"Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried."
- G. K. Chesterton
If we were to elevate David Letterman's "Top 10" formula from the irreverent to the divine and use it to describe a Christian, what would be on our list?
Would it include: lives a sinless life; attends church every Sunday; belongs to a specific denomination; becomes baptized - a certain way; drinks no alcohol; takes the Bible literally; wears no makeup, jewelry or short hair (female), or no belt, buttons, or short pants (male)? And which one would follow the drum-roll and slide in as No. 1?
I don't jest. In a lifetime of church involvement in three denominations and 20 years of military chapels as a "General Protestant," I've found all the above on someone's list and several elevated to No. 1.
Recently, while visiting a different church from the one I attend now, someone expressed surprise that I could be brought up in a church that believes in baptism by immersion, yet belong to one that thinks a few drops of water on top of the head are sufficient.
I admit the "sprinkling" issue bothered me at first, and I still believe immersion is the preferred Biblical interpretation. But after 20 years as a Methodist, I understand the importance of baptism - to serve as a public profession of your faith - but I haven't found any place in Scripture that says the form of that sacrament is something to fight about.
Then what is required? What is it that sets Christianity apart from all other faiths?
I learned much during those General Protestant days, when the things that united us became more important than what divided us. I especially remember the Bible study session when we engaged in this very winnowing process to discover what we absolutely had to believe to call ourselves Christians.
One by one the Letterman-style requirements were stripped away. No, we decided, although a modest lifestyle is always the norm, it probably doesn't matter what we wear, how we cut our hair, or whether or not we pierce our ears. We also agreed we shouldn't be "drunk with wine" (Ephesians 5:18), while we couldn't deny that taking "a little wine for your stomach's sake" (I Timothy 5:23) was practiced throughout the Bible.
Because church denominations didn't exist in Bible times, we decided it didn't matter what label we wore, either, and though St. Paul did tell the early Christians "not to give up assembling yourselves together" (Hebrews 10:25), we felt we would still be admitted into heaven if we failed to make the perfect attendance charts at our church.
Gone, too, were the hundreds of rules amassed by church leaders from New Testament times to the present day. Though we should attempt to live as sinless a life as possible, we remembered that few things bothered Jesus more than the burdensome rules the church leaders inflicted on their people, which allowed them little of the "joy of the Lord" (I Peter 1:8) He had come to give.
What was left, we decided, was just one thing: the resurrection of Jesus. No top 10, just the top one, that Jesus was who He claimed to be. Therefore, as the Bible declares over and over again, "whoever believes in Him shall not perish (stay dead) but have eternal life" (John 3:16, et. al).
For those who have difficulty with such a short list of "I believes," please consider the following:
To believe Jesus rose from the grave on His own power, He would have to be God. Likewise, if He became "alive again," He had to have had a human body while He was on earth so He could die first. And, we concluded, anyone who accepts the resurrection should have no trouble believing that other human-sense-defying miracle, the virgin birth.
Call it "one with many parts" if you wish. I'm just concerned that, sometimes, the people on the outside looking in through our stained-glass windows feel excluded by our long lists of what they must think or do before they are allowed inside, when all Jesus said was, "Come unto me" (Matthew 11:28).
Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer. E-mail comments to email@example.com.
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