How Will They Know?

A reading for Thursday, February 16, 2017: Luke 8:16-18.

For much of Christian history, faith was known as an assent to a particular doctrine. From the fourth century, when Constantine made Christian faith the official religion of the Roman empire, membership in the church was almost equivalent to citizenship. What do you say you believe?

Long before the Protestant Reformation, the Roman church established a "teaching office" which was meant to offer the right interpretation of scripture and doctrine to the believer. There was only one doctrine that would be accepted as true, and all else was heresy. Even with the Protestant Reformation, the Christian faith was described by John Calvin as "the right preaching of scripture and observance of the sacraments." The emphasis was still on doctrine and belief in a set of ideas. When those ideas came into question and debate, often the church split into different denominations so that a purity of belief and doctrine could be maintained. When my own denomination faced the question about the ordination of women to be pastors and elders/deacons, for example, the only way doctrine could be maintained was to split the presbyterian faith in America into the PCUSA and the PCA. So it has gone until most of the twentieth century...

Today something else seems to be happening. Faith is beginning to take a more incarnational form, in which how one lives daily life is emphasized again equal to what one says they believe. There are several paths and forms of such a Christian movement; new monasticism, fresh expressions in Europe, the emerging church in America, and even the missional church movement are all examples. The emphasis is shifting from church membership to discipleship. Theology becomes how we walk and talk with others, what service we offer to our community, and with what ethics we structure our economics and community life. The church in such a movement is the gathering of a group of people working on such a theology together, supporting and encouraging one another. Large scale denominational curriculum and projects seem to become less important and each local congregation listens and formats it's ministry into the context of it's community. "What is God doing here with us?" is the fundamental question, over against what is the right practice and belief of one denomination over another. The Christian faith is becoming a Christian movement again...

Jesus said, "No one after lighting a lamp hides it under a jar, or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a lampstand, so that those who enter may see the light." How will others know we are Christians in the post-modern age? They will know we are Christians by our love, through our walking and talking theology. They will know we trust in the Lord Jesus by the way we live our lives in the local, everyday. They will know we are Christians when they see our light! It's the same light that has always been, but perhaps that light has started reflecting in a new way?


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