In my most recent sermon at Chalice Christian Church, I answered three questions that spring from the slogan, “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.” The questions are (1) What is essential to being a Christian? (2) What does it mean to be unified? (3) What action does this understand compel us to take?
What is essential? The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is a movement that seeks to bring wholeness to a fragmented world. From its beginning, the founders pursued to potentially contradictory ends–restoration and unity. Restoration meaning returning to the ways of the early church. If you know anything about the early church, you know that it was not unified. It fact, it was this disunity that gave rise to the creeds that Disciples so loathe. Hence the popular slogan, “We have no creed, but Christ.”
As mentor and friend Reverend Dale Copsey pointed out to me, the commas is key. Christ is not our creed; Christ is instead of creeds. And that goes a long way to answering the question of essentials. To be Christian one must believe that there is something special about Jesus Christ. Furthermore, that belief must have personal impact. The essential is the good confession. Words that I usually formulate as: Do you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the son of the Living God? Do you take him as your personal savior. (BTW, I am intentionally vague on these things. Reverend Jim Corner, another close personal friend of mine, rejects almost all Christology. But the primacy of Christ in his personal life is evident despite is predilection toward provocation when it comes to questions of His divinity.)
That is it, as the kids say, IMHO.
IF Christian THEN one believes in Jesus. We can test it. TRUE? (IF One does not believe in Jesus THEN One is not Christian) I think the test is true. If you believe Jesus was an important and valuable teacher, but he means nothing particular to you, then I think it is fair to say you are not a Christian. It doesn’t mean you’re evil.
Does it mean you’ll go to hell? I don’t know. I think it means you cannot achieve Salvation, or living in The Way, or entry into the Kingdom of God–whatever those terms mean. I used to get hung up on this sentiment. But frankly, if you think outside of the Christian context, it is pretty easy to see the truth of it. Can you live a Kosher life by studying Zen Koans? I think not. Neither can you achieve Enlightenment or Detachment from reading the Koran. These ends or unique to each of the world religions, and it would be bizarre bordering on chauvinistic to suggest that they all lead to the goal of Christianity.
Answer one: To be Christian one must only believe in Christ.