With all the other stuff to write about this week, I find myself keeping a promise to a reader if only to avoid further ambush at the grocery store. I promised I would write what I think are the minimal boundaries for the faith. I think there are three.
First, to be a Christian one must believe in the death and physical resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. The physical resurrection of Jesus is the foundational belief of Christianity and has been since the first Easter morning. Many liberal theologians have tried to claim Christ’s resurrection was metaphorical. It was not. It either really happened or it did not. There is no middle ground on this issue. As the Apostle Paul said, “if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.…If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.”
Second, to be a Christian one must believe that Jesus was “conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary” as the Apostles Creed says. I always find it humorous when some people say they will grant Christians the physical resurrection of the dead, but not the virgin birth. They can believe in one miracle, but not two. They can believe in the Apollo 17 landing on the moon, but not the Apollo 11 landing.
If Jesus had been born with a human father, he would be a sinner like the rest of us. Christianity is premised on all mankind being filled with sin and needing a perfect redeemer. Christ’s death on the cross, as a perfect and blameless man who had never sinned, was the substitute for us. He died that we might live. He bore the wrath of God that we might escape it. God had to be reconciled to us because God cannot abide sin. Notice, this is all about reconciling God to us, not us to God.
Christ had to be born of a virgin. Adam was the original contaminator of the gene pool. Churches disagree on the issue of how sin passes from father to children. Is it gene pool corruption, Adam as “federal representative,” both, or something else? But the father plays a role and Christ’s father was God so he could be born sin free.
Lastly, to be a Christian one must believe in the trinity. God is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, but there is only one God. It is perhaps the most difficult concept. There are religions that consider themselves non-trinitarian Christians, but 1900 years of Christian orthodoxy removes this matter from dispute. Christianity requires a trinity, one God in three persons eternally unchanged.
Others may add more boundaries, but I think that is it. Within those boundaries there is room for disagreement, but beyond those boundaries lie only heresies. There are those who live outside those boundaries who consider themselves Christian, but orthodoxy would reject them as such. The birth, death, and resurrection of the second person in the trinity gives us salvation and a foundation for two thousand years of worship.