Monday, October 22, 2007

Things Worth Dying For 1: What are the essentials worth taking a bullet for? Introduction

One of the things I have been considering lately is this question, 'what would I be prepared to die for?' I am not talking about causes here, but in terms of elements of Christian belief that are totally indispensable, things that are so essential to my belief that were I taken captive by terrorists, I would take a bullet for.

This is no academic exercise. The history of Christianity is full of the imposition of all manner of things as 'essential' to the faith. We have fought wars over some of them. People have been put to death for elements of belief. Churches have split continually over such things. As we go about preaching the gospel, we need to seek to be as certain as possible about these things, to ensure that we preach the gospel authentically. If we do not, we may sell people a lie, we may impose on them things they do not need to believe, telling them they are imperative, when in fact they are not that certain.

This was an issue in the early church. Should a new believer be circumcised and adhere to the law of Moses to be saved? Paul and Barnabas led the charge to ensure this did not happen. Why? So that new Gentile believers would not be burdened with these and because 'salvation is by faith alone' and not any work.

So over the next few entries I will address some of these questions. My feeling is that Christians are guilty of imposing the non-essential on others as essential. We have imposed ideas like a certain type of baptism is imperative, what gender can or cannot teach, a certain view of creation as definitive, a certain view on the second coming of Christ and the events that will occur, a certain view of what mission is and so on. We have fought over these things and are outrageously divided over them.

I believe this is essential too from the perspective of post-modernism and post-christendomism. That is, being Christians in this post-modern world demands of our society less absolutism and more relativism. Or perhaps better, absolutism where absolutism is due, and relativism where the grey glows in the darkness.

I am not going to sell out to post-modernism, pluralism and relativism; but I am going to allow it to speak to me and ensure that I am not preaching a gospel that is not based on the essentials, whilst allowing different views to exist in the non-essentials. Not that I won't develop my own thoughts on these issues, but I will do so with openness and humility, knowing that this is only one legitimate way of looking at the data.

I believe we will be far more effective in sharing the gospel in this context where we preach that which is essential and allow new believers to explore the faith and come to their own points of view on the non-essential.

Actually, we need to allow freedom to all who want to explore the faith. But it would help if we clarified those things that are non-negotiable.

Doing this intuitively has helped me a lot. I began as a dogmatic Christian. One who worked out his 'macro-narrative' (see above) on what was really a limited knowledge of the texts of the Bible, and I then tended to be very certain and judgemental of other points of view. Thankfully, I remained open to adapting my understanding, and I believe now I am in a much better position as a Christian and a proclaimer. That is, I major on the essentials, and hang loose on the non-essentials (while having my own view on many of them of course).

Paul was like this. In 1 Cor 9:19-22 he speaks of adapting his missiological strategy by being non-dogmatic and flexible in terms of non-essentials (adiaphora). This was to ensure he had the maximum effectiveness in his proclamation, to win the many. We see this applied in 1 Cor 8-10 and Rom 14-15 in particular, as he urged believers to be adaptable based on conscience and love.
Another reason to do this is false-absolutism comes back to bite us on the behind. Christians love to explore and test what they hear. False-absolutism where it is not due almost inevitably spawns a reaction that often divides. It would be better not to go there in the first place and not determine non-essentials as essential but major on the majors not the minors.

For me this is actually a huge issue. If we are going to effectively re-evangelise the west we need to do so from a strong unified foundation. If we are going to retain Christians we win we must allow them to work through the options themselves, let the grey be grey, present what we believe not in autocratic dogmatism, but with freedom to explore, searching into the possibilities and probabilities. For me this is one of the joys of being a Christian, exploring, testing ideas, checking out people's notions against text and context etc. We must raise students and disciples and not blind followers.
Hence, working out the things worth dying for is a worthy task. So onwards...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

ha, I will try out my thought, your post give me some good ideas, it's really awesome, thanks.

- Norman