HJ-ED-DHJHerald Journal Columns
March 26, 2007, Herald Journal
Pastor's Column

Faith in Christ does not equal religious right

Pastor Bill Baldwin, Prairie Evangelical U.C.C., Lester Prairie

There seems to be great confusion within Christianity these days about who believes what, who is in and who is out, and who has the right to say they are truly Christian.

In the United Church of Christ, I fear that in an attempt to be incredibly inclusive, we have thrown out the baby with the bath water. In an attempt to not be like the more conservative, seemingly judgmental, religious right, we have decided that we can’t hold any specific traditional orthodox Christian beliefs. Unfortunately, that flies totally in the face of what the Bible clearly teaches, and what the past traditions of our own denomination taught.

To my understanding, there are some basics that have to be there for us to be considered Christian. It is not a buffet where you pick and choose what you like, or choose to make a clear teaching seem like it means something else.

I will be the first to boldly say that the Bible is vague or silent on many issues that some would say it speaks about clearly. I strongly believe that wrong conclusions have been drawn based on reading certain passages in the Old or New Testaments.

Some of the ways the Bible has been read and applied have been very damaging to certain groups of people. For instance, it seems to me that “judge not, lest ye be judged” will have much higher priority for everyone than a few select passages that mention some form of homosexual behavior that some interpret as condemnation of those who happen to be born gay. It doesn’t seem at all clear to me that any place in the Bible addresses people who just happen to be gay.

I would also have to say that the Bible is very clear about who Jesus is (the Christ, or Savior, the Son of God), and what he came to do (he died, a sinless man, to take away the sins of the world).

It is certainly easy to say that anything that sounds miraculous didn’t happen, but who’s to say? Isn’t it the very impossibility of the event that makes it only possible if God did it?

There are many areas with room for discussion and interpretation, but the Bible is very clear about Jesus. We are saved from our sinful nature by faith in Jesus Christ. To believe otherwise is to deny the core teaching of the New Testament.

I am making a case that we can, and must, be thoroughly Christian in the most important Biblical ways, yet we have great freedom to use our minds, live exciting lives, and come to very different conclusions about issues than are often reached by Christian conservatives.

There are sincere, faithful, moral Christians with many different political views. There are sincere faithful, moral Christians who come down differently on social issues. It is faith in Jesus Christ as Savior that unites us in the United Church of Christ.

We are united by what Jesus says about himself, and what Paul and others teach about Jesus in the Bible. We are not united by having a free-for-all of views about who Jesus was and is, and what he came to earth to do.

I believe God calls all of us to be transformed by faith in Jesus, the Christ. This is a baseline belief for me as a pastor. It is not my place to judge what kind of person is acceptable to receive this transformation, thus I see a place for huge diversity within the church.

God calls all of us to lives of high moral and ethical standards, standards by which we all fall short. Jesus was right-on when he said that we each have enough logs in our own eyes that we never have reason to look at the specks in the eyes of another.

The church universal is a collection of people who have found peace through faith in Jesus Christ and who seek to follow his way of life and bring more people to saving faith. The local church is a collection of universal Christians who worship and do ministry in the local setting where a particular group of people lives.

So what am I really trying to say in this piece? Mainly that there are Christian basics that are essential to Christianity, and that sincere Christians can express their uniqueness in many and varied ways and still be entirely faithful. The Religious Right, the Left, the Center, the Roman Catholic, the Orthodox, or any other expression of Christianity, has no lock on right belief and practice.

If you have never come to believe in the crucified and risen Christ, that is the absolute essential beginning place. From there, find ways to express your unique values, commitments, and ways of seeing the world through your faith.

God has made a wonderful world of diversity, and as long as we are living lives that respect others and respect our nature as temples of God, then our uniqueness and diversity is wonderful.

As I was once told, liberal is not a four-letter word. Amen.

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