Am I a Christian?

Christianity is the world’s largest religion. Nearly 1 in 3 people (31.5%) are Christian. In 2011 following extensive research, Pew released “Global Christianity: A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World’s Christian Population.” They found:

About half of all Christians worldwide are Catholic (50%), while more than a third are Protestant (37%). Orthodox communions comprise 12% of the world’s Christians. Other Christian groups, which make up the remaining 1%, include the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Christian Science Church.

Within Protestantism sociologists have categorized more than 30,000 different denominations or unique expressions (some now claim the number has surpassed 40,000!).  Put simply, Christianity has evolved into a beautifully diverse religion.

In or Out?

Yesterday I replied to a Facebook post made by Trevor Ray Slone about the possibility of a church that moves beyond one right approach to biblical interpretation.  Trevor Slone’s Facebook profile lists numerous professional pursuits including a role as CEO of Intelligent Interactions LLC, which claims to be a Christian organization with a purpose that includes

how to think in a critical and logically consistent manner when dealing with new ideas and individuals, especially ideas and people that one particularly disagrees with, in a way that is cordial, effective, and caring in nature, so as to foster a greater sense of comradery between people and a lesser margin of error/struggle in understanding and assessing propositions and ideas.

Given this background I was surprised by both the content and tone of my interaction with Trevor Slone.  As you read the conversation you will see that he not only suggests I am not Christian, but the church I will soon serve as well as all Mainline Protestant churches are not Christian churches.

Trevor: What if, just what if there was a church that actually embraced ALL of the non-heretical, evangelically acceptable interpretations of the Bible as tentatively plausible, did not argue over them even if they discussed them, and realized that they all, perhaps, have there place in our world for now as avenues for various minded individuals to be led to Christ without diminishing the gospel message and what it has to offer . . .

Greg: strike the words “non-heretical, evangelically acceptable” and what remains describes the church I will pastor starting Jan. 1

Trevor: lol then that is not a church my friend. Not a Christian church anyway.

Greg: Oh it is very much a Christian church – one that welcomes diversity & encourages people to engage their brains in forming and reforming their own faith perspectives within a community of those committed to following the Way of Jesus

Trevor: There is a group of beliefs called the ESSENTIALS that require certain parts of the Bible to be interpreted certain ways. A religion without boundaries is NO religion at all man.

Greg: We can agree on the concept of essentials, however, I am sure we will disagree about what goes on that list. I suspect your list will be far longer than mine, but so would anyone when you readily use the label Evangelical to describe your position.

Trevor: I would start with the Apostles Creed as a BARE MINIMUM, and maybe add a few others, like the second coming of Christ. And as an evangelical I see no offense in using the term. LOL

Greg: Trevor a significant portion of the Christian family is non-creedal so requiring adherence to a creed would not make my list. And, yes, I am fine with the Christian family including some 30,000+ unique denominations including many that fit comfortably within the category of Evangelical. The traditions with which I have been affiliated and the contexts in which I have ministered, however, are not Evangelical but Mainline.

Trevor: A said nothing about adhering to a creed. I was referring to the beliefs found within it, as they are all EXPLICITLY taught in Scripture. and for the record, “Mainline” “Christianity often denies things like the deity of Christ, the uniqueness and existence of the Holy Spirit, and even accepts a view of universal salvation and inclusivism, ALLof which remove them from the category of Christian. These are not my opinions, but Scriptural mandates.

Greg: Trevor I know of no credible sociologist of religion who removes Mainline Christianity from Christianity. We have groups within Christianity (e.g. Protestant) and subgroups within groups (e.g., Mainline & Evangelical) to help differentiate traditions within a religion not different religions.

Trevor: lol Who gives a flying CRAP about what sociologists think. Christianity is DEFINED IN THE BIBLE. I am done talking to you for now. Appeal to human authority is not an option when defining Christianity legitimately.

Greg: Unfortunately you will never know who cares since you have chosen to ignore much of your own family of faith by suggesting that only a select group is “in” while all others are out. I have many friends who are Evangelicals and thankfully nearly all accept that they do not get to define Christianity but rather live into a niche within a larger whole.

Trevor: I have officially ended this conversation on this page for the sake of sanity and truth.

So What?

Oneness of the Church by Martin LaBar available from https://www.flickr.com/photos/martinlabar/5977533386

I respect the right of all people to choose to practice the religion of their choice and to participate in a community of faith that affiliates with a specific tradition or denomination (or with multiple such expressions) that represents their shared understanding of their preferred form of that religion.  I even respect the right of those traditions that believe their version of Christianity to be the best or most authentic version to present such positions in an effort to clearly differentiate themselves and clarify their beliefs.  I do not, however, recognize the authority of Mr. Slone (or any person acting as a spokesperson for such a view) to claim that expressions of Christianity that differ from his preferred form are therefore not Christian.  Such efforts succeed only in further isolating exclusivistic sects.  Furthermore they certainly do not create an environment that allows for real conversation that is “cordial, effective, and caring in nature” or which leads to a a “greater sense of comradery between people.”

The church I mentioned in my conversation with Trevor Slone is Fort Myers Congregational United Church of Christ.  I will begin serving as the Transitional Minister of this progressive community of faith on January 1, 2015.  In my experiences of this church to date I have found it is indeed a church that actually embraces all interpretations of the Bible as plausible and welcomes ongoing conversation about such while encouraging people wherever they may be on the journey of faith.  I welcome Trevor Slone and any and every one else to join us on January 11, 2015 when I start a sermon series on the fruitful practices of congregations based on  Robert Schnase’s book Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2007).

On January 11, we will focus on radical hospitality.  This emphasis will include many opportunities for the congregation to live into its calling as an Open and Affirming congregation (especially in light of pending legal changes scheduled to take effect on January 5), to offer an extravagant welcome to all people, and to continue to embrace the radical inclusivity for which it is well known and about which Geoffrey Black, General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ, recently shared this wisdom:

Striving for genuine conversation among all of the many expressions of Christianity, my current tradition, the United Church of Christ, understands itself to be a united and uniting church.  More specifically:

We believe the UCC is called to be a united and uniting church. “That they may all be one.” (John 17:21) “In essentials–unity, in nonessentials–diversity, in all things–charity,” These UCC mottos survive because they touch core values deep within us. The UCC has no rigid formulation of doctrine or attachment to creeds or structures. Its overarching creed is love. UCC pastors and teachers are known for their commitment to excellence in theological preparation, interpretation of the scripture and justice advocacy. Even so, love and unity in the midst of our diversity are our greatest assets.

Trevor Slone, you are a Christian.  I am also a Christian.  Our religion benefits as do we when we remain open to continuing a conversation that welcomes and respects difference yet recognizes a shared commitment to following the Way of Jesus.

 

Comments

  1. Ron Thompson says:

    I am so sad to think that I used the same vocabulary and methods of interpreting the faith as Trevor for too many years. It was through a series of deep “life crises” when my faith was in crisis as a “literalist” that I questioned my very core and a new faith was born that lives in me vibrantly today, and takes me through these life crises with an anchored faith and a God that suffers with me “now”!

  2. Ron, the day after Christmas it is so timely to read your reflection on your own births/rebirths. May we all be open to encountering a Still Speaking God in such a way as to transform us or allow us to see ourselves as if born again insofar as our perspective. Christianity is a big tent and the more I look around the more I realize the boundaries are so wide I can no longer see where any “side” of the tent stops.

  3. Roger Pruitt says:

    I was so taken in by Trevor’s insistence on ESSENTIALS and Creeds that I had to write. Creeds are man made, although, evangelicals will insist that they in some way came from God. The so called ESSENTIALS are culled from the gospels that are creations of unknown Jewish men who had never met Jesus the Jew. They were writing for other Jews. The gospel authors lived in the last third of the first century and Jesus lived in the first third. The authors had no direct knowledge of Jesus. They had never met him. They are writing about a man as he had become to his followers years after his death on a Roman cross. Gentiles didn’t understand Jewish writing and didn’t care to know about things Jewish. The Gentile Christians then interpreted the books literally and as historical documents, which they were not. The so-called ESSENTIALS and creeds were several centuries later created from these Jewish writings in an attempt to explain what Jesus had become to his followers. Jews did not create in the so-called plastic arts. Their creative art was in their writings. As we begin to understand these creative writings called the gospels in a new way, we are called non Christians by the evangelicals. It could very well be that they are not the Christians for they do not understand the history of the faith.

  4. Roger, thanks for placing Trevor’s thinking in its proper (and larger) historical context. The best recent scholarship must always be our friend. Christianity must always be larger than any one person’s understanding of it.

  5. Ronnie says:

    Forget anything Trevor ray slone said. All of the “pursuits” and “degrees” he mentions are actually completely made up. I have known him for several years. He actually suffers from extreme bipolar disorder and makes a lot of stuff up to a lot of different people. He has been refusing his meds for the past year or so and, after stealing a car in California, is now living a homeless shelter in Washington State. I feel bad for the guy, actually. He is all over the net with his apologetics stuff that is basically all made up. I say this just to say, don’t let people from the web bring you down or try to argue something that they often times know nothing about.

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