The heart of Christianity

Summer is the season in which theological battles are fought. Denominations gather and attempt (poorly) to take counsel and together reach some consensus on the church’s theology. The Methodists, the Presbyterians, and now the Episcopalians have had their meetings. The nature of marriage has been discussed, demographic trends in the church have been explained, we’ve talked about property, and advocacy, and all manner of other things.

In the midst of the counsel-taking and the discussion, it can be easy to lose sight of the true heart of the faith. In its essence, Christianity is the union of the believer in community with Jesus Christ in continuity with the teaching of the apostles. 

It is personal without being individualistic. It is intimate without being sentimental. It embraces and forms both heart and mind to the service of Christ the King.

In the midst of the question asking and answer, I came across this quote from Orthodox Bishop Metropolitan Kallistos Ware. I found it encouraging and a helpful reminder that the essence of the faith is deeper than intellectual assent.

Christianity is not merely a philosophical theory or a moral code, but involves a direct sharing in divine life and glory, a transforming union with God, ‘face to face.’

Interestingly this quote from an Orthodox cleric reminded me of another quote from someone quite different. Henry Scougal (d. 1657) was a professor of Divinity at the University of Aberdeen. He died young. One of the gifts of his life was a book he wrote by the title of The Life of God in the Soul of Man.

[T]rue religion is a union of the soul with God, a real participation of the Divine nature, the very image of God is drawn upon the soul, or, in the apostle’s phrase, ‘it is Christ formed within us.’

Two men. Different Christian traditions. Different centuries. A common theme. The very hear of the Christian faith is union to God in Christ and participation in the divine life such that we are transformed in ever increasing measure into the likeness of Christ.

This is a likeness that extends to the very texture of our lives. It extends beyond our inward, private moral choices (there really is no such things as a private moral action for the Christian anyway).

As Sam Wells has put it, “I assume that the Gospels were intended to be pondered, word by word, action by action, scene by scene, by communities seeking to embody their faith in Jesus in practical acts of discipleship in the world” (Power and Passon 17). As followers of Christ we are about embodied faith, belief that manifests itself in inner transformation and concrete expression.

This is the sort of faith that can flow out of witnessing communities and transform the world.

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