“…the questions which divide Christians from one another often involve points of high Theology or even of ecclesiastical history which ought never to be treated except by real experts.”- C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
I would like to think that I am like every other casual social media user: grabs the phone, goes into one app. Scroll the timeline, like some pics, retweet, share, and maybe even post something or join a discussion about some non-trivial topic of life: sneakers, music, fashion (but mostly about sneakers). Because I have a variety of friends, many of whom claim to be Christian, I will more than likely come across a post or tweet about the goodness of God/Jesus, the joys of the blessings of God, or some other Christian notion of belief. Yet ever so often, largely because I am a preacher/pastor/reverend (I never really know which association to subscribe to) and a student of theology (one who has formal theological education but also loves theological discussion), I am asked questions about the bible, what constitutes a Christian or Christianity, and more recently, the authenticity of a person’s appropriation of Christianity. Of these discussions, in about 7 out of 10 of them, the person who had the inquiry and several others who have joined the party, share their disapproval or disagreement with my views, and some even question whether I’m still a Christian at all! “Cool, fine, ok, have a blessed day,” are normally my thoughts that never make its way into the feed. I often ask myself why I bother… Oh yea because I’m a pastor/preacher/reverend and a student of theology, and innately there is a side of me that needs it, or so I believe.
One of the most disturbing things about these discussions, however, is how every person (including myself), without fail, believes they are right. Much of our understanding of what it means to be a Christian is based upon right and wrong. In every debate or discussion, the phrase, “The bible says” can be found, followed by a pasted scripture reference from the place where the bible says. Back and forth for hours and sometimes days, feeds and timelines are filled with people using the bible to defend their stance on said issue, mostly disregarding the fact that anything taken out of [its] context can never bring total clarity to an issue. So why do we do this?
Ultimately, we would like to believe it is possible to become a perfect Christian, to have a perfect Christianity, or a perfect method to becoming a [better] Christian. There is even a person reading this right now who is contemplating the various scriptures they have read to prove it is possible. Someone is even saying to themselves, “Jesus is the model to becoming a better Christian”, without realizing they are basically saying the best way to become a true Christian is to become a Jew! Our religious Christian inclination drives us to believe that others are not as Christian as we are because they don’t go to church, or read the bible every day, or fast, or subscribe to the “right” doctrine or theology, or read books from such and such author, or believe the words of such and such pastor/theologian/historian, or even go to the “right” schools of theology. I agree with C.S. Lewis in his example of how Christians debate about the essentials of Christianity: “When two Christians of different denominations start arguing, it is usually not long before one asks whether such-and-such a point “really matters” and the other replies: “Matter? Why, it’s absolutely essential.” (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity)
In our minds, loving God with our whole being and loving our neighbor as ourselves means we all have to follow the same ways of thinking, praying, worshiping, living, and loving, as if God is not robust enough to engage all of us individually and personally. In sharing the gospel, it is often mentioned that “God desires a personal relationship with us”. However, when people journey with God in a way that appears different from ours, our doctrinal nature kicks in to quickly “correct” people to how that relationship should actually be. The four Gospels in the New Testament attest to the personal nature of a relationship with God through Jesus. Each Gospel is distinct and personal, with a message for a different audience, and at different periods of time. Our classifications and assessments of each other’s faith journey should not be measured by how well we follow guidelines and rules but based upon how we love God and others. I am not saying we should not read the bible nor should we use the bible for edification and personal growth in the knowledge of God. Let’s be clear, the bible is not a rule book, nor is it a measuring rod… it is the written account of a people’s relationship with the God of creation, and if the bible says anything, it attests to the personal nature of God and how God’s activity with humanity is based upon each person’s creative, distinct, peculiar design.
Our greatest explanations of a true relationship with God can only be actualized through what we have come to know about God through scripture, reason, tradition and experience, which is a limitation many of us have trouble owning. If we are going to truly love God with our whole being and love each other, we have to understand that none of us are “Christian enough” to dismiss another’s relationship with God because of our limited and partial understanding of their relationship. Yes, we have our doctrine and our theologies, our denominations and our affiliations, our beliefs and convictions, and that is okay. Yet, there are no gatekeepers to Christianity and if for one second we believe it is, it’s probably because we aren’t Christian enough!