I’m about to finish a sermon series on Christianity and other religions. It was a difficult series for a few reasons.
First, it was difficult because I’m not sure the category of religion is all that helpful – or as clear as we usually assume.
Second, as one with advanced academic training, I know what specialization is – and that when it comes to other religions, I don’t have it.
Third, just the few religions we looked at – Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism – are hugely complex, diverse phenomena. Devoting a mere twenty minute sermon to each is barely scratching the surface of that complexity and diversity.
Fourth, I feared that for some the preaching – that was also teaching – would function only as teaching, that is, as a long list of (maybe) interesting facts. Teaching is good, and we Christians need more of it. What preaching adds to preaching is a clear call to the will to do something with that which is taught.
One of the things that keeps coming back to me when I talk about this subject is “What kind of thing is Christianity?’ I worry sometimes that series like the one I’ve just finished encourage people to simply categorize it as a “religion.” Religions, we all (think we) know, are primarily belief systems. So IF Christianity is a religion, it is best understood as a belief system.
There’s certainly something right about that. The act of believing – and believing particular things – is important in Christianity. Without the particular things we believe, that there is one God whom we know in three persons, Father, Son, and Spirit, that Jesus is the Son of God become human, that this Jesus took our sin and brokenness upon himself, dying on the cross, and rising on the third day to name just a few, there is no Christianity.
But if we think Christianity is only or even primarily a list of true things we believe, we’re not only missing the most important aspects, but we’re also failing to understand faith.
I can believe Jesus is the Son of God and that Sams is a major attraction in Fairfield all on my own. I need never have interaction with Jesus or go to Sams to believe these things. Believing that is important, but it’s a bare starting point. It breaks my heart that so many get no farther.
Real Christianity is a whole life phenomenon. Faith, in addition to the elements of believing that, also includes trusting, obeying, perceiving, and giving allegiance to. I can go to a baseball game, cheer for my team, and afterward proclaim, “We won!” But WE didn’t win. I watched, I didn’t play. Christianity is similar to baseball, in that it is something we inescapably do with other people. I can believe there is such a thing as baseball and even know a great deal about it without ever playing it. I can even don a jersey and go to every game. But baseball is in the playing. Likewise, Christianity is in the playing. There’s no way around it.
What’s your next step as you “get in the game,” as you “join God in what he’s doing?” What’s your next step as you move toward whole life engagement with Jesus in the company of your fellow disciples?