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Those rebelious Christians

Many Christians rebel against other Christians who aren’t “real” Christians. And it’s a raucous rebellion. I wonder if Jews and Muslims have this same problem. Do Orthodox Jews claim the Reformed Jews are not really following the Torah and therefore cannot be a part of Judaism? Moderate Muslims, I know, reject the radical Muslims even though they both read the same Koran.

So, I guess it’s not unusual that we have several “brands” of Christianity, with each one getting rebellious when faced with the antics of the other. Not only are there thousands of independent Christian churches with wildly different names, but Wikipedia lists over 40 different belief systems, all of them coming from three separate and distinctly different roots:

▪  The Jewish Root. From James, the brother of Jesus, who urged the first followers of his brother to be faithful Jews like Jesus.

▪  The Pauline Root. From Paul, who followed the Greco-Roman traditions of his converts, and moved the followers of Jesus away from Judaism into a new religion.

▪  The Gnostic Root. From a theory which introduced the body/soul concept we use today but also rejected Judaism, and heavily influenced the Christian church for centuries.

But today as I travel around America and listen to Christians talking — and read what they say in my books and magazines— I find two separate groups.

▪  The dogmatic Christian … and,

▪  The practicing Christian.

The dogmatic Christian is the person who puts all his emphasis on the dogmas or beliefs he feels are important. He says, as Erick Erickson said before he went to seminary, “to be a Christian, one must believe in these fundamental dogmas.” Today, brilliant theologians like William Lane Craig bring research and scholarship to endorse and nurture this approach to Christianity. Not much is said about how this Christian practices his religion, but only about the dogmas he holds as true. He tends to be very rebellious against those who insist on the Christian title and yet have the hutzpah to question the inerrancy of the Bible, or the articles in the Nicene Creed.

The practicing Christian is out finding jobs for the homeless and cures for the sick and reasons to live for those who are depressed. When asked if he believes in the trinity or the resurrection or the atonement, he laughs and continues his work. These beliefs have very little to do with his approach to Christianity. He might be Baptist or Methodist or Episcopalian or never attend any church at all, but he finds the teachings of the historical Jesus of great value and tries to implement them.

These two Christians live and work together and even go to church together. But when the topic of religion comes up, you’d think you were listening to Republicans and Democrats. Both read the same verses about Jesus in the Bible, but one is focused on the historical Jesus and the other on the biblical Jesus. The practicing Christian reads authors like Bishop Spong and John Dominic Crossan; his dogmatic brother reads fundamentalist tracts written by followers of the Princeton seminary professor, Dr. Charles Hodge.

Can these two ever come together? Probably not. However, I’m witnessing the joining together of a group of Rotarians from all over the world who are more dissimilar than these two Christian groups could ever be, and yet they’ve formed one common belief and value: “Service above Self.” They eat together every week and have a great time: men and women, black and white, straight and gay, young and old, Jews, Christians, Muslims, atheists and agnostics. No dogmas; no litmus test; only the dedication to help those who need help — and they have fun doing it. Maybe if religions became more like Rotarians they wouldn’t get so rebellious.

Contact me: drc@billcummings.org.