Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Display of Religionism

I recently read an article from Time Magazine on the net about a court case in Iowa's Black Hawk County Courthouse, where the court was asked to answer the question, What is a Christian? It was all about a $75,000 will.

I don’t know when it was written, but the date of the case suggests that it was sometime about 1949-50.

The will of a prominent Methodist layman, who died in 1939, directed that the income from $75,000 of his estate should be distributed "to persons who believe in the fundamental principles of the Christian religion and in the Bible and who are endeavouring to promulgate same." His wife died in 1949, ten nephews and nieces sued to break the will. Their argument: "There is no common agreement as to what constitutes the fundamental principles of Christianity."

As I read the article I was forced to think of the antagonism displayed between those who call themselves evangelical Christians, who comment on a SBC pastor’s very thoughtful, and carefully written blog.

Some commenters have the amazing ability to turn the subject of an article into a chase after a red herring.

The ascerbic nature of some of the comments of others, the insults and acid sarcasm, towards the pastor and other commenters, are a wonder to behold and cause me to unfavourably compare them with the courteous debates and comments I read and hear from those who vehemently declare they are not Christians.

Many of those commenting on the SBC pastor’s blog seem to have received, or developed a gospel with so many add-ons, it bears no resemblance to the genuine Gospel.

They don’t seem to believe Paul’s words to the church at Ephesus, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast”.

Some appear to believe that their particular add-ons must be included for one to be a genuine Christian: Grace plus;a declaration of Arminianism, Calvinism, egalitarianism, complimentarianism, legalism, liberalism, perfectionism and any other ism which strikes their fancy, but which turns the results of God’s work in the heart and mind of a human being into nothing more than another belief system or philosophy, religionism. With some there is a strong implication that if you don’t believe, exactly, what “I believe I don’t accept you, and I’ll have your guts for garters if you disagree with me!”

Many equate a personal ism, or opinion, whether derived from the teaching they have received, or from their own assumptions, or those of others, into words equivalent to Holy writ, and have not the slightest respect for those who trust in the same person and finished work of Jesus Christ, but think differently about a non-salvation issue.

Thankfully there are those who exhibit grace and the humility of accepting the possibility that they could be mistaken and will consider other opinions.

Fifty years ago, when I began to teach and preach, I was one of those, so sure of myself and the historical and traditional position in which I still stand. During the intervening years, as I read the Scriptures, I began to understand some things differently, nuances which I had missed, and which some great men of God had also missed, and others hadn’t. The historical gurus from which much of my information came had to be tested by the Scriptures.

At seventy years of age I’m finding that there are still adjustments being made to my understanding, and I’m surprised that some long held assumptions must be changed.

There are Galatians and Galatians, just different laws, circumcision and the ones mentioned above.

One thing I do know, I am still a sinner saved by the grace of God, through His gift of faith in the person and finished work of Jesus Christ, who is my Advocate with the Father. I know that no ism changes that position for me or any brother or sister who stands on that same blood bought ground.

“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”

I don't want to nullify the grace of God anymore, for if righteousness comes through the addition of isms, then Christ died needlessly.


Eric said...


Humility definitely is something we all need more of. I agree with you about the negative tone of many commenters. I have fallen prey to that temptation a time or two myself. Pride rears its ugly head so easily in the human heart.

Good post!

Alan Knox said...


You said, "At seventy years of age I’m finding that there are still adjustments being made to my understanding, and I’m surprised that some long held assumptions must be changed." I pray that I would have that same humility today (as well as in 30 years). I think my life, my writing, and my teaching would be better for it.


Aussie John said...


Thanks for commenting. I think we succumb to the sin of pride far more than we realise. Even my article could be seen to be proud. I trust that isn't so.

I appreciate your comment as well. A wise old pastor once said to a young pastor starting out (me), "Remember! It's not all black and white."

Well! I thought it was. I would still disagree with him on some things theological, but on that point he was absolutely right.

Alan Knox said...


Thank you for passing along that wise statement. I hope that I am wise enough to pass it along as well.


Joel B. said...

At first I was wondering why I hadn't heard about this court case... because I live in the very city where the Black Hawk County Courthouse is located! But then I saw it was several years ago. :)

Very interesting thoughts. I know for sure my thoughts on 'Christianity' have changed tremendously over the past decade and a half, and I truly hope they continue to change, as in, never ever thinking I've got it all figured out and always learning and growing.

About all these 'isms' and such, I was just reading something today in Paul Anderson-Walsh's book Safe and Sound that goes along with this, in a sense:

"I find myself increasingly disassociating myself with the term 'Christianity.' In our contemporary setting, the said term seems to be an increasingly misleading signature. I have been campaigning for and will continue to press on for 'Christ without Christianity' and this petition is all the more urgent in these days when what is generally being promoted under the banner of 'Christianity' is, in fact, 'Christianity without Christ.'"

To that and to your post, as well as the other comments here, I say "Amen!"

Paul Burleson said...

Aussie John,

Joel said it for me...To that and to your post, as well as the other comments here, I say "Amen!"

Aussie John said...


Not because we appear to agree on so many things, but because of your attitude, even when you disagree, I'm beginning to think of you as P.P., Positive Paul :)

Thanks for checking out my blog and commenting.

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