentecostals and Charismatics they adhere themselves to a more liberal wing in the Church. There are doctrinal differences within Pentecostals and Charismatics, yet they embrace and love each other. That’s something we should do good in learning from our Pentecostal and Charismatic brothers: mutual love and respect. Doctrinal differences between the diverse expressions of the Christian faith are not free tickets to discredit and humiliation. Nor shall they be pushed to the extreme point of suggesting that a pastor and his flock are not Christians.
We are call to defend our faith. Paul was clear when he urged young Timothy to stand and defend the truth he’d received as a young boy, the faith he inherited from his mother and grandmother (2 Tim. 1:5). There’s a difference between defending “the Truth” against cults, religions, philosophies; and arguing to the point of discredit with fellow Christians due to doctrinal differences. Nowadays we run conferences and publish books that blame, attack, humiliate, discredit and condemn other denominations just because they do not interpret Scripture the way we want them to do. I wonder how different we are from the Fharesses and the teachers of the Law when we force other traditions and denominations to adhere and profess the beliefs our tradition, our Church consider important as criteria for membership.
In Mt. 16:12 Jesus warned his disciples against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. The teachers of the Law came up with such a firm belief that the way in which they interpreted the Law was the only accurate one. They even placed heavy burdens on the people they were supposed to care for and lead. They were outraged when Jesus started preaching on love and acceptance, he did it without denying nor compromising the Truth.
We would do better loving well the people that the Lord has entrusted to us, teaching them according to Scripture, not according to our personal agendas and goals. We gain nothing by running conferences and writing books that condemn and discredit fellow brothers and sisters simply because we held doctrinal differences. When we decide to walk through that path of hatred and intolerance, we are sending the wrong message to unbelievers. They can tell that if we are not able of loving each other we would not be capable of loving them. When we walk through this path, the world doesn’t see a United Chruch, all they see is that we are divided.
Jesus said: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (Jn. 13:35)