I recently was confronted about the content in a recently published book, which has caused a division to come between one of my friends and myself. This division is over some theological issues which are a concern for this brother, but are not for myself. The point of what I am addressing here is that some people perceive that some beliefs are more important than others, and as such, should be as important for their fellow believers and friends. I have found these to often be simply a different perspective, and a different view, that is quite frankly either mere opinion of the person concerned, or what I find worse, the allegiance to a teaching they received early in their walk with Christ, either from some teacher, or preacher, or from a good book, which has had a profound influence on their life thereafter.
I find the issues raised as non-essential to salvation, yet this brother in Christ has seen it as a dividing point, so much so that he has determined that he can no longer be part of the same Christian community as myself. The issue itself is not of particular importance here, but suffice it to say, it does raise a question of what is essential belief, and by belief I mean more than the mental assent to a formal statement of doctrine.
Belief by its nature involves God making possible the act of belief, for faith is the gift of God [Ephesians 2:8], to those He has predestined to life in Christ [Romans 8:28-30; Ephesians 1:4-6; 10-12], and as fully functioning members of the Kingdom of God. But the question remains what, if any are the essential beliefs of the Christian faith. My reflection today took me through a myriad of twists and turns and I could only determine the following essential beliefs.
1. The Bible is the only reliable source of God revealing Himself to man, and the only guide to truth and saving faith, and righteous living.
2. God is creator and redeemer, the source and sustainer of life.
3. There is only one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus, by which all men can be saved.
These to me are the non-negotiables of Christian belief. Late last year, while working on pages for my website I formulated a belief statement. I was attempting to express the eclectic beliefs that I have come to believe, cherish and practice.
I will not complicate things but state them plainly.
• In the doctrine of Scripture and truth, I am a historic Protestant, seeing the original texts of Scripture as without error in matters of faith and practice. I refuse to engage in the ongoing debates on inerrancy and take the Bible at face value to be true in all its contents.
• In the doctrine of God (Father, Son and Spirit) I lean to the historic Protestant belief, but with an emphasis that how man understands the Godhead and apprehends the truth of it, it is all a mystery, that the Spirit and Scripture, seal in the inner heart of man. It is a mystery and as such all the old formulations are at best, attempts to render God in meaningful language that can be apprehended and understandable. Our formulations are imperfect, but tell the story of how the Church has come to believe.
• In the doctrines of grace (total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, perseverance of the saints) I am a Calvinist. I am an adherent to the “Five Solas” of the Reformed tradition.
• In the doctrines concerning the Holy Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit (second blessing “baptism in the Spirit”, spiritual gifts, including the five fold servant leadership gifts), I am a classic Pentecostal, influenced by the non-extremist views of Charismatics. The excesses of the modern Charismatic movement have made me a post-charismatic (one who believes ever strongly in the work of the Holy Spirit, but has moved beyond the weirdness that currently exists. In that sense I am “post-weirdness” and “post-charismatic”), praying and hoping and working toward a more sane approach to life and ministry in the Spirit.
• In the doctrines of discipleship, Christian service, church governance, pacifism and non-violence, and the Kingdom of God, and our role with the state, I am an historical Anabaptist.
• In the doctrines of stewardship, ministry and mission, caring for the environment, I am very much influenced by the early forms of Celtic Christianity.
• In the doctrine of the “end times” I am a fulfilled Preterist, and a believer in “fulfilled, rather th
an the accepted term of “replacement” theology, whereas all the promises made to Israel are fulfilled in Christ and the body of Christ.
This was a summary statement of belief as I understood it a year ago, and not much has changed. My three essential beliefs are at best just a reductionist statement but I believe essential none the less.
If any of you have read Brian McLaren’s book, A Generous Orthodoxy, you will find at least the spirit of what Brian addresses here in this very brief overview of what I personally believe. These are my own distinctives, and at the root of them, lies the reality that as people, we are all in flux and change, and we continue to develop our beliefs and values through the crucible of faith wrapped up in life experience and inner heart/spirit knowledge, founded upon the veracity of what the Bible has to declare about God and about His will and purposes in the earth.
Over the years my theology has developed and changed and what was once very important to me, has now become more centred. Every time I overly focus on something, God has a way of bringing back to the centre of His will and purposes. It reminds me of the old adage: “For every mile of road, there are two miles of ditch.” I am trying to avoid the ditches on either side.
There will and there are those who will disagree with me, and that is OK. I stand on my understanding of the Bible, and what I have learned through thoughtful study and reflection. Like Luther, I can steadfastly declare with a clear conscience before God and man, “Here I stand, I can do no other.” Such are my convictions. To those who will disagree, who are brothers and sisters in Christ, and who differ in their understanding, I consider them dear brothers and sisters of the faith. I know I do not have a theology that is 100% correct, no one does. Besides theology itself is man’s attempt to systematize beliefs about God and the universe. This is simply my own understanding at this time in my life. I will hold these truths until I am convinced by Scripture that I need to correct and change them. It will not be by the persuasive arguments of men, but by Scripture alone, that I will change. Like Luther, I stand here and cannot do otherwise.
Saved By & Through Jesus, Not a Creedal Formula
I am not a follower of creeds as these are the mere formulations of men at various points and times in Christian history. They tell the story of believers and what they found to be of importance and value in their own day. The Bible alone has the weight and the authority to speak to and address all the issues of life. If creeds are in conflict with the Bible, then the Bible overrides the creed. If creeds support the Bible, then these lend weight to the testimony of Scripture and history. I have been blessed by the study of the Nicene Creed, The Book of Common Prayer, Book of Concord, The Westminister Confession, The Canons of Dort, as well as other faith formulations. But all these are simply human formulations, and do not carry the weight of the authority of Scripture.
It is regrettably unfortunate that some people put a premium on what they consider to be essential, in a sense “majoring on minors” instead of “focusing on the fundamentals”, having the “i’s” dotted a certain way and the “t’s” crossed in a particular way, otherwise they break fellowship with you.
- Why does a particular non-essential belief in the mystical body of Christ have to cause such division?
- Why does the embracing of a particular author presume the acceptance of all they teach in their writing?
- Why do some believers demand adhearance to some beliefs that others are not in the least concerned about?
- Why must I conform to a particular belief that is not my own, just to maintain relationship and fellowship?
- Why such demands?
- Would Jesus place that kind of demand on a person?
- Does He demand that we have all the right theology or He will cut Himself off from us?
I constantly have to remind myself and others, that we are not “saved” by our statements of belief, but upon Whom we believe. Doctrine has always divided believers and non-believers alike. I choose to believe upon the person of Jesus Christ, as He is the sole Mediator between God and man and the only hope of salvation for humankind. He is the rock upon Whom I stand, and like Luther, “here I stand, I can do no other!”