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Thursday, August 16, 2012

Three thoughts from my last sermon (Part I)

In my most recent sermon at Chalice Christian Church, I answered three questions that spring from the slogan, "In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity."  The questions are (1) What is essential to being a Christian? (2) What does it mean to be unified? (3) What action does this understand compel us to take?

What is essential?  The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is a movement that seeks to bring wholeness to a fragmented world.  From its beginning, the founders pursued to potentially contradictory ends--restoration and unity.  Restoration meaning returning to the ways of the early church.  If you know anything about the early church, you know that it was not unified.  It fact, it was this disunity that gave rise to the creeds that Disciples so loathe.  Hence the popular slogan, "We have no creed, but Christ."

As mentor and friend Reverend Dale Copsey pointed out to me, the commas is key.  Christ is not our creed; Christ is instead of creeds.  And that goes a long way to answering the question of essentials.  To be Christian one must believe that there is something special about Jesus Christ.  Furthermore, that belief must have personal impact.  The essential is the good confession.  Words that I usually formulate as: Do you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the son of the Living God?  Do you take him as your personal savior.  (BTW, I am intentionally vague on these things.  Reverend Jim Corner, another close personal friend of mine, rejects almost all Christology.  But the primacy of Christ in his personal life is evident despite is predilection toward provocation when it comes to questions of His divinity.)

That is it, as the kids say, IMHO.

IF Christian THEN one believes in Jesus.  We can test it.  TRUE? (IF One does not believe in Jesus THEN One is not Christian)  I think the test is true.  If you believe Jesus was an important and valuable teacher, but he means nothing particular to you, then I think it is fair to say you are not a Christian.  It doesn't mean you're evil.

Does it mean you'll go to hell?  I don't know.  I think it means you cannot achieve Salvation, or living in The Way, or entry into the Kingdom of God--whatever those terms mean.  I used to get hung up on this sentiment.  But frankly, if you think outside of the Christian context, it is pretty easy to see the truth of it.  Can you live a Kosher life by studying Zen Koans?  I think not.  Neither can you achieve Enlightenment or Detachment from reading the Koran.  These ends or unique to each of the world religions, and it would be bizarre bordering on chauvinistic to suggest that they all lead to the goal of Christianity.

Answer one: To be Christian one must only believe in Christ.

2 comments:

Fez said...

Jim wrote:
"To be Christian one must believe that there is something special about Jesus Christ. Furthermore, that belief must have personal impact. The essential is the good confession. Words that I usually formulate as: Do you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the son of the Living God? Do you take him as your personal savior. ..."

But what if you do not believe that Jesus was literally the Son of God --i.e. He isn't divine --yet you do believe in his teachings and strive to live as he would have you live? In other words, "WWJD?" means everything to you, even though if you don't necessary believe?

JimII said...

Fez,

My answer is intentionally vague on such theological questions.

The phrase "literally the Son of God" is hugely open to interpretation. The Church has added lots of stuff about who Jesus is. That stuff is fascinating and may help with a deeper understanding of Christ's teaching. But often gets in the way.

There was not even agreement on this topic among the authors of the Gospel. Mark, the first Gospel, does not provide a miraculous birth story, but instead, Jesus seems to be bestowed with divinity at his baptism. Matthew's & Luke's authors have Jesus born divine, but in two very incompatible ways. (Is he the new king or the leader of the poor?) Then John bumps it all the way back to the beginning of time.

The person you describe, who be a Christian in my way of understanding things.