Recently I’ve given some thought to several facets of the Christian faith that not only serve to make it unique, but are important for adherents to understand and claim as their own. I see these three aspects as legs of a stool: without any one of them, the stool becomes useless.
I would suggest that the Christian faith must be historically-rooted, doctrinally-grounded, and practically-oriented.
The historical roots of Christianity are twofold. First, Christianity is rooted in the authenticity of the historical claims of the Bible. The Scriptures record a series of events which are the roots of our faith. Our faith is rooted in the reality of Creation, the Fall of Man, and God’s redemptive work in the patriarchs, for Israel, and among the nations. The historical fact of the resurrection is the cornerstone of Christian belief (1 Cor. 15.17). Pull up the historic roots of Christianity, and you have no Christianity at all.
Second, Christianity is rooted in the history of the church. In other words, the struggles of the church to clarify doctrine and to combat heresy are our own. The martyrs, the pastors, the translators, the reformers, we stand on their shoulders every day that we crack the Bible or consider our beliefs. Pull up the roots of our church history, and, at best, you’re simply reinventing the wheel, at worst, you’re headed away from the broad outline of true Christianity provided by our history.
In an era where the past is seen as irrelevant as the technology and innovation of the present grows by leaps and bounds, we must not forget our history. Don’t bemoan the cumbersome details of Biblical background or reject the study of church history for fear of those that you don’t agree with. Embrace the historical roots of your Christian faith!
There’s something essential about the belief-statements of Christianity. The early church confessed their “credo” (“I believe”) time and again when they met, but many believers today express their concerns about creeds and confessions. We often see statements of faith as too liturgical, too formal, and a little restrictive. But there are dangers when we divorce our Christianity from propositional belief-statements.
I recently read a story about a Christian musician who claimed that because his life reflected Christ, there was little consequence in the doctrines that he believed. In other words, to some, practical expression outweighs doctrinal confession. But I think the biblical model is that neither one outweighs the other. Both are important. Here are a few reasons why the doctrinal leg of Christianity is essential:
- Doctrinal grounding keeps us from error (Gal. 1.6-9; Eph. 4.13-15; Tit. 1.9).
- Doctrinal grounding is a precious treasure (1 Tim. 6.20; 2 Tim. 1.14).
- Doctrinal grounding shapes our practice (Rom. 12.1-2).
- Doctrinal grounding is the mark of a Christian (2 John 9-10).
Beware of fuzzy movements that can’t offer a definitive “credo.” Those who say “no creed but Christ” have offered you a creed — a woefully deficient creed, but a creed nonetheless. The stricture and formality of archaic statements of faith shouldn’t scare you away from articulating your own faith similarly. Embrace a doctrinally-grounded Christian faith!
This third leg of the stool is equally essential. True faith is demonstrated in conjunction with works. Take a look at James 2.18:
But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works and I will show you my faith by my works.
In this verse, James gives us a glimpse into the mindset of someone who would bifurcate faith and works. James warns of those who claim to follow Christ, but merely hold to a set of unpracticed beliefs. Instead, James argues that practiced faith is the only kind of faith that matters. His assumption, though, is that works proceed from faith (“faith by…works”) and not that faith exists in a hermetically-sealed confessional vacuum (“faith apart from..works”). It would be erroneous to suppose that James’ argument says that beliefs don’t matter (I suggested otherwise in the prior point), but rather we should see that James wants his readers to equally emphasize their beliefs and their practices that flow from those beliefs.
Let me also take a minute to say that the practical orientation of the Christian faith is the practice of scriptural truth. Propping up Christianity on moralism (I’ve got a more comprehensive list of rules!), comparative success (at least I’m not like that guy!), and favorable subculture (we all do these things in order to make us different) won’t do. It’s like improvising the third leg of the stool out of chopsticks. The result is a certain failure! Sometimes by attempting to create a more substantial practical outworking of our faith, we actually make a more deficient product. Manmade tradition will never replace biblical practice. Christian practice is a serious emotional, intellectual, and volitional engagement with the commands (both positive and negative) of Scripture. It can only come as the result of the fruit of a Spirit-filled, Gospel-changed life.
Don’t buy into the religion of the head, which exclusively focuses on content of belief. Don’t buy into the religion of the hand, which only examines what people do. Don’t accept the religion of history, which dwells only in the past. True Christianity is a faith that equally rests on a rich and accurate history, fixed propositional truth-claims, and the ethical and practical outflow in the lives of those who claim it.