For those of us who self-identify as Christians, or Christ-followers, or believers, this post attempts to nail down just what it is that we have in common. The fundamentals of the faith. Or the essential tenets according to… me (a layman).
The Bible doesn’t tell us precisely when, but sometime in the (unspecified) past, God created everything seen, and unseen. Which means that before there was even a there there, God was. He was chillin’, kickin’ it, and one day decided to create. Questions of just how long He was chillin’ have no relevance, because as the architect of time, there wasn’t any before He made it. He is eternally pre-existent, sufficient in Himself, not needing to create, but choosing to do so for reasons entirely His own.
All of which is to lay the groundwork for this: God spoke, and Bang! it happened. The “it” being life, the universe, and everything. Thus we have our first essential tenet: a Christian must believe that God created everything–the worlds seen, and unseen (please note: I know that one can believe God created everything without necessarily being a Christian). As none of us were there to see Him do it (see God’s seemingly sarcastic response to Job regarding Job’s age), the “how” of how He did so is entirely immaterial. What I’m getting at is that (broadly, leaving out some nuances) there are six-day literalists (young earth creationists), old earth creationists, theistic evolutionists. All believe that God is the prime mover behind creation. There are some differences regarding the how, but on the essential point–that God is creator–all agree. What I’m not saying is that the differences don’t matter–they do–but they don’t matter as much as what unites us. And what unites us is God.
If there is a “battle for the beginning” as some would frame the debate, it should not be among Christians. Rather the true battle–if it can be called such–is between theism and atheism, between competing worldviews (and even then, those folks are not our enemies). In any case, we waste a lot of energy and breath fighting amongst ourselves, when we should be taking the message of Jesus out to an unbelieving world. Perhaps this (our constant infighting) is one of the many reasons why an unbelieving world finds our message unbelievable?
Essential tenet number one: a Christian must believe that God, regardless of how particularly, created everything. If you believe that, I can have fellowship with you as a brother or sister in Christ. We can break bread together.
Essential tenet number two: per the account in Genesis three, humanity is fallen from our original state. Whether one believes in a historical Adam and Eve, or not (or that they were composites), the fact remains that the creation is marred, and sin entered the world. As the Psalmist put it “I was born in sin, and shapen in iniquity.” So essential tenet number two is: original sin. (Without it what need is there for redemption? Why would God the Father send His son?)
I realize some may quibble regarding original sin, but I see no way around it (other than the cross), so it is my essential tenet number two. Yet, even if your position is different from mine here, I would still have fellowship with you, because again, what unites us is stronger than what divides, and that is God.
Essential tenet number three: in the fullness of time, God sent His son, Jesus, to earth. The Bible tells us that Jesus was born of a virgin, the virgin Mary. I’ll lay my cards out: I believe the virgin birth is essential because Jesus was God’s perfect sacrifice for our sins, a lamb without spot or blemish. If He was born with the blemish of sin that stains us all how could He be that perfect sacrifice? The Bible says He was “very God of very God, and very man of very man,” and “in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.” In fact, the divine part of His nature is the only convincing argument that I can think of that can explain His living through toddlerhood “yet without sin.” (Parents out there will understand this).
So there is essential tenet number three: Jesus was born of a virgin, and lived without sin. How God did this, we don’t know. That He did so, we must agree upon.
This post, as I suspected it might, is getting rather long. Let me wrap it up, and say that essential tenets four, and five, are these:
Four: Jesus died for our sins. “Paid a price we could not pay, a debt He didn’t owe.”
Five: Jesus rose again, was resurrected on the third day.
Within the body of Christ, the catholic (general), larger, church, I can think of nothing else worth dividing over. If we can unite in our common belief in these areas, I believe we can complete our mission to take God’s word to the whole world. If not, then things will continue as they have been.
And that’s a sad state of affairs.