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Adjectives of Faith

August 31, 2015

I don’t know about you but I’ve grown a little weary about the various adjectives stuck in front of the word “Christian.”  Lately there seems to be a growing number of them.  I’ve seen “radical” Christians, “missional” Christians, “red letter” Christians, “gospel-centered” Christians, and just recently I stumbled across “organic” Christians.”  That last group has been around awhile, I guess I just missed them.  If you aren’t familiar with those adjectives as they apply to Christianity Google stands ready to help you.  I am sure there are some I’ve missed and maybe you can point them out to me.

In any event, it seems as if just being a Christian is not enough.  To be sure, each of these adjective Christian tribes started off with good intentions.  Each also puts their finger on some aspect of our faith that we need to examine.  But there is a hidden danger in putting an adjective before your faith; the danger that you will become an accidental Pharisee.  Once you accept the goal to be any one of these adjective-based Christians you run the serious risk, the almost inevitable risk, of seeing those who don’t live their lives the same way you do as somehow not quite up to the mark.

To be sure, adjective Christianity has been around a long time.  Some go back centuries, like Orthodox, Coptic, or Reformed Christians.  Others are newer but still have been around all our lives; Charismatic Christians and their mirror image non-Charismatic Christians come to mind as an example.  There are a lot of these twin adjectives out there, each opposing the other.  Sigh.  But it seems to me that in these cases the differences were already there before the adjectives were assigned.  These were just naming something that already existed, not launching a new sub-group.

It might be appealing to reject all adjectives and say “I am just a Christian!”  Full stop; no adjective.  I do run the risk however of creating a new sub-group with its own adjective, something like “ordinary” Christians that can be just as judgmental.  Also, I’ve read articles and books from these various groups and don’t want to denigrate the value they bring to our faith; many of them have challenged me deeply.

So what is my protection, whether I identify with one sub-group or not, against becoming an accidental Pharisee?

For starters, I don’t have absolute protection.  One of the pathetically hilarious parts of the Christian life is the tendency, whenever we try to take steps to avoid certain stumbling blocks, to overcorrect.  Sometimes I think that Christian living is like riding a horse.  When I have fallen off one side, in my zeal to never do that again, I proceed to fall off the other side.

Second, I need to have a willingness to take at face value the word of others when they say they are Christians.  I need to keep my checklist for “real, true” Christians away in a locked drawer.  This is best done by starting without my preferred adjective.

Beyond that there are a few rather straightforward principles that can guide us.  Do they love God and seek to glorify Him?  Do they think that everyone; every faith, every community, every race or nationality, matters equally to God and are loved by Him?  Do they think that values and virtues matter and try to live by them?  Do they think that God’s plan, as revealed through Jesus and the word, is worth following?  Even if we differ on a few of the specifics of these things then I must accept them.

I hope that at least a few of you snickered at my use of the term “straightforward principles.”  I don’t mean to imply that this is easy, that the list is exhaustive, or that I actually do it well.  I do tend to think that, the longer our list of straightforward principles, the more likely we are to be accidental Pharisees.  I am glad God loves us anyway.

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From → Christianity

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