In the previous post, I discussed the term conservative as the authors of A Conservative Christian Declaration use it. I concluded that post by defining a conservative as someone who preserves and perpetuates a certain set of ideals. In this conversation, that set of ideals consists of Christianity. Hence, a conservative Christian declaration. In this post, I would like to examine more closely the idea of Christianity that the authors have in mind.
The first article is titled, “On the Gospel.” On this point we return to the idea of theological conservatism that I mentioned in the previous post. The gospel, as the Bible describes it, defines what can rightly be called Christian. Without the gospel, there is no Christianity. In a nearby town, there are three churches that claim to be Christian but I know for a fact teach a false gospel. They teach that good works or particular rituals will save them. They may call themselves Christian, but they are not. On the other hand, I know of another church where the pastor has said that he preaches only the gospel and avoids preaching doctrines and other issues that divide. While I rejoice that the gospel is preached, I am also concerned because Christianity is more than merely the gospel.
Allow me to start with an analogy. Let’s say that I am a doorman at a huge mansion, and you stop by to visit the owner. You knock on the door, and after I open it, you ask if I could show you around the mansion. So, I begin by pointing out how nice the front door is. “We can enter the house through it. The glass of the window was cut by hand. The doorknob was fashioned by a local blacksmith.” All the while, you are standing outside. You interrupt my monologue to say, “Maybe, I can come into the house and look around?” “Of course,” I say. I let you inside the door, and then I pull up two nice, plush chairs where we sit down and look at the inside of the door with our backs to the rest of the mansion. I continue talking about how the wood panels were hand carved. In exasperation, you exclaim, “There is so much more to the mansion than the door! Why are we talking about the door?” And I retort, “Well, that’s all that’s really important. Don’t concern yourself about anything else.”
As the mansion is so much more than the door, Christianity is much more than the gospel. The gospel gets you in, as it were, but it is only the threshold. What more is there to Christianity than the gospel?
First, we know that Christianity includes right doctrine. The gospel itself, the fact that Jesus died for our sins and that he was raised on the third day, is a doctrine. Christianity is rightly called a doctrinal religion. For example, we believe that Mary was a virgin when she conceived and gave birth to Jesus Christ. Matthew goes out of his way in his Gospel to make sure we understand this point. Luke, the author of Acts, states that Jesus is going to return to the earth. Paul, in the letter to the Romans, teaches that every person has sinned. Doctrine is part and parcel of Christianity.
Secondly, we know that Christianity includes right behavior. The commandments in both the Old and New Testaments remind us of what we should and should not be doing, what behavior is and is not becoming a Christian. Paul emphasizes this point when writing to Timothy, “you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God.” Furthermore, he writes to the church in Corinth rebuking them for not behaving themselves when they gathered for communion. Ephesians 4:28 states, “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands.” Even stronger, in 1 Cor. 5, Paul implies that regardless of a person’s doctrinal confession, if his behavior is bad enough, his confession should not be accepted. Instead, the church should discipline him out of the membership. Thus, a Christian’s behavior is just as important as his doctrinal confession.
Thirdly, Christianity also includes the right affections or emotions toward God, other believers, and the world. The great commandments are to love the Lord your God and to love your neighbor as yourself. John reminds us not to love the world or anything in the world. Not only do we find these commands, but we also are told to be joyful, to be at peace, and to worship with fear and reverence. These are emotions, and, according to many places in the Scripture, there are right and wrong emotional states. One well-known example of a wrong affection is Paul’s warning to those coming to the Lord’s table flippantly.
Christianity, therefore, is at minimum the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It includes, however, much more than the gospel. It includes right doctrine, moral behavior, and right affection or emotion. This idea of Christianity forms kind of an outline to A Conservative Christian Declaration. The first article addresses the gospel. The rest of the book tries to explain the much more of Christianity. At the end of the day, the authors are describing a Christianity worth preserving and perpetuating. In the next post, I would like to give the reader some help on how to read these articles.