The Spectrum of Christianity

When I was very young I thought that Christians were Christians. I thought we were all on the same side. Then as a grew a little older I realized that there were different denominations and a little later I realized there were even different kinds of Christians, called “liberal Christians.” Then at some point later on I realized there were even more conservative Christians than myself at the time. These conservative Christians got it almost as wrong as the liberal Christians, they believed the King James Bible was the only true Bible and that dancing was wrong.

Then I got to college and realized that not only were there hyper-conservative Christians, and liberal Christians, but there were also people in the middle who were weak minded and couldn’t stand for anything (I would later join their ranks), and even further there were Christian:  Pre, Post & A-Millennialists, Preterists, Futurists, Pacifists, Complementarians, Egalitarians, Calvinists, Arminists, Open Theists, Dispensationalists, and on and on and on. Even within some of those beliefs Christians break down further over the fine points.
What is my point here? The spectrum of Christianity is not simple or short, the spectrum of Christianity is a mile long and you only occupy an centimeter of it. Your best friends, your family, your pastor, you can find some theological issue in which you disagree. Beyond that, Christians differ on how we should respond to modern day cultural issues in light of scripture. Look at our responses to  homosexuality, wealth, immigration, etc.

If you begin judging who is worthy of your fellowship based on minor issues, before long, you’ll develop your very own sect of Christianity that’s made in your image, and you’ll be very lonely. 

Please understand me. I’m not calling on us to form one large body and meet together in a stadium every Sunday. We have some significant differences.

Is there a point at which someone moves so far to one end of the spectrum that they fall off? Yes! When we start denying core Christian dogma. For instance, if you deny that Christ died on a cross and was resurrected, then I have to ask what it is that makes you a Christian.

I don’t think we even have to permanently serve alongside others with whom we differ greatly with on secondary issues. Paul and Barnabus serve as our examples. Acts 15 tells us how Paul and Barnabus have a “sharp” disagreement about whether or not Mark should join them. I love this passage for what it says, and also for what it doesn’t say. It reads like a police report, just the facts, no he said, she said, no gossip about how Barnabus or Paul got it wrong, and therefor isn’t a true believer or even any less of minister of the Gospel.

But I see a lot of people trying to take Christianity away from others, simply because they don’t occupy the same centimeter of theological real estate as they do. It’s a dangerous thing -judging another mans servant. 

When I was in college I started listening to a certain preacher online. His ability to preach and teach was beyond anything I had heard before. I felt God speaking through his sermons. At some point I began to realize something, this pastor was a _________ (insert secondary theological position. I won’t say what because it would start a debate about the theology itself, and only distract from the  focus of this post). Honestly, I was kind of crushed. I stopped listening to his sermons. Whenever someone brought him up I would roll my eyes and criticize him internally. Moreover, I started grouping all believers into their secondary theologies, but what I was really doing was saying “This person is a good guy, this person isn’t.”

The problem was, I would often meet other believers, and I would like them, a lot. Then I would find out that they were on the other side of an issue, and I began to realize, I can’t break fellowship with everyone just because they don’t occupy the same centimeter as I do. My walk was going to be very lonely if I did that, and it wasn’t consistent with Jesus’ example, spending most of his time with people who by all accounts had some messed up thoughts about who Jesus was suppose to be. I also realized that some of the greatest wounds I had received inside the church were from others treating me as less of a Christ follower, because of some of my beliefs.

This realization was  freeing. I could now listen to and read people who didn’t think just like me, and could sit and have fellowship over a cup of coffee with friends who were ______. I no longer have to limit God and dictate to him the ways in which he’s allowed to speak to me.

 

Have you gone through this? Have you had someone write you off because you don’t stand in the exact same space? What do you think this is doing to Christianity?

 

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

15 thoughts on “The Spectrum of Christianity

  1. I have felt like this before.  On the other hand, I often find myself, even among friends in the church body, avoiding conversations that can turn people away.  I agree that we should have the freedom to voice our opinions without being judged.

    • @cyclinganderson This is a great point. So maybe the question we should be asking is: How do we create a culture that fosters open discussion and safety from judgement at the same time?

      • I think it has to be fostered from the pulpit from someone who will preach the text expositionally (text driven) so that every facet of doctrine can be centrally viewed by the hearers. Rather than topically, becuase it causes a text to stay driven towards the speakers purpose rather than the authors intention/purpose. I think of course, like you said, there are certain things that we can’t stray from, Salvation in Christ alone for example. But when it comes to dispensations, rapture views, calvinistic views, etc…. these views should be presented in a way that allows the individual to listen expositionally by the text and to personally decide what they are going to hold to. I think its beneficial that the pastor preach expositionally but also the audience should listen expositionally. If any individual thinks they are going to end up in a body of believers where everyone believes exactly the way they do, they are totally mislead and I would imagine find themselves hopping… what they should desire is to be a part of body that while it believes core beliefs alike, that they recognize the rest of the beliefs are those that are able to agree to disagree. I think sometimes where the rubber meets the road though is defining what are “core beliefs”… for me 1st. Salvation being of Christ Alone through His atonement. 2nd Proper Church Polity 3rd Expositional Preaching 4th Regenerate Church Membership 5th Proper view of Lords Supper/Baptism 6th Church Discipline

        • @Josh Ahmed Mensinger I think of it as a two tiered system. On the first level are the beliefs necessary to be called Christian, i.e. -trusting in Jesus as savior among others. I would differentiate from you here and call those beliefs “core beliefs”, although this is probably an issue of semantics. I would put some of the issues you listed as “core beliefs” as “secondary beliefs”, for example expositional preaching may be the most correct kind of preaching, but I doubt you would say that someone who preaches topically could not be a true Christian. If someone preaches topically, and that’s a big issue for you, you would probably not want to have membership in their church, but you would probably still call them a member of the body. Again probably just semantics.

        • Yeah your absolutely right Shane, it is a little bit semantics… I guess I was defining like you stated “secondary beliefs” were what my bare minimum desires for a local church body would be. I would not lump #2-6 as to whether or not one is a “Christian” or not, but rather state that if a “Church” is going to be healthy I would bet they need to have #2-6.

        • @Josh Ahmed Mensinger I think the preaching aspect is important, but I would say these messages need to be processed and the same texts examined in small groups.  It is in community dialogue that the doctrines are processed right down through the middle of life.  A lot of conflict stems from a lack of understanding of the different perspectives and where people are “coming from” and where they have “come from” (life experiences).  I envision small groups in homes studying the text and then a gathering of those small groups where the pastor preaches in a very “sticky” manner, directly related to and in dialogue with the small groups.  And it is absolutely critical that the pastor be part of a small group, not just in an oversight capacity but as an aspect of relational Christian community.
           
          I found out some years ago that I cannot listen to what others say about a certain position, or a certain belief, or a certain person for that matter.  About 90% of the time, after researching the individual or issue myself, I found that the person making the claim was either 1) completely wrong, 2) passing on what someone said to them without researching it, or 3) was very much driven by their own biases or agenda. This happened to me in the Baptist “fundamentalist/moderate/liberal” issue.  I no longer use these terms because they are used in an ungodly way to “lump and dump” people into groups, something Jesus spoke against repeatedly.  
           
          Then, when I was at Southwestern Seminary, an institution led by a president with whom I rarely agree, I would hear great discrepancies between what some were saying about the theology of certain professors and what was actually said in class out of the mouth of that professor.  I saw how many of these folks were being unfairly demonized.   It is heartbreaking to see what Baptists have done to one another.  I just quit listening to all of that.
           
          There are usually two kinds of people- 1) those I “like” and 2) those I have not taken the time to get to know and understand.    
           
          Sincerely,
          Don

      • @beardonabike  @cyclinganderson
         This seems to be an unobtainable goal to have a society that fosters discussion without judgement.  However, it is something that must be strived for.  Too often we see something that seems to be imposible to obtain and give up.  I find myself working with kids on a constant basis with this task.  They do not see that it is okay to have a different opinion than others in their class.  So with the kids we constantly practice having these dialogues. 
         
        As adults, we live in a society that is in constant fear of saying anything that is not PC.  We don’t want to turn anyone off.  For this type of culture to exist, we have to practice these dialogues and show others how to disagree without being disagreeable.

        • @cyclinganderson  @beardonabike   I forgot who it was, but a noted Baptist theologian asked the question some years ago, “are Baptists mature enough to be Baptists?”  He was asking it in view of our schism and conflict.  Another stated at one point – “Baptists are known for two things- missions and fighting.”

  2. This may not be directly related to the content of the blog but I thought it was probably relevant enough to post. My closest friends growing up have always been Christians. When I got to college, I knew that I needed to make Christian friends and have fellowship with other believers but what I didn’t realize, due in large part to the fact that making friends with Christians had always come so naturally to me throughout my life, was that just because someone else was a Christian, that didn’t mean I would just immediately develop a close, personal friendship with them like the ones I had growing up or even really become friends with that person at all. It took me several years to realize that meeting other people who believe in the same religious principles you do is great common ground to start with for developing a friendship, but that people can still have interests and personalities that may not be all that similar to yours even though you share presumably the most important beliefs about how to live your life and treat other people. Compatibility is very important in any relationship and sharing the same religious beliefs can be a powerful facilitator of compatibility and friendship, but something I have learned over the past several years is that if you don’t share any other interests or qualities with another person, being a fellow believer does not mean a friendship is automatically going to happen and it might not happen at all. Just some thoughts I thought I’d share on friendship and religion from my own experience.

  3. This may not be directly related to the content of the blog but I thought it was probably relevant enough to post. My closest friends growing up have always been Christians. When I got to college, I knew that I needed to make Christian friends and have fellowship with other believers but what I didn’t realize, due in large part to the fact that making friends with Christians had always come so naturally to me throughout my life, was that just because someone else was a Christian, that didn’t mean I would just immediately develop a close, personal friendship with them like the ones I had growing up or even really become friends with that person at all. It took me several years to realize that meeting other people who believe in the same religious principles you do is great common ground to start with for developing a friendship, but that people can still have interests and personalities that may not be all that similar to yours even though you share presumably the most important beliefs about how to live your life and treat other people.  Compatibility is very important in any relationship and sharing the same religious beliefs can be a powerful facilitator of compatibility and friendship, but something I have learned over the past several years is that if you don’t share any other interests or qualities with another person, being a fellow believer does not mean a friendship is automatically going to happen and it might not happen at all. Sharing the same fundamental beliefs about Christianity and having compatibility with other people has been what has allowed me to form my closest friendships with other believers throughout my life. I have friends probably at several different points on the “Spectrum of Christianity” but it has never been their views on trans-substantiation or the rapture or any other theological issue outside of the “core fundamental beliefs” that have created or destroyed our friendships but our faith and the beliefs we hold most important in guiding our lives and the mutual good that comes from us being in each others’ company. Just some thoughts I thought I’d share on friendship and religion from my own experience.

    • @TaylorHankinson This is great Taylor! I think it is directly related. We can have less in common with those who believe almost exactly what we do and more in common with those farther away on the spectrum. I have to think that close friendships with these people pleases God because I think that it keeps us from being self-righteous about our “correct” beliefs.

  4. Well I only like the kind of Christian that likes to argue. Yes, if you agree with anything I say, I will be rolling my eyes internally and muttering to myself (inaudibly), “This Christian is the Idiot kind.”. LOL … For the record.

  5. But to strike a serious tone (trying to anyway, not my forté, admittedly), look at the universe God has created. Is it not governed by “laws”? And yet … BEHOLD!!! (Charleton Heston voice) … behold the diversity of that which God has done, in accordance with The Laws He Himself ordained that it be done by!!No – diversity is norm – yea, even painful diversity.So that in the place of conformity, there may be great comfort, and comfort is required by God as well, but remember we work 6 days and rest 1, not the inverse. So the norm, again I say, is the painful (often) task of harmonizing diverse voices, not nodding in agreement with like-minded nub-brains.
     
    How fast, too, does agreement become boring? Thank God He has given us to much to think about and so much diversity to work with to mete out it all His Nature and Character and Mind and Heart and Will.
     
    THERE IS NO HARMONY WITHOUT DIVERSITY.
     
    THERE IS NO UNITY WITHOUT DIVERSITY.
     
    THERE IS NO DIVERSITY IN THE ABSENCE OF ORDER, WHICH IS TO IMPLY, LAW.
     
    How long, you ask, must we labor under this charge we have been given? I say to you: FOREVER. God is eternal, therefore our pursuit of Him will be eternal.
     
    Therefore, I say also, once you begin your pursuit of God, you have entered the Kingdom of Heaven, indeed you are in Heaven, as you forever will be.
     
    Those that demand conformity are the true enemies of God, as much as those that demand release from the requirements of the Law Of God because THERE IS NO DIVERSITY IN THE ABSENCE OF ORDER, WHICH IS TO IMPLY, LAW as much as it is true that THERE IS NO UNITY IN THE ABSENCE OF DIVERSITY. God is both diverse and unified, and perfectly so.
     
    AND NO, I HAVE NO IDEA WHY I’M YELLING. I AM NATURALLY A LOUD PERSON BOTH ON THE KEYBOARD AND OFF. THANK GOD WE ARE NOT ALL THE SAME.
     
    SELAH.

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