For the month of January we are considering what it means to be faithfully Christian, to embrace the big idea of Christianity without feeling the need to be a special brand. In fact, we are interested in the possibility of being non-branded Christians -- “mere Christians” to borrow the title of CS Lewis’ famous book. We are pushing away from sectarianism. Do you know that word? Sectarian, section, sect, words that remind us how divided we have become, how consistently we have established our identity as distinct from each other, rather than part of each other. When groups share a common root, and a common center, sectarianism is the idea that the differences between them are more important than what they share in common.
In the history of the church, we have found innumerable ways of marking ourselves off by what we think ought to define “proper” Christians: modes of baptism (sprinkle or dunk), understandings of communion (is this just a remembrance of Jesus, or somehow a real mystical encounter), and many other things, of various degrees of importance. While I am one to think that such things ought to be wrestled with, I am not one to think that such things should be the cause of separation between us.
Of course we understand that there are non-negotiable Christian ideas. For instance, Christianity must hold to the reality of a personal God, not “god” as some way to express the idea of energy, or the “all” of the universe. Christianity is nothing if it is not personal -- God is personal, and we are persons before God. And to further that thought, Christianity is trinitarian in its understanding of God: God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We understand God through the story of Jesus, that God took upon himself our humanity in Jesus, becoming truly human while remaining truly God. We refer to the deity of Christ as an essential component of Christian faith, something that cannot be traded away without Christian faith ceasing to be itself.
I am fully aware that there are some things -- essential Christian things -- which people divide over. Jesus himself knew this to be the case when he said, rather enigmatically, “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34). The opinion we have about him is the basic issue, a rather divisive issue at times.
But there is another problem, an opposite problem if you will. It is the well-practiced habit of Christians, followers and believers in Jesus, dividing over secondary matters, not of things at the center of faith. Do we need evidence of this? There are now over 33,000 Christian denominations, with 300 new ones being added every year. I don’t know about you, but I think that is a patently absurd reality. Far fewer brands of Christianity would be good I think. A lot of those groups could learn to live together I think.
We invite you to take a look at the Westside Creed that has been created to remind us of a centered Christian faith. We want to embrace a faith that reflects the historic middle of Christianity, a faith that focuses on the person and story of Jesus, a faith that pushes us toward a way of life that is missional and transformative. You will find our creed in your journals, or on this website here.
But consider this: for the month of January, we are thinking about what it means to be Christian in our thinking. And that begins with a clear sense of what Christianity actually is -- not a body of 33,000 pieces, but the one body of Jesus followers, living and serving in his name.
Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. [Ephesians 4:3-6]
We hope to see you this Sunday as we talk about the uniqueness of Jesus.