Monday, November 12, 2007

Essentials Again

I've posted about this before, but I love the discussion provoked by my list of 'essential' Christian doctrines. This time, I want to look at it from the vantage point of who is excluded by each essential element. I'll take you step by step through the verses I use to determine the essentials:

Hebrews 11:6
Anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

To be considered a Christian one must:
1. Believe that God exists
2. Believe that God desires relationship

The first, obviously, excludes practicing atheists. The second excludes, at least, the extreme forms of deism (the level of God's direct involvement in the cosmos is, of course, a different discussion that extreme deism which rejects active involvement completely, so far as I understand).

1 John 4:2
Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God

To be considered a Christian one MUST:
3. Believe that Jesus came in the flesh

This would seem to exclude some forms of gnosticism and/or some eastern religions that hold to a doctrine of the physical realm being either wicked or imagined.

John 8:24
If you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins.

4. Believe Jesus is who He claimed to be
a. Jesus claimed to be the Messiah
b. Jesus claimed to be the Son of God
c. Jesus claimed to be the Lord
* consider further 'I AM' passages

This certainly excludes practicing Jews, not to mention any who claim that Jesus was simply another prophet or 'good moral teacher.'

Romans 10:9
[If you] believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved

5. Believe Jesus rose from the dead

This would exclude practicing Muslims and, again, Jews. It would also exclude many 'liberal Christians' who reject the historicity of the resurrection.

With this list, I feel we have the proper exclusivity while refraining from division over secondary issues. Given these 5 criteria, we can delay dividing with JW's or Mormons until we actually find out what they, as individuals believe. After all, in the end, people aren't saved by being in the correct group, but by seeking the true God.


thrills said...

i must confess i found myself disturbed by your post. when i read the last paragraph i almost laughed out loud ("with this list, I feel we have the proper exclusivity...") thinking you were being sarcastic, but didn't because within the broader context of your entire post and previous post on the subject you seem entirely serious about the matter.

i am disturbed for the following reasons:
1) the exclusivist vibe of your "requirements" for salvation
2) your use of scriptures to prove a point that is not inherent within the scripture (see 3. believe that Jesus came in the flesh)
3) the assertion, assumed by your style of writing within this post, that we are saved by adherence to a list of beliefs

1) God is an inclusivist, not an exclusivist. his main purpose in salvation is not to figure out who's in or out, but to redeem all of creation so as to bring it (us) back into relationship with him, a relationship that was severed near the beginning of creation (see genesis 3). his goal for us is not that we believe the right list of things, but that we run back to the God we have been separated from, the one we were created to enjoy forever.
2) your point number 3 (believe that jesus came in the flesh) excludes not only gnostics and eastern religions but also anybody in the history of the world past and present who has not heard the story of jesus of nazareth. that includes all of the old testament people of faith. i don't have an answer for that, but have a hunch that "believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved" somehow applies to those who never heard of him also. in other words, i have a hope that Jesus will reveal himself at some point to all people, whether or not they cognitively realize he is Jesus Christ of Nazareth from 23 AD, the God-man who came in fleshly form. (see passage where Jesus preaches to the dead in sheol after his death... where does that fit in our theories of salvation?)
3) it is not our task to figure out who is in or out, but to love all people equally, point all people toward relationship with Jesus the Christ through the testimony of our lives and words, and live in faithful obedience to the things God asks of us. God is the one who will judge. we are saved by faith not of ourselves, but a gift of faith that comes from God. He alone knows who has a heart that truly knows him as saviour and Lord.

i'm sure your intentions are similar to my own. i was just disturbed by what you wrote so wanted to debate a bit (wink and a grin).

wishing you all the very best things,

matthew said...

Hey Brandon :) Thanks for the dialogue.

I must confess a degree of surprise that I would be critiqued here on my 'exclusivity' and not my 'inclusivity.' Most everywhere else I've exchanged these thoughts I was critiqued for being TOO inclusive!

In response to your 3 points:

1) exclusivity

I agree that God is an inclusivist! But unless you are a universalist, the idea that God includes carries with it the idea that others are excluded. You exclude based solely (at least it seems) on willful direction (running toward God), but my view is more holistic. If we are running toward God willfully, certain mental agreements are made along the way.

For instance, can someone truly be said to be running TOWARD God while at the same time growing more and more convinced that God doesn't even exist? Do you think someone can be running TOWARD Christ while at the same time believing more and more that He never came, isn't Lord, and didn't rise again?

I think not.

So while I agree that His goal is not that we believe a list of things, mental adherence to certain things comes along with following Christ. He isn't just the WAY. He's also the TRUTH. In other words, the 'way' is 'narrow.'

2. those who have never heard

Do you believe God includes practicing gnostics and hindu's as 'in Christ?' As I stated in my last line, I don't believe we are saved by being in the correct group, but by following Christ. Nonetheless, we can't seriously be following Christ if our mental commitments are moving us further and further away from Truth/Christ.

And if you've ever read any of my writings regarding those who have never heard, you know that I have what would be considered a very optimistic view of such people. My list of exclusives, as I've stated before, is in regards to those who wish to CALL THEMSELVES Christians. In other words, a person can't legitimately call themselves a Christian and then go ahead denying that God exists, or that Jesus is real, or that Jesus rose from the dead. My list is not concerned with those who don't know enough to accept or deny the label of 'Christian.'

3. Not our task to separate

While in a sense I agree that it's God's job to do the dividing (He'll do that on Judgment Day), it's inaccurate to imply that we aren't to be discerning. As a pastor, I have a responsibility to separate our congregation from false teachers and those who deny the faith.

Secondly, there's absolutely nothing in my post that says we shouldn't love the excluded equally! It's a straw man to say that people who set doctrinal boundaries don't care about loving those outside the lines.

It almost seems like you interpreted my post as if I was going to give everyone a test and kick people out who don't score 100%! Nothing could be further from the truth. Everyone is welcome to the conversation. Everyone is welcome into the church walls. But I wouldn't let anyone teach our congregation who doesn't adhere to these things and yet maintain the label 'Christian'. I'm not attempting to convey my ideas about who's in and who's out. I posted Scriptural references and the points were simply re-statements of God's word. I'm attempting, then, to identify God's demands upon the mental components of faith.

What do you think of the 'MUST' verses I quoted? Don't you think they are exclusive in nature?

Thanks again :)