Wednesday, February 19, 2020

The ABCs of Faith

I exist in the church as a member of a tradition that builds itself upon agreement in the essentials and grace in the non-essentials. The Restoration Movement has always been about unity, so long as we're all starting on the same inarguable foundation of the faith (note: unity, not uniformity), but this has always raised the question:

What are the essentials?

What are the foundations of the faith that are non-negotiable? What should we expect - and perhaps even require - from others in order to call them Christians? What should we require from ourselves?

Of course, when you ask these questions, you'll get all sorts of answers drawing on all kinds of church history. There's sola scriptura, which means Scripture only - we speak where the Bible speaks and are silent where it is silent. And this is certainly a worthy starting point, but in the 21st-Century, that leaves a lot for us to be silent about. There are traditions that embrace the Gospels as authoritative - whatever Jesus did, do that. Jesus is the center of it all. Some pull in the whole New Testament. Others take from the whole Bible. Some, in a way similar to how Judaism evolved, pull in voices of "authority" from the teachers of the faith. It just all leaves us wondering - what are the foundations of the Christian faith? What are the basics?

The difference is that we're often asking about doctrine, not action. Hebrews, on the other hand, talks about action. It talks about the basics of how we live. Straight up. From Hebrews 6, the bare bones of Christianity, the basics of the faith, the foundation and the starting point are this:

"repentance from dead works, faith in God, ritual washings, laying on of hands, resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment."

It's both refreshing and shocking to read this list and think about it in terms of our own modern Christianity. We have repentance, but we talk about repentance from our sins, not our dead works. These are two totally different things. When we talk about sin, we're talking about our wandering, about our waywardness, about our turning away. When we talk about dead works, we're talking about a faith that still tries to earn it, one that doesn't operate under grace. (This was likely a direct comment on the Jewish system of atonement and sacrifice.)

We have faith in God, but most of us have narrowed God down to a personal diety who loves us individually and relates to us one-to-one. We have lost sight of the big picture God who created the universe and is all-powerful, all-knowing, all-everything. Our faith is not really in "God" any more in the sense of who HE is, but is rather in our God, whatever of Him we know and are comfortable with.

We have baptism, but baptism is not a ritual washing. It doesn't cleanse us in the way that ritual washing did. Ritual washing was used in a couple of ways - it was used after a period of uncleanness and involved dead birds, blood, and hyssop sprigs, among a few other things. It was also used daily, as in the washing of hands and feet to wash away the dirt one picks up over the course of a life being lived. We don't worry a lot about keeping ourselves clean daily any more. We bathe, but it's more so that we don't stink too bad. We don't think about the purity aspect of it. We don't think about the atonement of it. We don't think about what it signifies. It's not a holy act for us the way it was for them.

A few traditions still lay on hands, but many do not. We speak often of the resurrection of the dead and eagerly await our own. And of course, Christians have always had a certain love for eternal judgment - so long as we're the ones preaching it.

It's a list that ought to give us pause to think about the way that we live the faith. We talk about unity on the essentials, and these are the essentials.

I wonder how it would reflect on the church if these became the things we did together, no matter what the signs outside of our buildings say.

Just thinking. 

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