What Does Christian Mean?

A Faith Manifesto by Peter DeHaanI don’t like the label “Christian,” even though I am one.

“Christian” is a loaded term. It means many things to different people.

To some, “Christian” implies narrow-minded.

To others, “Christian” means hateful.

Still others think “Christian” refers to a political party or secular movement.

And what about mean, militant, murdering, manipulative, and money mongering?

Do you see why I don’t like the “Christian” label?

And let’s not forget the inquisition, the crusades, slavery, segregation, and fighting abortion (I’m referring to blowing up clinics and killing doctors, in case you’ve forgotten).

But most Christians aren’t like that, you plead.

You’re right. We’re not, but I still don’t like the label.

I prefer “Jesus follower” instead.

[Read more about this in Peter DeHaan’s e-book A Faith Manifesto: A Christian Perspective on Unity and Acceptance.]

What Jesus Didn’t Say

A Faith Manifesto by Peter DeHaanThere are many things Jesus didn’t tell us to do to inherit eternal life or become saved. He didn’t say:

  • pray a prayer,
  • be confirmed,
  • go to church,
  • come forward,
  • do good things,
  • raise your hand,
  • fill out a pledge card, or
  • jump through any hoops

He didn’t give Four Spiritual Laws, share The Roman’s Road, or recite the ABC’s of Salvation.

His answer was easy. His most basic instruction was “follow me.”

[Read more about this in Peter DeHaan’s e-book A Faith Manifesto: A Christian Perspective on Unity and Acceptance.]

What Did Jesus Say?

A Faith Manifesto by Peter DeHaanWhen people talked to Jesus, the discussion was often about the same thing, whether broached with the phrase “kingdom of God,” “kingdom of heaven,” “eternal life,” “salvation,” or “saved.”

Sometimes the people asked, what must we do? How can we receive it? And Jesus responded.

Although his instructions varied with the person and situation, the thing he said most often was simple: “Follow me.”

There were no steps to check off or hoops to jump through.

In the centuries that followed, especially the last few, well-meaning people added requirements. They took something simple and inserted their own twists. But there’s little biblical support to insist upon these man-made expectations.

Jesus simply said, “Follow me.”

[Read more about this in Peter DeHaan’s e-book A Faith Manifesto: A Christian Perspective on Unity and Acceptance.]

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Three Ecumenical Guidelines

A Faith Manifesto by Peter DeHaanEcumenical is a word some may be unfamiliar with.

One definition of ecumenical means “relating to the worldwide Christian church.” A broader understanding is “establishing and promoting unity among religions.” More generically, ecumenical simply means “worldwide; universal.”

In simple terms, I understand ecumenical to mean unifying.

Towards this goal, three ecumenical — that is, unifying — guidelines advance our understanding:

“In essentials, unity;
in non-essentials, liberty;
in all things charity.”

Though the author of this brilliant advice is in debate, its wisdom is not.

May our list of essentials be short, our non-essentials held loosely, and our mercy and tolerance without limit.

[This quote is often attributed to Augustine, but cannot be confirmed. John Amos Comenious advocated this in the 1600s and he may have been citing Peter Meiderlin.]

[Read more about this in Peter DeHaan’s e-book A Faith Manifesto: A Christian Perspective on Unity and Acceptance.]

Accepting Those Who Believe Differently

A Faith Manifesto by Peter DeHaanFrom my research for “52 Churches” I’ve been learning a great deal about the larger faith community I’m part of.

Perhaps the most significant so far is courtesy of the United Methodist Church and their document “Guidelines: The United Methodist Church and the Charismatic Movement.” It’s a bit formal, but contains some profound principles that when followed will allow charismatic and non-charismatic believers to peacefully coexist, realizing the unity that Jesus prayed for and desires from his followers. Though it was written by the denomination for itself, the truths it contains are applicable to any Christian group.

Consider some of the document’s headings:

  • “Guidelines for All”
  • “For Pastors Who Have Had Charismatic Experiences”
  • “For Pastors Who Have Not Had Charismatic Experiences”
  • “For Laity Who Have Had Charismatic Experiences”
  • “For Laity Who Have Not Had Charismatic Experiences”

Some observations:

  • The first guideline is foundational: “Be open and accepting of those whose Christian experiences differ from your own.”
  • The two sections for pastors are virtually identical.
  • The two sections for laity are quite instructive and helpful
  • These principles are applicable to just about any polarizing disagreement in the church over doctrine or practice.

The main point of all this is we need to be ready and willing to accept those who may have different faith perspectives and experiences.

That’s unity; that’s what Jesus wants.

[Read more about this in Peter DeHaan’s e-book A Faith Manifesto: A Christian Perspective on Unity and Acceptance.]

In Whose Name Do You Pray?

A Faith Manifesto by Peter DeHaanIn whose name do you pray? This isn’t a trick question or a pluralistic implication of approaching the god of your choice. This is a simple query. When you pray to the God who is revealed in the Bible, whose name do invoke at the conclusion?

Do you pray “in Jesus name” or “in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?”

The various streams of Christianity tend to prefer one over the over. Each will have historical or theological reasons for their particular preference, not to mention the mere custom of their upbringing. While some may be adamantly entrenched in one practice over the other, even to the point of dogmatic rhetoric, most give no thought to an unexamined habit.

I, for one, don’t think it really matters. A Trinitarian perspective says that God is three persons in one, so to fully embrace this stated belief means that either practice addresses the same God in totality, regardless of the actual name or names used.

Though I was taught one way and not the other, I now prefer to mix it up. For one, this helps to keep the end of my prayers fresh and avoid mindless repetition. It also reminds me that the God, as Trinity, is involved — regardless if I name him fully or implicitly. Lastly, it reminds me that just as there is diversity among those who follow God, there are also diversity in how to approach him. And that is a good thing.

[Read more about this in Peter DeHaan’s e-book A Faith Manifesto: A Christian Perspective on Unity and Acceptance.]

Pursuing a Balanced Trinitarian Faith

The Threefold Art of Experiencing God by Christian A SchwarzThere is an amazing little booklet, sporting a tongue-twister of a title. It is The Threefold Art of Experiencing God: The Liberating Power of a Trinitarian Faith by Christian A. Schwarz. In a stellar example of “less is more,” this diminutive book carries a profound punch.

The central theme is that Christianity exists in three streams, the liberals (mainlines), the evangelicals, and the charismatics. In general terms, each places their faith focus primarily on one part of the Godhead: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, respectively.

The perspective of each stream is correct, but at the same time, incomplete. Each of these three segments carries with it corresponding strengths. However, it simultaneously contains risks inherent from persisting in an unbalanced point of view of the Godhead.

Schwarz’s prescription for this is that all Christians should equally pursue the three parts of the Godhead: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, experiencing God in totality, not in part. In doing so, our understanding of who God is will become more balanced. The result is that we will all arrive at the holistic center of who God is, being more unified in the process.

A Faith Manifesto by Peter DeHaanAs I learn more about each of Christianity’s major streams, I become more appreciative of what each as to offer, making my faith fuller — and rendered me more accepting of my brothers and sisters from all Christian walks.

[Read my review of The Threefold Art of Experiencing God: The Liberating Power of a Trinitarian Faith]

[Read more about this in Peter DeHaan’s e-book A Faith Manifesto: A Christian Perspective on Unity and Acceptance.]

42,000 Protestant Denominations

A Faith Manifesto by Peter DeHaanChristianity Today recently reported that there are 42,000 Protestant Denominations. That is shocking.

However, given that in the United States we have a consumerism mentality, this development is hardly surprising. Consumerism says that if you don’t like the church you are at, you keep shopping until you find one. If you can’t find one that fits, you start your own.

Compounding consumerism is the celebration of the individual. Individuals don’t value community or the collective good. Instead, blazing one’s own trail is celebrated and exalted. But individualism is selfish and self-centered. The attitude is, “it’s all about me.”

However, 42,000 Protestant Denominations are not what Jesus had in mind at all. His intent was one — and that includes the other streams of Christianity, too.

Why can’t we just be one in Jesus and forget about our denominations, our disagreements, and our doctrines?

Consumerism and individuality is not the goal, unity is.

[Read more about this in Peter DeHaan’s e-book A Faith Manifesto: A Christian Perspective on Unity and Acceptance.]

Take a Step Towards Unity

A Faith Manifesto by Peter DeHaanIn my neighborhood, a fair number of people attend church. None of them go to the church I attend and, as far as I know, no one else attends the same church as their neighbor. Even more confounding is that there are two churches within a mile, but no one attends them either. In fact, we all drive by other churches as we motor to our own church of choice.

How sad.

Even though we are all of the Christian faith, we fail to abide in that reality. Instead we denominate ourselves into disparate subgroups based on our individual traditions, preferred practices, and pet perceptions of what it means to be Christian.

This wasn’t what Jesus had in mind. He wants us to be one — just as he and his father are one.

Unity was the intent, but disunity was the result.

Although our enemy would prefer that we not follow God at all, his backup plan seems to be to hold us in adamant disagreement. This may be almost as an effective ploy.

While we can’t quickly repair these centuries old rifts, a good first step is to be open-minded towards our brothers and sisters, willing to listen to what they have to say and accept them regardless. This would show God’s love to another, something that is also important to Jesus.

[Read more about this in Peter DeHaan’s e-book A Faith Manifesto: A Christian Perspective on Unity and Acceptance.]

Feasting on the Religious Buffet

A Faith Manifesto by Peter DeHaanThe Western World, especially the United States, is largely an individualistic, narcissistic society.

In applying this mindset to religious matters, the hip thing is to likewise seek spirituality in an individualistic, narcissistic manner. We pursue the formation of our religious convictions as if we were at a buffet. We pick a little bit of one thing, try a tad of something else, combine two things that were never intended to go together, and so on.

The result is that we end up creating a God that is who we want him to be. We effectively make God into our image. We dumb down the divine. This is not wise and just because we may feel justified in the process, it does not render the results as right or worthy.

In college, I learned that there are two theories for how electricity moves through a conductor. (If you care, they are electron theory and hole theory — and they move in opposite directions.) Each has its relative merits in aiding in the understanding of all things electric, but mixing the two together only results in confusion and consternation. They are mutually exclusive; when combined, the results are untenable.

It matters not if we are talking about electricity or spiritually. Attempting to abide in a religious amalgamation is likewise untenable. We need to pick one thing and go with it, fully and without reservation. For me, it is the God who is revealed in the Bible. Adding anything to that is only a distraction.

[Read more about this in Peter DeHaan’s e-book A Faith Manifesto: A Christian Perspective on Unity and Acceptance.]