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Featured What is the essence of Christianity?

Discussion in 'General Theology' started by kdm1984, Mar 25, 2019.

  1. kdm1984

    kdm1984 Member

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    What is the essence of Christianity? What theological hills are the ones I must die on?

    I'm in my mid-thirties, and I'm at a tough point in the faith. I've dealt with doubt before, eventually broke through it and rejected all forms of agnosticism and atheism, found other religions lacking as well -- and yet I still haven't figured out everything about Christianity, either.

    I was raised in something of a generic, and yet very unstructured, American Protestant Christian home. However, there were a few theological quirks: my mother basically reduced everything in the Bible to Micah 6:8, my father told me hell isn't eternal and that people can be saved after they die (he vigorously maintains this belief to this day -- it's his own theological hill that he chooses to die on), and most emphasis was placed on endless End Times speculations rather than morality, even though both my parents identified as conservative Christians. (They remained outsiders in the faith, and few followed their highly idiosyncratic theology. As I've gotten older, I totally understand why few people followed them, despite my love for them -- they were very inconsistent theologically, and took a lot of the Bible grossly out of context, and could never admit or discuss their hermeneutical errors well with others.)

    In my young adult years, I was exposed to the conservative Calvinist/Reformed, Vision Forum, somewhat famous/infamous "Brain Type" patriarchal Christianity of the Niednagel family, which holds that most people are Myers-Briggs ENTPs/FCIRs and cannot discern truth and reality well. True Biblical Christianity, according to them, is following rules and regulations to the utmost, and following the Bible according to black-and-white, linear left brain context, best exemplified in rigid Reformed Calvinism and ISFJ or ISTJ BEAL and BEIL Brain Types. My parents were believed to be generic ENTP FCIR right brain thinkers who took the Bible too creatively and didn't spend enough time on law, righteousness, and the like, which would explain their obsession with doomsday thinking, and the lack of emphasis on law/morality, and why my family never gave into the very different thinking of the Niednagel Brain Typists.

    I also have been exposed to Calvary Chapel, which holds that Christianity is a relationship, not a religion, and that God can be attained through ecstatic emotional spontaneous Pentecostal worship, coupled with a somewhat conservative theological bent. The Niednagels would dismiss this as right brain extroversion emotionalism, and to me, it seems offensively feminine instead of male patriarchal. God is not a woman -- He is a MALE, so why treat him so emotionally and reduce His holiness to a girly RUH-LAY-SHUN-SHIP? Men are systems thinkers, thus so should a male God be, not a "relationship."

    I now think, and have thought for over a year, that conservative Lutherans have the best balance of all these matters, theological and otherwise -- but it's alienated my family and all my former Calvinist and Calvary Chapel friends, who would wish to persuade me back to 'their' ways.

    Even so, I find myself fighting: is conservative Lutheranism just my own preference, or is it absolute truth? If it's absolute truth, how do I -- as a woman and descendant of Eve -- practice it best? Women aren't supposed to hold Scriptural authority in the Bible, and yet the men in my life have had such differing views on how the Bible should be interpreted, so it's hard to figure out who to submit to. They are all over the place! Where is the consistency in Protestant Christianity? I outlined what my parents, the Niednagel Brain Typist Calvinists, and the Calvary Chapelists believe -- and none of it is internally consistent or co-existent. What a mess!

    It got me thinking, even back to the bigger picture -- what, then, IS the essence of Christianity, and what does Christianity offer that other world views or religions don't? Why is there such division in Christianity when the Apostle Paul told us not to have all these divisions? And as a woman, how especially do I deal with all of this, when Eve's curse is upon me? How can I figure out the truth when I'm supposed to have a male intermediary to decide my beliefs for me (women must submit to men authorities, and cannot come to Christ on their own), and yet all my male intermediaries would war over very different theological views, coming to completely logically contradictory conclusions?

    Seems madness to me...
     
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  2. 2PhiloVoid

    2PhiloVoid Oh no! Not another ... interlocutor !!! Supporter

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    Wow! This sounds so very similar to the kind of place I've been off and on with the whole pathos/ethos of the various denominational tug-of-war in which we all find ourselves today. You really hit the proverbial nail-on-the-head with this post, kdm1984.

    I'll tell you what, I have to get back to work, but I'll check in on this thread you've created because I'm interested to see what everyone has to say in response. Hopefully, I'll have some time soon to respond myself. Thanks for such a thoughtful post ... :cool:

    2PhiloVoid
     
    Last edited: Mar 25, 2019
  3. Albion

    Albion Facilitator

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    There's a lot to deal with in that post, kdm, but several issues stand out to me.

    1. You spent a lot of time reporting on a number of very atypical religious movements and organizations that, although they may be genuinely Christian, are way outside of the mainstream of Christian history and thought, whether Catholic or Protestant.

    That you spent some time explaining the influence of them upon you isn't my concern, but...what a line-up that was! Many people have relayed a similar account--they had gotten into this or that writer or cult or theory or something...and were confused. I don't doubt it. My thinking has always been that they should spend some time with the major branches of Christianity and see what the real issues in Christian history are. Then they would be in a much better position to know how to proceed.

    2. If you do that, begin by shaking off the idea (common as it is) that Protestant means some definitive movement that somehow has lost its way and that we can see that this is true, considering how many different Protestant churches there are and how they disagree with each other. The word Protestant refers to a general classification (of churches), like invertebrate or carnivore do in biology. It is not that there once was a single Protestant church/denomination that was united but later experienced internal dissent and broke into competing pieces (suggesting to us that there was something deficient in its beliefs and practices)..
     
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  4. ~Zao~

    ~Zao~ Wisdom’s child Supporter

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    I guess that’s why headship of men is meant to save women? I thought it was thru childbirth?
     
  5. Dave G.

    Dave G. Well-Known Member

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    What you are asking is what is the truth, what is true Christianity. Jesus Christ had much to say on this. In the end it is to know Him, the person of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit working in your heart. You must be changed by that, then you will follow Jesus' simple two or three verse command found in Matthew 22 that fulfills all of the law. When you have this nailed down you will discern good and bad doctrine and denominations. It will be by the will of God and you will find your place where ever you walk. The common thread Is Jesus Christ Himself. Don't chase denominations and their doctrines but seek the person of Jesus Christ and find that in the church you attend. If it isn't there, then move on...
     
  6. timewerx

    timewerx the village i--o--t--

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    If everyone has different views on it, then it's possible everyone is mistaken to some degree....

    If you really want to know the absolute truth, the only thing you can do is work it the hard way and dig it out yourself. Jesus compared the Truth to a treasure. A "treasure hunt" is no treasure hunt if you let others do it for you.

    Things you need to do on your own and decide for yourself without letting others or lifelong beliefs influence you. Scrutinizing or testing a teaching can only be done without any biases. Hard to do, but it's the only way.

    Correct, it's a mess! Someone always disagreeing on a certain teaching, yet, they each claim to be guided by the Holy Spirit!! That's just absurd!

    The essence of true Christianity is continually seek the Truth and keep testing / scrutinizing what you already know as the truth.

    I think that is what the real Christianity can offer that other religions don't. Most other religions, even most denominations of Christianity will quickly settle into anything they determine as the truth (which is easy and sadly is a sign of arrogance, instead of humility).

    Everyone makes mistakes. We often misinterpret things...So how can anyone be absolutely certain of what they know? We can't, unless it's pride and arrogance.

    Remember that Jesus did not only came for our salvation but also lifted the curse of Adam and Eve.

    Remember the curse of Adam - heavy toil - and Jesus said "come to me for my yoke is easy, and my burden light". The curse/punishment of Eve is to be ruled over by men. However, in the New Testament, we have female leaders. Jesus elevated Mary above all the other disciples as she understood Him, she understood His teachings, which the men didn't.

    The teaching of Paul for women to be silent at church, submit to husbands is only specific to a certain place or period as we know it wasn't followed absolutely in the New Testament. Gender equality in a period of severe patriarchy and mysoginy could attract unwanted attention from authorities and they didn't want that, they are keeping a low profile.
     
  7. Albion

    Albion Facilitator

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    Its surprising that so many people who talk this way do not realize the most obvious fact about it--IT IS POSSIBLE THAT ONE OR MORE OF THEM DO HAVE IT RIGHT.
     
  8. Brian Mcnamee

    Brian Mcnamee Well-Known Member

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    Hi the word speaks about a lot of things and at every intersection there can be multiple forks in the road and when you look at the board there are millions of possible combinations of beliefs you could come to. I have found that by studying the word with a lens that holds God is able to say what He means and to emphasize the most important ideas the most will bring me to a place where by studying the whole I will be on the right side of most possible choices. Others who have studied the same have come to a large body of the same beliefs with this method and have not been led to our beliefs but discovered and confirmed them with others following the same method.
     
  9. salt-n-light

    salt-n-light Well-Known Member Supporter

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    In terms of theology, you must believe in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. How that belief becomes in fruition is receiving the Holy Spirit and operating under God's will through being a disciple and disciplining others. In short.

    Where it gets messy is what does that actually look like. What about when we are gathered, how does that look like structurally? Historically you have leaders who have tried to provide those answers whether driven through politics, culture, or personal situations, in which brought about different theologies, which birth all these different structures/denominations within Christendom. No structure is pure, and I don't believe its meant to be pure, it is just meant to attempt to answer the two questions " how should a Christian navigate this life?" and " how should the gathering of the saints be structured".

    I think where a lot of trouble comes in is the legalism within alot of the structures. When it becomes an issue of, "everyone else who doesn't abide by this is damned". Some in rebellion choose to denounce the religion entirely, and some in other extremes want to overemphasize it. Both miss the mark on why there is a structure in the first place, to keep order. In that aspect, as long as there are not going against the scriptures, and order is kept, then its fine.

    So no Lutheranism is not absolute truth. Lutheranism is one of many theologies of how that pioneer envisioned the church to operate. Just like any other structure.
     
  10. FireDragon76

    FireDragon76 contemplative humanist Supporter

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    Your parents actually sound like decent people, if idiosyncratic. Don't judge them too harshly.

    I don't buy the idea that God thinks like a man. The Bible reveals God through masculine language, but don't anthropomorphosize that. I don't think that stuff you learned in Vision Forum will really help you, long term. It sounds more like pet theory than sound doctrine.

    There is no particular brain type Christians should have. The idea that God speaks to us in only one way doesn't seem very congruent with God's omnipotence or omnibenevolence. It does however speak to certain human insecurities.

    I think Lutheranism is a good approach, but I also think it is possible to be too fundamentalist about it and not be generous enough in ones orthodoxy (I disagree with some LCMS on this point, I take the approach of moderate Lutherans in Germany that the Confessions are not the last word on theology). Nonetheless, I think it may be a better approach for you because you have experience so much legalism and sensualism in your Christian life. But just being LCMS is no guarantee you will never encounter legalism, IMO.

    And as Albion says, Protestantism is not one thing! It's really a term that is political in origin to describe (at best) loosely related religious movements who have different confessions of faith. Protestant churches are capable of being very different from one another, and should be evaluated on their own terms.
     
    Last edited: Mar 25, 2019
  11. thecolorsblend

    thecolorsblend If God is your Father, who is your Mother? Supporter

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    The gospel is ultimately the core of Christianity: Our Lord crucified.

    Where Christianity has a leg up on other religions (and yes, Christianity is a religion) is in our doctrines concerning salvation. Other religions will teach their adherents how not to upset their god too much. But Christianity offers the more rare innovation of genuine salvation.

    Oh boy, there's a rabbit hole we could fall into. As I'm Catholic, I imagine my views on that should be rather self-evident.

    We're all cursed in a sense. Justice is coming for all of us, sooner or later. Pray, keep the faith and remember your baptism.

    Not sure what you mean here since women have the same responsibility to come to faith as men do.

    The reality is that there is such a thing as sin and there is such a thing as judgment. The realization I had was that we as people can never be 100% certain by ourselves. So the decision I made was to submit to the Catholic Church. That's where certitude can be found: an unbroken line stretching back two thousand years to Our Lord Himself founding the Church.
     
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  12. food4thought

    food4thought Loving truth Supporter

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    This is the question we all have to answer for ourselves. For me it boils down to this:

    1) The Bible is God-breathed and thus His inspired and authoritative word to us
    2) Jesus Christ is God incarnate (some would place this first, but without the Bible, how would we know that Jesus is God incarnate?)
    3) He died for our sins, somehow (views on how this all works vary) redeeming us and allowing God to forgive our sins, and He rose again from the dead, proving He was who He claimed to be
    4) We are given eternal life by placing our faith in who Jesus Christ is and what He has done for us, not by our good works which we do out of thankfulness for God's gracious gift of salvation
    5) He will physically return to Earth to establish His reign over us for all eternity, resurrecting the faithful dead in new eternal bodies (this is our future hope) and condemning the unrighteous.

    These are the doctrinal hills I would make my stand upon. There are probably a few more I could think of after further thought, but these are the things that immediately jumped to mind.

    No one has it all figured out... there is much that we will not fully know or understand until we stand in the presence of God in eternity.

    Sounds like they didn't take the time to study God's word very deeply. Bible study is a lifelong commitment, and few if any will ever be able to understand everything it teaches. Micah 6:8 isn't a bad guiding principal, but it obviously fails to encompass everything God requires of us in a New Testament sense.

    Wow, that sounds weird... no wonder you're confused.

    Calvary Chapels vary on their emphasis, and the one you attended seems to fall pretty far to the Pentecostal side of the movement. Christianity is a relationship, though, but not a teeny infatuation type, more like a good marriage (we are the bride, and Jesus is the bridegroom) or a parent child one (God is the Father, we are His children whom He loves and disciplines). It is also a religion, though, as we must seek Him and obey His Spirit.

    I understand the frustration you must feel, as I have had similar troubles sorting through the massive doctrinal sea of worldwide Christianity. If you feel led to conservative Lutheranism, by all means attend there. I would only add that you can learn for yourself the truths of Christianity, as you have the Holy Spirit dwelling within you... there is no need to have a male intermediary (other than Christ).

    Keep attending church and prayerfully studying the Bible for yourself... learn what you can from others, but remember that God wants you to relate to Him as His adopted child. Above all, be charitable towards the failures of others, knowing that you are flawed as well. Remember what the two greatest commandments are, stay faithful to Jesus, and you will do well, IMO.

    God bless you!
    Michael
     
    Last edited: Mar 25, 2019
  13. kdm1984

    kdm1984 Member

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    Thank you everyone for taking the time to reply. I wasn't sure how this thread would go, but it's been very constructive so far, and that's great to see.
     
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  14. bling

    bling Regular Member Supporter

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    You do good to realize they cannot all be right. They could all be wrong.

    The essence of Christianity is Christ and not some doctrine or a book.

    The difference between other religions and Christianity is Christ.

    “Divisions” in Christianity in the West is mostly or even total due to: The lack of sever persecution of Christianity to keep out hypocrisy and self-interest. The underground churches or unregistered Churches in China and North Korea are not divided. Division are mostly the result of high paying, prestigious, and self-promoting positions, but under sever persecution, the highest “position” is unpaid house church leader, with that person having a good chance of spending time prison, torture and/or death. The Communist Party actually provided these Churches with a kind of “creed”, by publicly list everything which could not be taught like (Christ is the son of God, Christ died for your sins, weekly communion, adult believer immersion baptism, heaven, hell, and evangelism) and this list became what they taught.

    When the communist started persecuting the Christians in China, they took all the leading males away never to be seen again unless they became Communist and, in the West, we just assumed there were no Christians, but devout women led individual house churches which continued to grow. Today there are more devout Christians in these underground churches than there are communist (estimated at over 100 million).

    You can be a devout women and bring the truth to a messed up “Christian” Church in the West.
     
  15. psalm911

    psalm911 Member

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    There is a day of judgment coming wherein God will judge the world by his name Jesus: who was before made manifest in the flesh of his Son and died for the sacrifice of sins that whoever believes he is Jesus should not die in the judgment but have everlasting life.
     
  16. FireDragon76

    FireDragon76 contemplative humanist Supporter

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    What, like Watchman Nee? He was considered divisive by some, bringing a highly intense Plymouth Brethren style fundamentalism to China. It is not true that underground churches are all on the same page religiously in China. In fact, some of them are barely Christian or they are more like non-Christian cults. Considering the political instability that these quasi-Christian religions caused in China, it's understandable why the Chinese government is wary of them.

    Contrary to what many evangelicals in the US think, the Three-Self state church in China does a fair job ministering to its people, and it should not be dismissed out of hand as corrupted, any more than any other state church. The Republic of China itself, long before Communism, wanted to have a state church that was indigenous and served its people, and not just the narrow interests of foreigners.
     
  17. com7fy8

    com7fy8 Well-Known Member Supporter

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    Well . . . Adam and Eve fell, in the Garden; so now males and females have all been born in sin. So, how they are is not what I would model myself by . . . neither how men nor women can tend to be now, because they have lost what they had before the fall.

    However > in God's love we can discover how to be the best of both a really good father and a really good mother >

    Have you noticed how Paul and Silvanus and Timothy say they related with the Thessalonians?

    1 Thessalonians 2:7

    I offer > they learned from Christian nursing mothers!
     
  18. 1213

    1213 Disciple of Jesus

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    If Christianity means disciples of Jesus, I would say the essence is this:

    Jesus therefore said to those Jews who had believed him, "If you remain in my word, then you are truly my disciples. You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free."
    John 8:31-32

    The teachings of Jesus is, or should be the essence for disciples of Jesus (“Christians”), especially because Jesus said:

    ...The words that I speak to you are spirit, and are life.
    John 6:63
     
  19. W2L

    W2L Well-Known Member

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    Matthew 11:28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light
     
  20. david shelby

    david shelby Member

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    I would say the true essence of Christianity is the moral law being written in the heart such that one does not have to think "What does God want" in a particular situation but instantly knows, and has no emotional distance between them and the commandment, like Balaam who complained "The Lord will not let me curse the children of Israel" showing he really wanted to, but rather than "The Lord won't let me commit adultery" you don't even want to, that's the Law written in the heart, spoken of as the essence of the New Covenant by Jeremiah in Jeremiah 31:31-33, "The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah....I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people."

    Or again, when Paul says in Romans 2:14 "When Gentiles, who do not possess the law, do instinctively what the law requires, these, though not having the law, are a law to themselves. 15 They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, to which their own conscience also bears witness; and their conflicting thoughts will accuse or perhaps excuse them 16 on the day when, according to my gospel, God, through Jesus Christ, will judge the secret thoughts of all."

    The notion of Jesus' death being a sacrifice for sins, forgiving our sins, etc. was never intended as a license for sin, but as a way to wipe away any notion of the ceremonial law still applying, and a mechanism to reach people to get the moral law written in their hearts, so they would keep it, as in Ephesians 2:10 "For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life."


    (quotations of scripture from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.)
     
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