What matters is that they’re Christian?

She said it as if the whole group would surely agree. She was making the broader point that denominational affiliation isn’t the be-all-end-all of Christian life. So she said, “What matters of course, more than anything else, is that we’re all Christian.

That was supposed to end the discussion. PC(USA), ELCA, EPC, LCMS, UCC, Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, ABCDE – denominational affiliation shouldn’t be a stumbling block, she stated, the point is that folks are Christian.

At the time, I smiled and went with the meeting’s natural transition, but I should have said something. Such ways of thinking dangerously oversimplify both denominational affiliation and Christianity itself.

Posted signNow I don’t want to read too much into what was a informal comment, but it’s still gnawing at me weeks later. If I had taken the opportunity to respond, I might have said something like this.

First, having any sort of label function as a de facto cutoff point for faith makes me nervous. While I appreciate the openness of the label – all Christians are in! – it still approaches faith (or church participation) with a you’re-in-you’re-out model. And who, pray tell, gets to decide who qualifies as Christian?

Second, what of my Muslim, Jewish, Atheist, and Agnostic friends? What of those many young adults I know who have been baptized but haven’t darkened a church door for many years? They’re simply to be written off because they’re not Christian enough? We’re sorry, but they’re just not in the club?

Certainly, it’s important to have faith claims and faith communities, but their function is to show God’s inclusive love not narrow it. And I hope they encourage us always to broaden our community, to expand our circle of care.

As the PC(USA) Book of Order puts it, “The mission of God pertains not only to the Church but also to people everyone and to all creation.” Participating in God’s mission pushes us to a new openness that includes seeing, “both the possibilities and perils of [the church’s] institutional forms.” (F-1.0404)

My theological framework is less concerned about labels – denominational or otherwise – and more concerned about participating in God’s mission. If that mission calls me only to care about those who can be labeled “Christian,” it’s not much of a mission at all.

image by benji225

Comments

  1. Excuse me Adam, perhaps I misunderstood, but it seems like your thoughts went from defining Christianity to defining who we should care about. Isn’t it possible that Christians can be defined as those who have faith in Jesus Christ and his redemption and they still, and should, care about everyone. Or did I miss your context.

    • Thanks, Viola. I think my concerns, from their original context, were more how the statement was used: the subtext was that once we make those definitions nothing else matters since everyone with that label is going to heaven. More broadly, though, often such definitions are places where theory (or faith definition) and practice are very hard to separate. From a church practice standpoint, it comes up especially in determining who is eligible to receive communion, but that’s just the start. Thanks for the comment.

  2. You are starting to sound a bit like a Universalist. Which is not necessarily a bad thing as there is a schism brewing among the Unitarian-Universalists. More and more the Unitarian beliefs no longer align with the Universalist beliefs and many people are fed up with it.

    I do know that my studies have turned me against the Unitarians and much more deeply into the Universalist faith.

    • Thanks for the comment, Matt.

      Universalism–the theological belief about salvation or the denomination–isn’t a great fit for me, but if you’re associating my thoughts with the denomination’s inclusive approach to others, I’m happy to be in their company.

      I write this post from a deep and committed grounding in the Presbyterian Church (USA). It’s from that home that I think and act.

      I hope your studies/search for a faith home goes well.

  3. Thank you for your reflection! Thank you for lifting up the idea of God’s limitless love and presence in this world. Too often I feel we get anxious about this God’s abundant and over-flowing love, that we try and create boxes to make us feel in control. We end up creating litmus tests that consequently exclude our young people especially – Are they Christian enough? Are they Luthrean/PC(USA)/United Methodist/Unitarian enough? The historical and social significance of Christianity and demoniationalism is a gift to our churches and society. But these un-named questions plague our theological imagination more often than not I’m afraid, and we exclude people all over the place in need of healing (which is everybody). Thank you for sharing your thoughts here, I couldn’t agree more – God’s mission is far bigger than we can ever imagine on our own!

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