The Appeal of Common Christianity

Prayer

Within church history, it seems some Christian traditions or denominations like to emphasize those beliefs that make their particular group distinctive. These unique features or beliefs often reflect an attempt to answer or resolve a challenging or paradoxical aspect of Christian theology (such as God’s sovereignty versus human freedom, views of the sacraments or ordinances such as baptism, perspectives on end times issues like the millennium, or the debate over the appropriate day of worship in terms of Sabbath, Saturday, versus the Lord’s Day, Sunday). It is understandable that churches or denominations would promote what makes them stand out from the rest of Christendom. After all, people are often attracted by these distinctive doctrinal elements.

I may be constituted somewhat differently than your average Christian, but I am personally attracted to what some would call “common” or “basic” Christianity. I like the unity and universality (known as catholicity) of those beliefs that all of historic Christendom holds in common. The ancient ecumenical creeds focus on these central and essential doctrinal truths. In fact, one of my very favorite parts of the liturgical service at my church is when the congregation recites in unison one of the ecumenical creeds of Christendom (the Apostles’ Creed, Nicene Creed, or Athanasian Creed). But it isn’t just traditional Christian churches who utilize a formal liturgy that affirm these creedal beliefs. Virtually all Christian churches, even those without official denominational connections, have a statement of faith that covers these basic doctrinal beliefs even if they don’t call it a creed.

Mere Christianity

C.S. Lewis’s book by the same name, introduces his idea of “mere Christianity.” This term refers to a group of essential and “agreed, or common, or central”1 Christian doctrines (such as creation, the Trinity, the incarnation, the atonement, the resurrection, the ascension, and Jesus Christ’s Second Coming) that all branches of historic Christendom and the various Protestant denominations affirm. The doctrinal elements of Lewis’s mere Christianity equates to the creedal Christianity described above. However, Lewis recognized that mere or common Christianity doesn’t cover everything that Christians think are important from a theological point of view. For example, none of the creeds discuss such controversial issues as the authority of Scripture in contrast to church tradition. Nor do the creeds address the hotly debated topic of the exact relationship of grace, faith, and works in salvation. So common or mere Christianity doesn’t resolve all of the theological debates and differences that are present among the three branches of Christendom: Eastern Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, and Protestantism. Nor does it settle the doctrinal differences that exist among Protestants themselves. As Christians study theology they will be challenged to consider how best to resolve the controversial and much-debated areas of biblical doctrine that remain unresolved within Christendom.

But even with the important doctrinal differences and tensions within Christendom, I find a deep sense of satisfaction in helping to bring Christians of diverse theological traditions together by finding a place of genuine and honorable common ground in basic or common Christianity. I respect and appreciate the need for polemics even in the debates within Christendom, but I prefer dialogue. So while my personal theological convictions are that of an Augustinian Protestant (Reformed Anglican), I like to think of myself as being ecumenical in the best sense of the term; for the elements of common Christianity have a deep and abiding appeal among all Christ’s diverse followers.

Reflections: Your Turn
What is appealing about common Christianity? Are the theological differences among Christians a detriment or a learning experience? Comment below with your response.

Resources

Endnotes

1. C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996), 8.

  One thought on “The Appeal of Common Christianity

  1. November 22, 2016 at 12:41 pm

    Ken, thank you for your ongoing efforts to educate, stimulate, and nourish the brothers and sisters in Christ (as well as challenging unbelievers). I think theological differences can be a learning experience or a detriment (and of course both results are part of God’s ultimate purposes for His glory).

    I see the principles of “common Christianity” as an introduction that God uses to first open our eyes to our need and to bring us to Him. After that, as we start to probe the deeper details, it’s a learning experience for us to continually test everything as Paul instructed (1 Thes 5:21). We should always look at other perspectives and possibilities, as doing so will improve our understanding, or bring us back with greater strength to what is true and good. Never can we know everything, nor should we be content with our level of understanding, nor will we ever fully comprehend the greatness of our God, even when we enter into glory with Him. Many mysteries and details of His nature and creation will eternally fascinate us, and we praise Him for that.

    But some disagreements within Christendom create confusion and distaste in unbelievers, and that creates an environment that aids the enemy to divert and oppose the spread of the Gospel. Even worse, some doctrinal disagreements are the slippery slopes that cause many who first proclaim to believe to miss out on a fulfilled relationship with our Creator, or to fall away from a life of assurance in Christ, or even back into alienation and death. Taking some non-adiaphoristic doctrinal interpretations to their logical final conclusions reveals the replacement of God’s truth, absolute sovereignty, and Christ’s atoning work with vagaries of chance and actions of fallen human beings. For example, to teach that God will grant health and prosperity on earth if we follow Him is to say that Jesus was wrong that we would face discipline and trials to grow in faith, and that our standing in this temporal life is as important as the place He is preparing for us. To disagree with the inerrancy and adequacy of Scripture is to say that God failed to get His Gospel to us, and that puny humankind’s traditions should fill in perceived gaps. To suggest that priests or saints or Mary can or should intercede for us is to say that Christ is not enough of a mediator or defender or Savior. To say that we must follow rules or perform rituals to lock in our salvation is to call Christ a liar and inadequate and to declare that God is not in control and He can be persuaded by our independent action despite our sin against Him.

    • November 22, 2016 at 1:20 pm

      MFD:

      Thanks for your thoughtful and helpful comments.

      Best regards in Christ.

      Ken Samples

  2. November 22, 2016 at 2:46 pm

    Your reflections today strike a chord with, perhaps because I consider myself a mutt of a believer. I was raised Catholic. I first record a sinners prayer in the home of a charismatic methodist insurance salesman. That same summer I encountered God in the home of a grizzled pentecostal preacher who stumbled over reading his KJV bible (but somehow deeply grasped what it meant) and responded to an alter call at a Southern Baptist revival. I returned from that experience to my very secular liberal arts college (with nominal Methodist roots) and struggled through a year with no discipleship only to emerge from a summer alone in the north woods where I encountered God dramatically on my own with nothing but a Bible and the Holy Spirit to guide me. I resonate with your tendency toward mere Christianity, maybe because of my background, influenced as well by my reading of Mere Christianity after that second summerlong encounter. I currently have been attending an independent church with reformed theology, but I am not completely reconciled to that theology. I believe that God sovereignly uses our disunity to the advantage of His kingdom, but it does seem to hurt the witness of the Church at the same time. I do appreciate the RTB ministry and look forward to reading your blog. I have several blogs myself and am just getting into apologetics at the age of 56, being an attorney by profession.

    • November 22, 2016 at 3:23 pm

      Kevin:

      Greetings.

      Thanks for sharing about your faith journey. I appreciate your comments.

      Best regards in Christ.

      Ken Samples

  3. November 22, 2016 at 3:11 pm

    Reblogged this on Talmidimblogging.

    • November 22, 2016 at 3:20 pm

      Thanks again for the reblog, Vincent.

      Best regards.

      Ken Samples

  4. Caleb Kendall
    December 1, 2016 at 12:13 am

    I stumbled across your post via a retweet of a CS Lewis account I follow and I had to comment. I can say with 100% certainty that nothing has made me question the character of God, nor has anything distanced me more from God than reformed theology, more specifically (but pretty much the same thing), Calvinism. I grew up in a southern baptist home and have attended southern baptist churches my whole life. It wasn’t until last year that I really looked into reformed theology due to it’s increase in popularity thanks to John Piper, Francis Chan, Matt Chandler etc. So to answer your question, differences in theology have been a stumbling block for me personally. I wish it wasn’t so. If you could pray for me I’d appreciate it.

    • December 1, 2016 at 9:53 am

      Caleb:

      Greetings.

      Thanks for sharing your concerns. I will pray for you.

      I want to recommend a five-part series that I wrote entitled “The Challenge of Christian Disunity”

      http://www.reasons.org/articles/the-problem-of-christian-disunity-part-1

      I hope this series will be helpful to you.

      Best regards in Christ.

      Ken Samples

      • Caleb kendall
        December 1, 2016 at 9:56 am

        Will do. Thank you.

  5. Frank Lazcano
    December 20, 2016 at 6:52 pm

    What’s appealing? (John 17:21) Christ’s prayer to God the Father. Differences a detriment or a learning experience? In light of Romans 14:12, I am humbled and therefore I’ll refrain from answering. I’m no scholar or theologian but I do know that my love for God is measured by my love for neighbor. I’m perplexed, in how to answer. All I can say is, keep seeking God by following Christ’s example 😇.

    • December 20, 2016 at 8:41 pm

      Thanks for your comments, Frank.

      Ken Samples

  6. June 26, 2017 at 6:35 am

    I go to a charge with a lot of YECs in it and I, myself, am a progressive creationist (OEC), so it’s kind of interesting. Sometimes my differing beliefs are respected, but most of the time they’re ignored. I have wanted to confront them on some of these differences, but I also don’t want to get excommunicated from my church. Part of me thinks my church won’t do that, but I don’t want to push it. What should I do? I ain’t sure how to proceed. What would you suggest? I really want to know. Plz help me!!

    • June 26, 2017 at 9:25 am

      Hello, Jeremy. I recommend that you study the OEC position carefully so you’ll be ready for dialogue with YEC doctrinally and theologically. Here’s a linked article that might prove helpful to you in your studies: http://paulcopan.com/articles/pdf/revised-genesis-science.pdf

      Treat the people who affirm YEC in your church with respect. Ask the leaders of the church if the church takes an official position on the age of the earth and on how the Genesis creation days are to be understood. If you really appreciate the church see if they will respectfully tolerate your views. If they can’t you may have to look for another church. Best regards in Christ.

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