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The modern English version of the Nicene Creed
We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God,
eternally begotten from the Father, God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God, begotten, not made, of the same substance as the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered, died, and was buried.
On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son he is worshipped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.
The Nicene Creed, above, is accepted by almost every denomination of Christianity (Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox) as the definition of what it means to be a Christian. It was put together in 321 AD and amended in 381 AD as a reference point for what it meant to be a follower of Jesus (to be a Christian) or not. “Creed” (or “credo”) literally means “I believe” or “I agree with.” Does every Christian agree with what is included (and what is excluded) in the Nicene Creed? Of course not. But for the sake of simplicity, this is the definition I will use when I refer to “a Christian.”
A bit of background: People in the first/second/third century church lived in a topsy-turvy metropolitan world where politics and economy and culture and theology clashed and turned upside down and was confusing and bothersome and sometimes dangerous just like today. Before the canon of the scriptures coalesced, people were looking at this stack of letters and stories and poems and history and asking, “Which of these should be in the canon (what we know today as the Bible)?” They were digging deeper, yearning, seeking, praying about the question, “Who is this God?” and “Who is this Jesus?” (and “As followers of Jesus, who are we?”)
“Jesus is Lord” was the original uniting creed of the first Jesus-followers. Then, the Old Roman Creed preceded the Apostle’s Creed and was followed by other creeds (like the Nicene Creed above). The Nicene Creed formed through prayerful scholarly consideration into what was produced at the Council of Nicea (and later edited) which has been a pretty solid clarifications about what it means to be a Christian.
We hear people say things like, “We should be more like the first century or ‘early’ church,” but most people don’t know enough about the first century/early church to know how much we are like the first century/early church (already). We also live in a time where cultures clash on a regular basis and must learn what it means to be a citizen, a good neighbor, and how to follow Jesus with integrity as we navigate all of it…just like they did in the book of Acts.
Back to the Nicene Creed: I appreciate the Nicene Creed not only for what is included but for what is not included. What do I mean? For instance, according to this well-respected, long-standing base-line of what it means to be a follower of Jesus, one does not need to hold certain political views, economic views, or other convictions to be a Christian. Over the centuries, people who claim to (and may actually!) worship God, follow Jesus, listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit, and trust the Bible have all held varying opinions on the numerous aspects of culture. The question, “How does one follow Jesus within one’s culture?” is always in the air and open to discussion and interpretation as we read the ancient texts of the Bible (with respect and honesty) and aim to apply them to our own context. My assumption here is that a Christian would be one who respects and trusts the Bible (even if they disagree with others as to what any given verse or passage implies, infers, directs or describes).
Which brings me to this: months ago I posted something on Facebook about my decision-making process. The quick synopsis was that, when faced with the question, “How do I follow Jesus within my culture regarding the issue of ________?” I do the following: read the Bible, pray, read what other intelligent Christians have to say, think, discuss with friends (repeat as necessary). If after some time I still cannot come to a solid conclusion, and I see that other intelligent and kind Christians also disagree, I will choose to lean toward the most compassionate side of the argument (“compassionate” in my opinion of course, compassion can be subjective) and not judge others for their convictions or choices (as long they are not harming others). For example, if I am torn over how to vote (for a person or an issue), and after prayer, study, discussion and thought still cannot make a decision, I will lean towards the most compassionate side. If others choose to vote a different way or choose not to vote at all, oh well. There will be no judgement from me, and I would like to assume the same from others. Contrary to what many people think, the Bible is NOT clear on many modern issues. I am a Christian (Jesus-follower, etc), not a Biblicalian (I think I just invented that word), and one of the basic ideas of following Jesus is to FOLLOW JESUS. The Bible is not equivalent to God. It is to be respected, read, and referenced, but not worshipped. Also, millions have “successfully” lived as a Christian without the Bible or even the ability to read. But that’s another thing for another time…
Christianity is divided, and is continually dividing, into more and more groups based on differing views of what it means to follow Jesus within one’s culture. Whole denominations splinter off based on differing opinions/convictions on as little as one issue. Which, honestly, is fine as long as they do so with humility (realizing they might be wrong). But, let’s be honest, that’s probably not often the case.
What is culture? “Culture” is what encompasses our daily life, especially in relationships: families, communities, friends, and nations. We have an American culture. I live in a Southern American culture, but also a coastal culture. Each church or denomination has a culture (we affectionately call ours the “vibe” or the “special sauce”). Each city has its own culture. One can belong to the theatrical, video gaming, sports, or artistic culture (or a combination). Culture involves music, food, money, politics, religion, holidays, national ideals, festivals, language, histories, and myths.
What is myth? We often use “myth” in place of “fiction” but myths are grand stories that carry meaning and purpose for a people. Using narrative and metaphor (and great storytelling!), they help answer questions like, “Who are we?,” “Where did we come from?,” “What do we value?,” and “Where are we going?” Nations have myths. Families have myths. Religions have myths. Even sports teams have myths. When it comes to myths, don’t confuse facts with Truth. They might be the same thing…but they might not.
Authentically following Jesus in the 21st Century as a middle-class American may look vastly different than following Jesus as a Chinese peasant or a Norwegian business woman or an African tribal chief or a poor American or a black American or a Native American or a displaced Ukrainian or … you get the idea (I hope). Subtract 10, 100, or 1000 years in any culture and you may get an even different picture of what it means to faithfully follow Jesus in that culture. Simply acknowledging that last statement should open up the doors for some understanding and compassion as we press on. On the flip side, if you’re thinking, “No, we have the same Bible we’ve had for centuries, and what it said then is what it says now. Therefore, how we dress, eat, pray and act should be the same as it ever was!”…well, it’s simply not that simple.
There are lots and lots of decisions to make as we aim to navigate faithfulness to Jesus and living in our culture(s). In some Christian circles, folks call these decisions “convictions.” One might realize that it’s not an “am-I-a-Christian-or-not?” issue, but one feels “convicted” to make a decision one way or the other. This is very subjective and a touchy subject. When one claims they have “heard from God” or that they have “sensed the leading of the Holy Spirit,” it’s impossible to know what actually went on inside their heart and mind. One should always tread lightly on either side of this – as BOTH the one who claims they have heard from God or the one who hears the claim. Be fair. Be humble. Be nice. And be quiet if at all possible. A friend and I have joked that our church motto ought to be “Love God, love others, shut up.”
So, what are some issues facing the Church in the USA? By “the Church” I mean all who call themselves Christians – those who acknowledge Jesus and put their hope and faith in him, his Resurrection, and the voice and power of the Holy Spirit (see the Nicene Creed above). Below is a partial list of issues and some possible stories (fiction, but totally real). Also, I may cite a few references, but I’m not going to support every single point or provide every reference here. I’m not writing a research paper. I did the hard work of seeking, finding, reading, digesting, praying, discussing, (and repeating!), and so can you. I will also try to keep my personal views in check. Each of these topics could have innumerable variations.
*Disclaimer: I used a random name generator for these scenarios. random-name-generator.info
Here we go…
Flora chose to vote for one candidate because that contender is against abortion (which she deems very important). She feels the Bible is clear on issues of life and this is a no compromise issue. She hates that her candidate of choice is soft on pollution, because she also believes God made the earth beautiful and put us in charge to care for it, but the environment is down her list of importance.
Down the street, Rickey, who is also a Christian, chooses to vote for the other candidate. Rickey hates abortion as well but sees the environment as a supremely crucial issue, not only for the Biblical mandate to care for the earth, but for the survival of us all. So, although THEY BOTH FOLLOW JESUS and have read the Bible, prayed, read other writings, discussed with friends and thought heavily on the issue, they have formed different convictions.
In 1 Corinthians 6:19, the Bible says that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. We should take care of them and treat them with respect. God gave us our bodies to serve him, care for others and enjoy life. Therefore, Loni has decided to get a tattoo. Why? Loni sees a well-thought-out tattoo as a work of art. Churches and cathedrals have long been adorned with works of art, so why not her “temple?” She realizes that many may object because of one verse in Leviticus (19:28) or because of social convention. However, her tattoo has no offensive language or artwork, and she is completely comfortable with her decision.
Kyle, on the other hand, has chosen not to get a tattoo and feels they are not compatible with following Jesus. Although he may agree that the verse in Leviticus was for the priests or to separate the original Hebrews as they were coming out of Egypt (as an identity marker, other cultures had tattoos as a part of their worship), he still feels that tattoos are somewhat of an idol or a purposeful blemish on the body God gave him. So, although THEY BOTH FOLLOW JESUS and have read the Bible, prayed, read other writings, discussed with friends and thought heavily on the issue, they have formed different convictions.
Lots of folks showed up for the church picnic. Everyone brought something to share. Phillip brought a turkey he got from the grocery store and cooked in his own oven. Tammy has chosen to be a vegetarian, because she feels the meat industry is cruel to animals (and the Bible tells us not to be cruel and to care for creation). She is a bit offended and aghast as Philip makes a scene out of carving the dead animal. Philip has read the Bible as well, and one of his favorite stories is when Peter has the vision of the sheet coming down from heaven (Acts 10). The sheet is filled with animals, and a voice from heaven tells Peter to feel free to eat any of them. He thinks that is awesome. So, although THEY BOTH FOLLOW JESUS and have read the Bible, prayed, read other writings, discussed with friends and thought heavily on the issue, they have formed different convictions.
Owen brought several 2-liters of various soda to the picnic. He is a generous person and loves to bring a little joy to the party (especially for the kids). He sees his money as actually God’s money and wants to use it to serve others. He sets up a little drink station on a card table and also has kickballs and frisbees for the kids to share. Parents love Owen because he cares about kids (and isn’t creepy!). He even brings reusable cups because he cares about the environment.
Henry cannot believe Owen brought soda to the picnic, especially without the parents’ permission. Sugar is proven to be very addictive and can cause all kinds of health issues. God gave us wisdom to think through issues and take care of our bodies. To link sugar with “joy” and “church” really bothers Henry. He loves kids as well (and has 2 of his own) and feels he has been put in the “bad cop” position in front of his kids at the picnic. So, although THEY BOTH FOLLOW JESUS and have read the Bible, prayed, read other writings, discussed with friends and thought heavily on the issue, they have formed different convictions.
Rachel brought a small keg of home brewed beer to the picnic. She abhors the mass commercialization of anything, because it usually infers that somewhere/somehow people are being treated like cattle or slaves (it’s all throughout the Bible…Egypt, Babylon, Rome…). She sees her homebrewing as a way to keep things local and humane. Also, her husband really enjoys her recipe (and so do his friends!) and she sees this as one way to show him some love and respect (Proverbs 31). She and her hubs have 3 kids and they teach them wisdom, moderation, and sensibility when it comes to alcohol. Jesus made extra wine at a wedding and the Psalms and Ecclesiastes talk about alcohol making the heart glad, so she feels at ease bringing it. Earl is furious that Rachel dared bring alcohol to a church picnic. There are all kinds of warnings about alcohol in scripture. He is especially angry because children are present, AND he feels it is a “bad witness” (wrong presentation) for the non-Christians who are at the park with them. So, although THEY BOTH FOLLOW JESUS and have read the Bible, prayed, read other writings, discussed with friends and thought heavily on the issue, they have formed different convictions.
LGBT (lesbian, gay bi-sexual, transgender) (I’m aware there are other terms and initials.)
Sue has known she is attracted to the same sex for years. At first she was confused, but no longer. She was never abused in any way and grew up in a conservative home. She decided to follow Jesus and was baptized when she was 14. After years of wrestling with everything, she has neither lost her faith in Jesus nor come to the conclusion that she is “broken.” After years of prayer, study, discussion, and thought (and lots of repetition), she is very comfortable being both a Christian and having a partner, Sylvia (who worships with her at their church). They are pleased that there is a growing number of Christian authors, pastors and theologians, who are both intelligent and devoted to Jesus (and the Bible), who are publishing books and blogs that teach that the 5 or 6 scriptures that mention homosexuality may need some re-interpretation.
Kara has also known that she was attracted to the same sex for years, but she feels the scriptures are clear about homosexuality (that the acts are a sin). She has chosen to remain celibate. She is not ashamed of her orientation, but feels they need to be second next to following Jesus and scripture. She struggles at times but is confident in her decision.
Lee is clearly heterosexual but feels compassion for his LGBT friends. He has struggled with how to process scripture, scientific research, his church’s stance, and his own feelings about this issue. After prayer, thinking, reading and discussion, he has chosen to affirm his LGBT friends.
Stan is heterosexual and doesn’t see why everyone is researching and praying about this. The Bible is clear. If one “thinks” or “feels” an inclination towards the same sex, they need to recognize it is sin and repent. Stan loves his LGBT friends (and is kind to them), but, in his mind, he also loves his friends who lie and steal. Sin is sin.
So, although THEY ALL FOLLOW JESUS and have read the Bible, prayed, read other writings, discussed with friends and thought heavily on the issue, they have formed different convictions.
Jeremiah is a devout follower of Jesus and is entranced by science. He sees science as the study of everything God made (and therefore the study of it as a form of worship). He loves investigating, reading, experimenting, debating, and sharing anything about science. He see the creation account in Genesis as myth. It’s mythical, because it is a grand story that carries meaning, purpose and direction for those who follow God: God was always present, God is supremely intelligent, God is artistic, God is orderly, God loves systems that are alive, God bestowed his image to humanity (awareness, creativity, care-taking, etc), the earth is beautiful, humans need boundaries, violating boundaries has consequences, and God loves us more than we could ever imagine. He does not see the creation account in Genesis as factual but that in no way takes away its Truth. His favorite hymn is All Creatures of our God and King and is fascinated with the evidence of the various strands of the Theory of Evolution.
Darrel loves God and views the creation account in Genesis 1-2 as literal. He sees any attempt to promote the Theory of Evolution as an attempt to thwart the Word of God (if we cannot trust the words in the Bible as literal, where does it stop?). He is intelligent and has collected quite a lot of research to support his views. He cannot see a compromise with faith and evolutionary science.
So, although THEY BOTH FOLLOW JESUS and have read the Bible, prayed, read other writings, discussed with friends and thought heavily on the issue, they have formed different convictions.
Roles of Men and Women
Jill reads passages like 1 Corinthians 14 (women should be silent in church), 1 Timothy 2 (women are not permitted to teach), Proverbs 31 (women should honor their husbands and serve them), and what she feels is a general theme in scripture and is convicted that men should lead, women should support (or teach kids), and the roles are clear. When women like Deborah became leaders (Judges 4), it was only because of weak male leadership (but not what God wanted). She is happy, content, and fulfilled with her roles as homemaker and supporter.
Karl is convinced after reading passages like Romans 16 (which includes a list of female leaders, co-workers of Paul, teachers), the gospel accounts of Jesus’ death and Resurrection (which says that the women were the ones who didn’t run away and were the first to be sent to tell others), and the fact that Jesus allowed Mary (Martha’s sister, Luke 10) to sit at his feet and learn like a disciple as Jesus’ approval of women being in leadership. He has no problem with listening to women preach or teach and is happy that his daughter can serve God however she is led.
So, although THEY BOTH FOLLOW JESUS and have read the Bible, prayed, read other writings, discussed with friends and thought heavily on the issue, they have formed different convictions.
Economics (and maybe How to Help the Poor)
Jacob thinks capitalism is the best economic system the world has to offer and it is based on scriptural principles. Verses like 2 Thessalonians 3:10 (no work = no eat) and many of the general economic principles in Proverbs (about saving and working hard) are precious to him. He also resonates with Samuel’s warnings about the Jews’ desire for a king (that a king will tax and enslave you, 1 Samuel 8) and hates government waste and oversight. He does not see caretaking of the poor to be the government’s job, but rather the church’s. He gives generously to his church which has lots of great programs to help folks. He is very charitable with his money and hopes to make even more money someday (so he can be more generous).
Teri appreciates the verses that Jacob loves and also feels that capitalism is better than most any economic system…but she has her misgivings. Although one is free to work hard and economically move up, capitalism does seem to favor those who already have a head-start. There also seems to be a pragmatic mentality (if it works, it’s ok) inherent in capitalism where the weak can be left behind or even trampled upon (as they often are). Also, politicians (and those with political interests) use their financial clout to sway public policy. She agrees with conservative economic advisors (many who even use scripture as a reference) but is wary of ideals in which financial concerns come first. She has no problem with the USA moving toward a “soft-socialism” like some European countries, and views government caretaking as a gift from God.
So, although THEY BOTH FOLLOW JESUS and have read the Bible, prayed, read other writings, discussed with friends and thought heavily on the issue, they have formed different convictions.
Mack prays to God all the time but has no expectation of miracles. When he prays, he asks God for wisdom and insight, and he offers thankfulness and praise. He views the stories of miracles in the Bible as descriptive (describing what happened) but not prescriptive (what we ought to do today). He feels that Jesus was obviously divinely gifted and the apostles had a similar designation. He has never seen or experienced a miracle and is a little embarrassed when his Christian friends pray for them. However, he does feel that Jesus cares about our troubles and is with us, but that we are to use his guidance and our own common sense and intelligence to solve our problems.
Louis loves the stories of prayer and miracles in the Bible. He feels that Jesus’ commission to pray for others is extended to us and has no idea why Christians would think otherwise. He has prayed for lots of miracles (healings, etc) and people have occasionally verified that God healed them. He does not lose his faith when people are not healed and keeps on praying.
Dennis and Violet feel very strongly about having firm boundaries for their children. They feel that God gives us clear boundaries (with rewards and punishments) through the 10 Commandments and other scriptures, so they provide the same. They have fairly rigid schedules and chore lists and feel it provides a healthy structure for the children. The children memorize scripture verses from an early age and are not allowed to spend the night at other families’ homes (where they would not be under the direct guidance of their parents). They do not feel they are over-protective but rather do not want to abdicate their parental responsibilities to others.
Anthony and Nina love their children dearly as well but do not see the raising of their children as their sole responsibility. They have a high value for their church family and see the raising of children as a somewhat shared responsibility. They understand that when Joseph and Mary did not worry about where Jesus was (when he was 12), it was because they trusted the faith community. Anthony and Nina view parenting as more of guidance than as direct instruction, allowing the Holy Spirit to speak to their children in time (their view of Proverbs 22:6). They do, of course, provide general boundaries for health and well-being, but not too strictly.
Andrea feels that she should have friends, especially Christian friends, with people of other races. She highly values worshipping with people who don’t look like her or share her culture. She feels that the picture painted at the end of Revelation, of all kinds of people from all over worshipping Jesus together, is part of the end goal. So, we should strive for that today. She sees that the dream Peter has in Acts 10 isn’t only about food but also about racial reconciliation. She is not personally responsible for the atrocities done to other races but she acknowledges the real pain and the real consequences and seeks to come together.
Howard is just fine worshipping and being friends with folks of his own race. He holds no contempt for those in other races or cultures, but he sees no reason to make himself uncomfortable simply for that reason. He has plenty of work to do, kids to raise, and his church is vibrant through worship and loving others in the community. He loves the verse that says a good soldier should not get entangled with unnecessary battles (2 Timothy 2:4), and he sees that cross-racial endeavors can be just that – unnecessary battles.
Kelvin loves the USA. He loves the 4th of July, F16 fighter jets, the US soccer team, and prays for military victories. He sees the USA as an agent of God in the midst of global turmoil. Why? Because in the USA we have a Constitution (which was written by men of faith) which protects human rights, allows people the freedom to worship, and fights for the same around the world. Kelvin feels all of members of the military are heroes (unless they’ve committed a crime). Kelvin feels there is a precedent for “just war” in scripture (specifically the book of Joshua) and the many times the Bible says we should “defend the weak.” When he pledges allegiance to the US Flag, he knows his allegiance is to Jesus first, but the USA is his home and must be defended…just as he would defend his wife and children should someone break in their home.
Wallace is thankful for his freedom but has a hard time justifying war, especially any war that doesn’t seem to be for the protection of anyone (except financial interests…which seems to be most wars). Wallace does not hold anything against any member of the military, but doesn’t see where killing anyone is justified. In fact, when he reads that Jesus wept over Jerusalem, because they kept choosing nationalism over worship (and Jesus told them it would get them killed, Luke 19) – and when he reads that Jesus took the sword out of Peter’s hand in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26) and told him “all who draw the sword will die by the sword” – well, Wallace thinks that what Jesus meant (quit choosing violence and war). The prophets Joel, Micah, and Isaiah all say the day will come when we beat our “swords into plowshares” and one sign of the rule of Jesus is that we no longer wage war…even if it gets us killed like Jesus. Wallace has a lot of respect for people who have died protecting our country but has a hard time pledging allegiance to anything or anyone other than Jesus.
If you feel I am trying to convince you to change your convictions on any issue, that is NOT my point here. If you have prayed, thought, read, and discussed (and repeated), and you come to conclusions that are different than mine (or your spouse’s, or your neighbor’s, or your co-worker’s, or your pastor’s…), that is fine. I am NOT asking anyone to compromise their convictions. I am also NOT inferring you should be a member of a church where you disagree with the leadership on issues you deem really important. We all have to choose our battles – no one agrees with everyone all the time – so it’s good to find a church home where you can feel “at home.”
BUT…my point is that we need to realize that we do, in fact, have Christian brothers and sisters with whom we disagree (sometimes a lot).
Imagine a city-wide worship service where everyone from every church in town is invited to come. Imagine a black gospel choir opens up the service with an awesome song and invites all to join in (but some in the crowd are convicted that dancing and clapping are sinful or out of order). Imagine a female pastor opens up the service with a prayer (but many in the crowd think that women should not be pastors). Imagine a volunteer from a particular church is invited to pray, and they pray for military victory for our soldiers overseas (and some in the crowd are against it or they have friends in that country who might be in harm’s way). Imagine a gay man speaks for 10 minutes on Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan to promote community service, forgiveness and love (and many cannot believe he was invited to speak). Imagine a Puerto Rican immigrant, a new citizen, shares his testimony in Spanish through a translator (and some in the crowd are like, aren’t we in America?). Imagine a neighbor whose parents are 2 different races asks everyone to shake hands with 5 people who don’t look like them and say “so glad you’re here!” (and some are thinking, this is just too uncomfortable and unnecessary). Imagine a white guy-with-a-guitar leads a final song of worship and then invites everyone to his favorite pub for fellowship after the service (yeah, he did that).
Are your knickers in such a twist that you cannot pray…or worship…or hear truth from scripture…or love your neighbor…or acknowledge that each of these are professing, praying, believing, worshipping Christians (your brothers and sisters in Jesus)?
One big issue for some of us is that sometimes it’s way more of a cultural jump to even BE WITH some of our brothers and sisters in Jesus than it is to be with those who are not Christians. If you are a no-tattoo, no-alcohol, miracle-expecting Christian, it can be a serious stretch to spend time with an “inked” preacher who is holding a beer and does NOT want you to pray for his sprained ankle (thank you, very much).
It can be legitimately difficult for a pacifist-minded, environmentalist, homeschooling lesbian mom to spend time with an ultra-patriotic, public school sending, “red-white-and-blue-blooded” mom…even though they both love Jesus, pray to the same Jesus, and read the same Bible.
You get the idea.
But even now, some of you may be bursting to defend any of your convictions on these issues. And you may be right! But that’s not the point right now. The point is that one can read the Bible, pray, discuss, think, read what other Christians have to say, hear sermons (repeat), and hold certain convictions that differ from others…and each can be a Christian.
Others will NOT know we are Christians because of our convictions on issues.
John 13:34-35 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Thinking outside of one’s culture in order to be more understanding and compassionate can be difficult, because culture is like the air we breathe. It’s just there. We normally don’t notice our culture until it’s rattled a bit. You know, like:
- when the exchange student lives with you and wonders why Americans are either so uptight about alcohol or completely out of control with its consumption, or
- when the new family in the neighborhood plays their music so loud in the backyard, or
- when a missionary from China says that many of them pray to Jesus and talk to their ancestors as well, or
- when someone of a different color speaks at your church, or
- when you say the prayer at a predominantly black church gathering and they echo your prayers while you’re praying and say “yes!”, or
- when your kids bring some of their Christian friends home from college for Spring break and they have tattoos and piercings and offer to clean the table or pray for your headache, or
- when your close friends or family start to reveal their differences of belief on social media, or…
Many of us, like the elder brother in the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15), are addicted to being “good.” We are addicted to the approval from others – parents, friends, authorities. In our culture, we are super stars. We stick to our values and are emboldened by them. Others are encouraged to reach our standards. And then someone challenges them and suggests that it might not be that way. Others get to be a Christian without having to hold the same convictions we have and it messes with our reality. I am one of those who is addicted to approval – at least I think I’m in recovery.
Unfortunately, when many of us have our realities jostled, we spiral out of control. It’s a cliché, but so many “good Christian kids” get a wider view of the world and lose their anchor. They feel that they have been sold a lie and throw the baby (faith in Jesus) out with the bathwater (false foundations of what it means to be a Christian). Others go hog-wild with their newfound “freedom in Christ.” Still, others hold on even more tightly to the fundamentals of the faith of their past out of fear of chaos. They become even more entrenched in the culture wars and become bitter.
Along with the Nicene Creed they were taught they also had to hold other certain convictions to be a Christian…and when they find out they don’t agree with any of them any longer, they leave the Church altogether. Sometimes, parents (or other authorities) infer or implicitly state, that if they change the convictions they were taught, they will not have their approval or love. I’ve seen it, and I’m sure we all have. It’s heartbreaking and from the Accuser (ha-satan). Maybe the parents are also addicted to approval and need others in their churches to see that they are raising “good Christian kids.”
People who “take a 2nd look at Scripture” or who come to hold convictions that others define as “liberal” are often accused of giving in to the culture. They are being accused of loosening up the demands of the Bible to make Christianity seem more appealing (or something like that). But to whose culture are they giving in? Surely not the evangelical culture, the traditional culture, most likely not their parents’ culture, or probably not even the culture they swim in right now. Why would someone shake the boat or “loosen” the Scriptures? Compassion? Maybe, but is compassion a wrong thing? Wanting to be accepted by non-Christian peers? Maybe, but who are we to judge. Let’s just be careful with accusations.
Like our ancient ancestors, we are still tribal in nature (probably way more than we’d like to admit). Maybe it’s embedded in our DNA. To survive, many tribes held together, maintained unity, and were wary of anything different. Anything that was different might kill, eat, infect, or dilute them. Survival was key, and many of us still operate that way…OUT OF FEAR. As Christians, we are supposed to be unafraid because Jesus is with us and overcame death. We defend our faith, stand up for truth, rant against the evil culture and draw our lines but it all comes across as fear or hate. We’re so worried about being good little Christians that it’s ruining what we are supposed to do – love God, love others, and enjoy life. We say we desperately want others to follow Christ, but we’ve drawn such thick tribal lines that we make it nearly impossible for others to even want to join us.
So are there any lines at all? If someone follows Jesus, they need to repent of stealing, quit stealing and ask for forgiveness if they do it again. If someone decides to follow Jesus, they need to repent of lying, quit lying, and ask for forgiveness if they do it again. But I hope I’ve established my point – issues that on which we can disagree and still be brothers and sisters in Christ. This was one of Paul’s HUGE issues in all of his writings – Gentiles do not have to hold Jewish convictions to be Jesus-followers. Gentiles cannot make fun of Jews for holding their convictions. Jews cannot look down on Gentiles for seeming to be flippant. Jews are allowed to bring Gentile friends over (and vice versa). Many of us have no idea what a giant cultural leap this was for both sides (and the many facets among those 2 large groupings).
Why must we put our personal convictions down a notch or 2 and let love, patience and non-judgmentalism rise above (Luke 6, Matthew 7, etc)? Because Jesus said so. The Good News is that Jesus is Lord…not any of our personal convictions. And Jesus is way more gracious, compassionate, patient and loving than most of us even imagine.
“You are great but you are gracious. You are power but you are patient. You’ve got kindness in your heart for folks like us. You’re a friend to the sinner. You keep the losers, you keep the winners. You call us sons, you call us daughters, folks like us.” Adam Russell (Folks Like Us)
“If you want to know what I believe, I can say I’m more convinced of the Nicene Creed than I’ve ever been. Most everything else is entirely up for negotiation, and will hopefully remain so.” Jonathan Martin
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