Our Particular Faith

It's important for our faith to be big enough and open enough to include all sorts of different ideas and to welcome a variety of perspectives to the table, but it's also important for us to do that in a way that takes seriously the particularity (even the exclusivity, if you rightly understand the word) of our faith. We need to be open, welcoming, and inclusive without rendering pointless all the years of tradition and biblical exploration that have gone into clarifying what is central and particular to the Christian faith. If a faith community does not gather under some proclamation of faith, if it remains so open that the word Christian or Christ ends up meaning anything and becoming disconnected from any historical/foundational reality, then in all its' attempts to be inclusive and welcoming it will become alienating to anyone who believes that their faith has anything particular and/or exclusive to offer to the world--eschatologically, soteriologically, or otherwise.

What is the value of discussing, for example, the power of Christ's resurrection if belief therein is essentially unnecessary and no more helpful than some more ambiguous belief in a divine spirit (even if it's called "Christ")? Christianity in such a framework--such that so avoids doctrine--becomes just another option on the smorgasbord with nothing particular to share with the world. Indeed all religions which claim to have something exclusive to offer are thus rendered as pointless. And some doctrine, even if it's a doctrine of exclusive inclusivity (a doctrine that makes inclusion--void of trinitarian or creedal affirmation--an essential to the faith), will remain present, even if it goes basically unspoken. Inclusion then, becomes fundamental and its' proponents are no less vulnerable to fundamentalism than biblical literalists. If you're basically fine no matter what you think and if there is no other shared direction than that of "belonging"--if there's nothing really beyond tolerance--then what value is a discussion about the immanence of God in Jesus Christ?

We all unite under a banner of some doctrine even if that doctrine claims to be merely a practical ethic. Indeed you cannot unfetter doctrine form ethics. Orthopraxy and orthodoxy, though thoroughly distinguishable, are eternally bound together. If we want to identify our gathering as a Christian gathering, it has to be more than just a gathering of extravagant welcome. It has to be a gathering that welcomes extravagantly in the name and gospel (which should be thought of as more than just a message in this case) of Jesus Christ. We have to be gathered under the banner of our very particular hope in a very particular God revealed and embodied in a very particular man with a very particular vision which he called "The Kingdom of God." Out of such particular and exclusive faith comes our openness to various ideas, diversity of opinion, and multiplicity of peoples. Out of this clarity we can show extravagant welcome and we can indeed take all sorts of people quite seriously for their own particular perspectives. Different faith communities, each with exclusive claims, can still gather as well under the banner of diversity and openness but what makes a faith community a Christian community is the faith out of which their life flows--faith, ultimately, in the very historical and real Kingdom of God, come to us through Christ the Lord.

The early church gathered under certain creeds through which they expressed, essentially, the starting point of their shared mission. Most churches adopt something like this in their "faith statements." The faith statement of the United Church of Christ, the faith community with which I am connected and am connecting, goes like this:
We believe in you, O God, Eternal Spirit, God of our Savior Jesus Christ and our God, and to your deeds we testify:
You call the worlds into being, create persons in your own image,and set before each one the ways of life and death.
You seek in holy love to save all people from aimlessness and sin.
You judge people and nations by your righteous will declared through prophets and apostles.
In Jesus Christ, the man of Nazareth, our crucified and risen Savior, you have come to us and shared our common lot, conquering sin and death and reconciling the world to yourself.
You bestow upon us your Holy Spirit, creating and renewing the church of Jesus Christ, binding in covenant faithful people of all ages, tongues, and races.
You call us into your church to accept the cost and joy of discipleship, to be your servants in the service of others, to proclaim the gospel to all the world and resist the powers of evil,to share in Christ's baptism and eat at his table, to join him in his passion and victory.
You promise to all who trust you forgiveness of sins and fullness of grace, courage in the struggle for justice and peace, your presence in trial and rejoicing, and eternal life in your realm which has no end.
Blessing and honor, glory and power be unto you.
There is particularity in this, perhaps most especially in the line, "In Jesus Christ, the man of Nazareth, our crucified and risen Savior, you have come to us..." Let our welcome and the entirety of our mission flow from our having been met by God in and through the man from Nazareth.