Thursday, October 27, 2016

What's Fundamental to a Christian?

Some Christian denominations call themselves "fundamentalists"they have identified a handful of concerns which they attest are, well, fundamental to Christianity. It's what is often referred to as "lowest common denominator Christianity" (for a good discussion, see Baptist writer John D. Pierce). It's a focus on the core values. There are pros and cons to this approach--it does reduce the whole of Christianity to a few basic principles, which can cut out a lot--too much, according to some. But it also helps to make sure that the most important pieces stay central, as Pierce discusses.

There are variations in the list of fundamentals, but a good representation is the original from the early 20th century:

1.       Biblical inspiration and the infallibility of scripture as a result of this
2.       Virgin birth of Jesus
3.       Belief that Christ's death was the atonement for sin
4.       Bodily resurrection of Jesus
5.       Historical reality of the miracles of Jesus

Other lists include the deity of Christ, the literal reading of the Creation account and the eventual return of Christ to earth. [I guess there's still disagreement as to what constitutes a "fundamental," as the list keeps shifting over time.]

My point here is: Absolutely none of these lists include the thing that Jesus Himself said was fundamental, despite the quadruple Gospel repetition: The command to "love God and love one another."

Isn't that a problem?

You could argue that the Greatest Commandment is included under the "inerrancy of Scripture" and it permeates everything on this list. That would be a fair point. But there are a few pieces of Scripture that were brought out for extra emphasis, and the Greatest Commandment was not one of them. Sadly, it rarely is.

Just to make sure you don't think I'm picking just on Protestant fundamentalists here, let's roll out the Nicene Creed. This is adhered to by the Orthodox, Catholics and most mainline Protestants. Like the five fundamentals, there are some points of disagreement on which version of the Creed is canonical. However, the Greatest Commandment is not included in the Creed nor is it a mentioned in any of the debates surrounding it.

In fact, almost nothing of what Jesus actually said or taught is part of the Creed.  That's a strange homage to the guy we claim to be God Himself. 

Going even further, the Catholic Church subscribes to the doctrine of infallibility. This is a very misunderstood (and at the same time hotly contested) issue, but at its core, it basically claims that the Holy Spirit will never let the Church be in error. Is this referring to following the ultimate Commandment of God Himself?  No, it is about whether the Church could ever be wrong in dogmatic teachings regarding faith and morals. 

If the Holy Spirit were going to make absolutely certain that the Catholic Church, in all its humanity, does not make any major mistakes, wouldn't you think the Holy Spirit would make sure we got the big things right? And Jesus (you know, God, right?) said the "big thing" was the Greatest Commandment. Sure, we profess it—but it’s not first on our list. It's not our central rallying cry. It's not the goal we strive for in our daily labors. Given the prominence which Jesus gave it, it is shocking, if not downright scandalous, how rarely we discuss it.

But instead, Catholics are convinced of the inerrancy of dogmas--theological explanations. Jesus Himself never said that our Christology, Ecclesiology, Eschatology or any of the other -ologies had to be correct. Rather, He said we are to love God and love one another. 

Isn't that just so hysterical it's ridiculous? Here's this guy walking around the earth, and most Christians will say that this man was actually God--literally. Mind blowing. Amazing.  Emmanuel--God with us. God came to earth in the person of Jesus, had a lot to say and gave a lot of instructions. And we have managed to silence every. single. word. from. his. mouth. in our most fundamental faith statements--a universal tendency shared by all Christian denominations. As we get ready for a year-long anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, this one point on which virtually all Christian denominations have in common is not something to be proud of.

I don't want to over-simplify. Christians affirm that the whole of Scripture is the Word of God, not just the specific words of Jesus. And many Christians affirm that God continues to speak through the living Body of the Church--the Body of Christ in the world today. Still, none of that takes away the strangeness of the duct tape around the mouth of Jesus of Nazareth.

If you ask Christians for moral guidance, they are more likely to point you in the direction of the 10 Commandments of Mosaic Law from the Old Testament than to the Beatitudes, Works of Mercy or the Greatest Commandment preached by Jesus Himself.

God walked the earth as Jesus. Christians generally do not deny that. Many of Jesus' words are recorded in Scripture. Most Christians do not deny that. Jesus says out of all the things you do, this one should be the first. He even spells it right out for us! Here's the #1 place you'll want to devote your time and attention, folks. *Crickets*

Yet, when we come together to define ourselves as Christians, it doesn't even crack our top 10.

All around Christianity, the name of the game is belief. Dogmas and head games are the central talking points. Denominations have fragmented over arguments about nuances in the way we understand that which we, ironically, all agree is impossible to fully understand.

Yet, how many denominations have split over a desire to follow THE command of Jesus more fervently?

I admire the work of the Red Letter Christians who dare to ask:  What if Jesus actually meant what he said?

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