Exploring Faith

Flavours of Christianity…

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We know that Christianity has many ‘flavours’ or expressions – ranging from the loud to the laid back, the liturgical to the informal, the legalistic to the loose expressions, the conservative to the hyper-charismatic, and so on. In fact, it is because of the various kinds of churches that people of certain other beliefs question the validity of our Christianity, i.e Jehovah’s Witnesses and LDS (Mormons). One of the reasons for the difference in expressions of Christianity is not – as some skeptics would claim – because Christianity is false. It’s because Christianity developed organically from the onset, as the Spirit of God moved. Jesus came as Saviour, not religious dictator. He came in mercy to reconcile sinners to our Maker, not to control minds. This is in sharp contrast to pseudo-Christian groups that would call themselves ‘Christian’ yet the authority of their faith is not solely Christ Jesus, the crucified and risen Saviour. Their belief systems are dictated by others, and the Bible is not seen as the sufficient God-breathed Scriptures, nor the Holy Spirit seen as the Counsellor whom we need to be filled and led by. Instead, those belief systems have other writings to ‘explain’ (reinterpret) Bible truths. This leads to a rigid conformity in their practices, because their faith practice is dictated by men who claim to have the right understanding and the right revelations, who become the authority in their lives rather than the crucified Christ. So it’s actually a good thing that historic, Biblical Christianity has a variety of expressions. God is relational rather than a distant dictator.

We would do well to be more appreciative of eachother’s differences in Christendom. Of course, some may disagree and say “well what about that church which teaches something non-Biblical?”. A good question. If there are clear errors of practice, then we determine this by what the holy Bible teaches. There are differences that are more to do with culture and man-made traditions that are perpetuated, but what are the doctrinal essentials of the faith? Is the triune nature of God taught? Is it taught that Jesus is the only Way, the one Mediator between God and mankind, who was crucified for our sins and risen? Is the Bible taught as authoritative, or man’s philosophies elevated instead? If all the essential doctrines are in place, and the differences are around how water baptism is done, whether praying in other ‘tongues’ is done in the assembly or not, whether only ancient hymns should be sung, how we understand the return of Christ happening and the Church being ‘caught up’, and other matters that are not actual salvation essentials, then we need to have patience and tolerance to our fellow believers from other expressions of Church.

Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus, that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore receive one another, just as Christ also received us, to the glory of God.

Romans 15:5-7

The Bible is not prescriptive on the finer details of how we should conduct our gatherings and our personal spiritual practice – how expressive or how quiet we should always be, how many prayers we should express, or how many gifts of the Holy Spirit should be in each person, or even whether we should sing 2 worship songs or five in our gatherings. Also, in Church history, believers have faced persecution and the resulting scattering of the faithful, who then sought to recover Biblical truths in the face of skepticism and opposition. This had an impact on, or resulted in the different doctrinal emphases (yes, emphases – the plural of emphasis for those suspiciously checking their dictionaries), and practices around the world, even in the same country. However, we ARE told in the Bible what our faith practice should involve and include, but we have a freedom of expression in general.

Looking at the results of the recent Response Poll I sent out, it was good to see that the majority agree on the daily practices of Bible study and prayer. A lower percentage felt they could explain God’s triune nature (the ‘Trinity’) to a skeptic. None expressed any liberal views on the faith. The fact that a lower percentage felt able to explain the tri-unity of God, and a lower percentage are willing to discuss the faith with those from other beliefs, could be a matter of lack of apologetics training in some churches. There are also churches out there that do not, sadly, prioritise the proclamation of the Gospel message.

Let’s get back to this matter of freedom of faith practice.

On the plus side, because of our different personalities and tastes, we can choose what kind of worship songs we want to listen or, what kind of preachers or Bible teachers we want to listen to online, how we personally read the Bible, or even what kind of church fellowship we like. Yet our choices should primarily be based on what the Spirit of God is leading us to. He may work in the midst of our personalities & preferences, but He will not be undermined by these. We need to have discipline with our freedom of expression. Having so much freedom can have a negative consequence. Accountability sometimes gets shipwrecked. Boundaries sometimes get messed up. The recent bad report of the famous deceased apologist Ravi Zacharias comes to mind at this point. I won’t say further on that. There have been several commentators sharing thoughts on YouTube, some of whom have done a good job of giving a sensible, Biblical view.

I want to say at this point, that the essentials of the Christian faith should not and must not be neglected. If we can explain the essentials of Biblical Christianity to someone of a different belief, well done. If those essentials have become muddied in any of our minds, which is always a possibility if we fail to grow in the faith and start to become lukewarm and lazy, we enter dangerous territory spiritually.

because of the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, of which you heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel, which has come to you, as it has also in all the world, and is bringing forth fruit, as it is also among you since the day you heard and knew the grace of God in truth; as you also learned from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf, who also declared to us your love in the Spirit. For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God;

Colossians 1:5-10

God, as our loving Father, wants us to increasingly know Him and walk in His ways, for His glory and purpose. We are called to something much higher than our own personal comfort zones… the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

So, if we are obeying how God wants us to live, truly following our Lord Jesus, empowered in the Holy Spirit, instructed in the word of truth, we do well… and let’s seek to be accepting of one another when there are differences which are not heretical. Let’s be willing to listen to, engage with and even learn from those who are not part of our own preferred ‘camps’ who still adhere to the essentials of the faith. This is not always easy, but it enables us to have a broader and more meaningful fellowship experience. Several years ago, I joined a month-long evangelism training programme which had ‘students’ from various church backgrounds and even different countries – Lutherans from Norway & Denmark, Pentecostals from New Mexico, and so on. One of the Danish believers smoked cigarettes – he expressed that he didn’t think God minded, at the same time he was committed to learning to share the faith with others and was willing to travel to the UK to learn. We were such a varied bunch of believers in all sorts of ways. Yet we were able to learn and serve alongside eachother. We had all joined a Christ-centred evangelism programme – it was because of Christ that we all met.

I decided to post the video clip below, because it’s always good to think over what we believe and why… and help others in that. Have a listen to this from Allen Parr (a bit of a Denzel Washington lookalike). The ways in which Christians may express the essentials might not be ‘our’ way, but let’s keep the essentials in mind always, with God’s power.

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