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One Christian view?



As part of an occasional series, ‘Christian Myths and Misunderstandings’, LIEUT-COLONEL DR LYN EDGE explores a commonly held view that there is one ‘Christian’ view on all matters of life and faith.

 

Watching a panel show recently, one of the guests was introduced as representing the Christian view on the topics that were discussed. I was struck that the person was not someone with whom I agreed. We were both Christian, we both had read the same Bible and were trying to live as faithful followers of Jesus. But we disagreed.

The person was not introduced as representing ‘a’ Christian view, but rather ‘the’ Christian view and I wonder if they were chosen because their views were divisive, and that makes for compelling viewing.

But is there anyone they could have invited to present ‘the’ Christian view? Is there a single Christian view on important matters of life and faith, on politics and ethics?

Differences exist

In our increasingly polarised world, some people do claim to have the ‘one true Christian view’, and then they advocate that view with great fervour. This is not new, of course.

In the biblical book of Galatians, we hear of early Christians who were “biting and devouring” one another (Galatians chapter 5, verse 15). However, it seems that the “biting and devouring” has been amplified for those of us living in the era of social media.

Differences of opinion, beliefs, practices and theology are exemplified by the fact that there are more than 45,000 different Christian denominations in the world today. In 1900, there were 1600 denominations. This is a 2712 per cent increase in the division of the Church in just over a century.1

Global ecumenical leader Wesley Granberg-Michaelson’s description of this situation is that Christianity is “endlessly denominated, geographically separated, spiritually bifurcated, institutionally insulated, and generationally isolated”.2 Of course, we know that differences and division exist, not only between denominations but within them as well.

Agree to disagree

So, is there one Christian view on important matters of life and faith? For me, the evidence over the past 2000 years is in. There is not one view on Christian matters of faith and practice. There are faithful Christians, educated, well-meaning people, who disagree on important matters of life and belief.

If you think you have the true Christian view on a topic, I would ask how do you reconcile the fact that within over 45,000 denominations and 2.4 billion Christians in the world, you happen to be the one who is correct?

Even with such diversity, there are some Christian themes that most followers of Jesus would subscribe to – including love, grace, forgiveness and redemption – and these can be important building blocks for finding a shared life together. So, in the light of the illusive shared belief, what should we do?

Let me respond with a story. Many years ago, I attended a Bible conference with an eminent biblical scholar. There was discussion about a particular text and someone attending the conference put forward an alternative understanding to our guest speaker. The speaker responded by saying that is not what he understood the Bible to be saying but that he would “agree to disagree without being disagreeable”.

That phrase has stayed with me all these years as a great pearl of wisdom.

It is possible to hold highly diverse beliefs, and yet make grace, respect and love foundational in our relationships. How beautiful our churches and our world would be if respect, love and mutual learning informed our interactions. What if humility of opinion marked all our interactions, both in person and online?

I’d like to give the final word to author, teacher and Episcopal priest Barbara Brown Taylor who said, “The only clear line I draw these days is this: when my religion tries to come between me and my neighbour, I will choose my neighbour ... Jesus never commanded me to love my religion.”3

1. Todd M. Johnson, Atlas of Global Christianity 1910-2010. 2. Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, From Times Square to Timbuktu: The Post-Christian West Meets the Non-Western Church. 3. Barbara Brown Taylor, Holy Envy: Finding God in the Faith of Others


Lieut-Colonel Dr Lyn Edge is the Wollongong Salvation Army Corps Officer in NSW.



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