Saturday, June 23, 2012

“Christian” Ideas that Aren’t (9)

1. “I’m more of a New Testament Christian.”
2. “The Old Testament is legalistic and about law; the New Testament is about love and grace.
3. “God helps those who help themselves.”
4. “Those who do not work should not eat.”
5. “Minds are like umbrellas. They work best when open.”
6. “My faith is private/personal and nobody else’s business.”
7. “We need to be more spiritual.”
8. “I was saved when I first believed in Jesus.”
9. “In the end, it doesn’t really matter what you believe. It only matters that you are sincere.”

Well, there’s an easy answer to rebut this unfortunately widespread sentiment: Adolf Hitler. He sincerely believed what he believed. And he acted on it! That’s what makes this statement so dangerous. Those who sincerely believe in something, act on it. It can’t remain merely an intellectual belief. Sincerity at least means that we do what we sincerely believe. This statement seems to trade on some such view of sincerity as a kind of mental or emotional state that at the end of the day makes no real difference in life. Otherwise we would make it so easily.

In fact, it does matter what we believe, at least so far as being Christian is concerned. The church through the ages has held to two defining beliefs that are to shape and determine our lives. These beliefs are enshrined in the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds. They are the holy mysteries of the triune identity of God as always and at the same time the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Though we have done a lamentably poor job of teaching this truth and its practical relevance, so that for many in the church it is a useless or irrational teaching we can better live without, God as triune is a central teaching from which alone the heart of the gospel must be unfolded.

The other holy mystery is that of the incarnation of the Son as Jesus of Nazareth. We done a little better teaching this one, but there are still many who see Jesus primarily as an ethical example or a supernatural savior. We still fall short of inculcating a biblical understanding of Jesus as both truly and fully divine – that is, he shows us what God is truly like and, at the same time, truly and fully human – that is, the demonstration of what God always intended human beings to be.

These two convictions are utterly basic and essential to Christian faith. They ground the gospel we preach and the faith we attempt to live out in the world. To claim to be Christian while not affirming these two convictions about God and humanity is nonsensical. For the triunity of God and the incarnation of the Son as Jesus of Nazareth is what it means to be Christian! Everything else we can argue and debate about. And indeed there is plenty room for conversation about the proper understanding of these two foundations. But there is no Christian faith without them.

It does indeed matter what we believe. Of course we must believe it sincerely – that’s entailed in any biblical understanding of faith! Beliefs do have consequences – and the consequence of Christian belief is the credibility of God’s truth itself!

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