This post originally appeared as part of the Email a Believer blog at RE Online
A couple of years ago I was in a meeting of RE teachers and consultants where I was delivering the training. Most of the time I do this I try and stay in the third person- I strive to be diplomatic and recognise everyone’s points of view- because I recognise my points of view and philosophies are a result of my own experiences and background. This time I failed to remain objective- we were discussing some Christian beliefs. My questioner outlined that one could not be a Christian if you did not believe in the Trinity as stated in the creeds. I do understand that this is a point of view that is common and, indeed, the Trinity is seen by some as a defining characteristic of Christianity. This wasn’t a new experience for me but it hadn’t happened in a long time. Maybe because I was usually seen to be someone with ‘authority’ people didn’t really query my definition that a Christian is someone who considers themselves so to be, and if there has to be a criteria it is a belief that Jesus is the Son of God. This gentleman was not even willing to concede that there could be Trinitarian and non-Trinitarian Christians, and while not mentioning my faith was rather strident in his views. It gave me cause to reflect on how far I had come with regard to this question.
Growing up as a nominal Anglican I never faced any questions about my religion- maybe because it was an incidental part of my life. I remember attending Church on occasion, and I certainly believed in God but, to my young self, it wasn’t something I ever considered. When I joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in time it became apparent that some people considered my religion to be outside of the norm. I felt in my faith transition that I had become more religious, more of a Christian because I now strived to follow the Saviour’s example, and attempted to live each day in a relationship with him so that I could feel of his grace. It is for this reason that members of the Church sometimes get confused when they are described as non-Christian.
I once wrote an article for RE Today that outlined some of the arguments that I had heard and made suggestions as to why they may not be valid. These included:
- You can only be a Christian if you believe in the Trinity- I do believe in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit- just that they’re not homoousios. This definition would exclude others such as Unitarians.
- A Christian Church is a member of the World Council of Churches- I suggested that as the Roman Catholic Church is not a member of such, though acts as an observer, this may not be the best definition. I have actually seen this one used recently by an awarding organisation.
- One further definition surrounded the age of the Church- thus excluding Salvation Army and others.
I suggested that no definition was perfect and was designed to exclude rather than define. It was interesting because in the next issue RE Today published a rebuttal- a head teacher suggested I had been disingenuous in not mentioning my belief in a further book of scripture, or in a living prophet. The implication was that these were beliefs that would similarly place me outside Christianity. I wasn’t being disingenuous- I just hadn’t considered that these were non-Christian.
I then had an epiphany. Why was I trying to argue my way into Christianity? I had a personal and community relationship with Christ. I try to follow his example, I try to live in his grace and I study his word. I have no doubt in my Christianity- I may have doubt in how well I live up to it, but I am confident in my own skin. I believe I am a disciple of Christ. Is this enough for other people to consider me Christian? Returning back to the beginning of the post- for some, it is not, and in many ways I am comfortable with that. I know that I have different beliefs to some, or even many, Christians, but I also know that I have much in common. All of the people who know me do not question the Christianness of my life- they know I am striving to be a disciple and accept me as Christian. It is only on a doctrinal level that some people have issue; but I can live with that.
Through work I often meet up with an eclectic group of Christians (though recently it’s unfortunately become more virtual)- we are of all different denominations- and while we speak confidently, and sometimes irreverently, of our differences there is a deep respect of each other’s faith as we recognise that we are all trying to express our relationship to Christ. Our friendship, our work together, transcends any perceived differences that might seem to drive a wedge. In defining religion and religiosity I am reminded of a poem by Edwin Markham:
He drew a circle that shut me out —
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in!
I am more concerned with striving that all can feel included and living my life as best that I can. I love a quote from Joseph Smith that outlines how God feels about each of us, and I think this sets the standard for us to follow:
But while one portion of the human race is judging and condemning the other without mercy, the Great Parent of the universe looks upon the whole human family with a fatherly care and paternal regard; He views them as His offspring, and without any of those contracted feelings that influence the children of men, causes His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.
It is not my job to judge, it is my responsibility to love- especially those who don’t agree with me.