Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Core of Christianity

[For Christians...and interested Jews]
I was considering “the Gospel”. I considered the question in isolation. I wanted to find out how the Bible defined the Gospel without ulterior motives or plans to write this. After reading through the a dozen key verses that talk about ‘good news,’ I settled on 3 core truths (with 2 additional sub-points) about the Gospel. After an exhaustive reading of verses that use “Gospel,” I decided that I needed to add two more. And that the 2 sub-points were worthy of promotion to ‘core truth’ status. So I ended up with 7 core truths that seem common to definitions (and passages about) the Gospel (even though I’m prone to trying to make things fit patterns like that, this one was certainly not consciously designed). I found four verses which I believe are the only ‘definitional’ verses on the Gospel (that is, those which say something like, “The Gospel is…”) and based my list of 7 core doctrines on these: 1Ch 16:23-5, Isa 52:7-9, Rom 1:16-17, 1Cr 15:1-9. (See previous entry)

Independently, I’ve been considering what is the core of the message of God? What cannot be taken out of Christianity and it still be Christianity? I was having a very interesting conversation with a friend on Paul’s strategy for planting churches: very sloppy. They didn’t have perfect doctrine by the time he left. He had to work it out from a distance years later. What, then, were the churches he founded based on?

As God usually does, it seems these independent thoughts didn’t stay that way. I had never really thought of the “good news” as being central, which is silly when you think about the core texts being called ‘Gospels’. Perhaps by trying to define “Gospel,” I stumbled across the non-negotiables. Everyone seems to have their own list of things you need to believe/do to be saved. So here’s mine:

1. God is great.
2. Yahweh is Salvation (translates to “Jesus”).
3. We will live by faith.
4. God loves Israel and will be faithful.
5. God loves the Gentiles, too.
6. The scriptures confirm the above.
7. We should declare #1-6

Conspicuously present is ‘Israel;’ conspicuously absent is ‘obedience’ (both of which are good cult litmus tests. “Israel’s not Israel, we’re Israel!” and “Christ’s sacrifice wasn’t enough for salvation!” are two dead giveaways... though this is a high sensitivity and low specificity test). The Christology is not as developed as in most Christian statements of faith, but the cross-scriptural message is the same: Yahweh is Salvation. Whether you lived late enough to know that God meant that literally (that some dude would take on that name and be the very provision by which God would bring about salvation), or like Abraham, you just believed in the fact without knowing the mechanism. I’ve come to the conclusion that “The Gospel,” could have been preached by Jacob, Moses, David, Isaiah, John (or his remnant disciples in Acts), Jesus (pre-crucifixion) or Paul (post-resurrection). The message has never changed; we just have details added.

Like I said, I didn’t set out to come up with a list need-to-believes. But this looks about right. The core doctrines of Christianity are all here, albeit with some shifts in emphasis (compared to what a seminary student would produce).

Perhaps these represent the core of the faith. Are these elements truly the central ones? In my next entry, I plan to look at sermons by Paul, Peter and Jesus to see if these seven elements are indeed common to their preaching.

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