Authentic Christians:

I am blessed with many Christian friends affiliated with various Christian denominations. Back when I owned my coffee shop, several friends I met through there asked me to start a women’s bible study. We were an eclectic group, including Baptists (Southern and Independent), Pentecostals, Presbyterians, and women from non-denominational churches. Being in my (very) early twenties I didn’t think some minor nuances in doctrine would make that much of a difference in studying God’s word…As it turned out, we were all unaware of how the presuppositions that we grew up with were distorting our reading of Scripture. We could have our Bibles right smack on our laps, read God’s word in black and white (and red), and finish it with a “Yeah, but…”  You see, we cannot pretend to be neutral. We all have strong conjectures when reading God’s Word, whether they are biblical or not. I discovered that some of my presuppositions were not biblical at all. Rather, they were based on some catchy slogans that I equated with Biblical authority. Some were true and helpful, some were not. I had to begin the humbling task of separating the truth from error. Discernment is not a popular discipline, but if we are united in Christ then we need to know Christ! Many younger people today dislike church creeds and doctrines. It is easy to look at conflict within different denominations and be turned off by the whole thing. Isn’t our Bible enough? Why do we need confessions and catechisms?  Does God care whether I’m a Baptist or a Methodist?  I quickly learned that creeds and confessions can be very helpful. They state what the church believes about the Bible and what it says.  I could have a wonderful, enriching conversation with someone whom I even disagree with if both of us are upfront on where we stand. This is beneficial for different denominations to communicate within Christianity. It gives us a platform for discussion. And in my Bible study, I quickly learned the importance of introducing a confession to which I was aligned. In this way I could welcome anyone in and be honest and upfront with the platform from which I was teaching. Many think of creeds as separating, but quite the opposite can be true. I remember wanting to visit a church once.  As I walked in, I was immediately greeted by a very smiley man. I told him that I was visiting and would like a copy of their church’s statement of belief. He insisted that wasn’t necessary, that all I needed to do was come and worship. But I needed to know who they were worshipping, and what they thought about themselves! You can end up in a church for months and get your kids settled in Sunday school classes before you find out they have some teachings that are very unsettling and unbiblical. Church confessions and creeds are very helpful in authentic conversation. As Carson puts it like this in his book, Christ and Culture Revisited:
“Authentic Christians” are not those who are merely very sincere and who call themselves Christians. If “authenticity” is to retain any utility in this discussion, the “authentic Christian” is the one who is most shaped in thought, word and deed by Christianity’s foundational documents, by Christianity’s Lord, by Christianity’s creeds. That is one of the reasons why reading and rereading the Bible, and knowing and reciting the creeds, are part and parcel of what gives us the categories and labels by which we think. Of course, it is possible to enjoy a merely professional knowledge of such sources. Authentic Christianity demands more: a love for the God who has thereby disclosed himself, a response to him in obedience and faith. But it is futile to speak of loving and trusting and obeying this God if his words do not delight us and terrify us and instruct us and shape us (121, 122).
There is a rawness, a vulnerability in the authentic because it is not conformed to the image of this world, but to the likeness of Jesus Christ. Because God’s words both delight and terrify us, we must be diligent to really know what they say. We need to hear it to believe it. Through faith we trust it and obey it. And out of love for Him and our neighbor, share his glorious news both truthfully and passionately with others. So who is closer to the truth, the Methodist, or the Baptist? That will be the topic of my next article…