August 27, 2008
Imagine you are a time traveler, seeking to discover what Christianity is all about.
First, you drop in on Jerusalem in A.D. 37. You find that new Christians are hard to distinguish from a branch of Judaism. The main difference is that they identify the Jewish teaching about the Messiah, the Son of Man, with Jesus of Nazareth.
Next, you visit Christians at the time of the Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325. These Christians are no longer Jewish but drawn from all over the Mediterranean world. They are familiar with the ancient Jewish Scriptures but give equal value to writings generated in their own community—the New Testament.
You then hop hundreds of years ahead to see the monks of seventh-century Ireland. They fast and pray, but have the same evangelical zeal as their forebears.
You then drop in on one of the great English missionary societies of the late 1840s. These Christians are marked by social activism, working to improve societal conditions. But they feel the same burden to spread the Gospel—and they do, in the Far East and Africa.
Finally, you stop in Lagos, Nigeria, in the 1980s. White-robed Christians are dancing and chanting through the streets. They talk about the Holy Spirit and its power to inspire preaching, bring healing, and provide personal guidance.
Culturally, these five groups could hardly be more different. Yet they think of themselves as connected, and indeed, their thinking is remarkably similar. They believe that in Christ the world has been rescued from the power of evil and death. They believe in God's sovereignty over history; they make the same use of the same Scriptures and of the bread and the wine and the water.
You see, all five groups are part of the same legacy: The one Lord, one faith, one baptism they profess holds true for all. And their beliefs are unchanged over the centuries. As I write in my new book, The Faith, we call the core beliefs that have united Christians through the ages orthodoxy—or, what that means is "right belief."
Understanding this faith is critically important, for we live in a time when Christians and the civilizations they helped to build are under assault. We are reeling from attacks by aggressive anti-theists; note the many best-selling books that attack Christianity. We are under assault by extreme Islamists, and by postmodernism, which claims there is no such thing as truth.
These challenges could not come at a worse time for the Church, because most Christians do not understand what they believe, why they believe it, and why it matters. How can a Christianity that is not understood be practiced?
If the Church has any hope of answering today's challenges, it must pursue what we call radical Christianity, or orthodoxy. We must look across the sweep of Christian communions to find the original consensus of the early Church—those essential elements of our faith that, from the beginning, from the Apostles on, all true Christians have believed.
My prayer is that my book, The Faith, will help you do this. And I pray that the kingdom of God will rule in our hearts and once again transform the places in which we live. But that is going to happen only by knowing—and living—the faith.
This commentary first aired on February 5, 2008, and is part two in a five-part series.
Chuck Colson’s daily BreakPoint commentary airs each weekday on more than one thousand outlets with an estimated listening audience of one million people. BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today’s news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print.
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From BreakPoint, July 31, 2008, posted with permission of Prison Fellowship, www.breakpoint.org.