The Essence of Christianity

[The] Essential continuity in Christianity:  continuity of thought about the final significance of Jesus, continuity of a certain consciousness about history, continuity in the use of Scriptures, of bread and wine, of water.  But… these continuities are cloaked with such heavy veils belonging to their environment that Christians of different times and places must often be unrecognisable to others, or indeed themselves, as manifestations of a single phenomenon.

–  Andrew F. Walls, The Missionary Movement in Christian History:  Studies in the Transmission of Faith, 1996



44 Responses

  1. At times the prevailing culture might make the appearance of Christianity differ – especially if we are attuned to speaking to the culture in the way it can understand.

    However, it should surely always be recognisable and exhibit certain threads that run through it, from Bible times to the present day. The main one of these is love – Jesus told us that we would be recognisable as his disciples by our love for one another and that should always be the case, and also by love for our neighbour, or our fellow humans.

    I would conjecture if it was unrecognisable as a continuous thread, then it had perhaps lost its saltiness, or even its Way, but I don’t believe there has been any point in history so far when that has happened conclusively.

  2. Does that have a relevant translation for the language of today?

  3. Dennis – [translation] Christianity is a continuity from start to finish and across groups because it holds very few things. Jesus, Bible, Bread and Wine and Water. What it does with them and what it believes about them may differ from time and place. Essentially, two Christians from two points in history may be alien to each other in beliefs and practice.

    Kim – but that is the question isn’t it. What is the saltiness? What is the golden thread that runs through Christian history. What are the crown jewels without which we have lost our way? Someone once called them fundamentals (but that opened a whole bag I’m not keen on).

  4. Its love. Thats very simplistic but its what I know for sure. The sort of sacrificial daily love and service of yr fellow man, generated because of Jesus’ love for humans, and love for God, maybe isn;t always identifiable by historians or easily recordable but it is a light that’s never gone out.

    Feeling not very clever today so can’t make it any more articulate than that right now, sorry.

    When you’ve done the reading and the essay, put a summary of yr conclusions here please so I can learn vicariously? Ta

  5. Just read your answer to Dennis. Would there ever have been a time when Christians would not share a common belief in the risen Christ?

  6. I’m in the rather enviable position of not having to write an essay about it. I did missiology a few years ago and already had to write one back then…

    Love is an admirable and Christian virtue but is it enough to define Christianity? Even following Jesus example doesn’t require any faith as such.

    This is the question, what is essential to define Christian belief? What is that Golden thread?

    What constitutes common belief in the risen Christ? For the first few centuries they couldn’t decide if he was just God or just man or God and man combined.

    All correspondence will be gratefully received for my own vicarious learning 😉

  7. Aw man, so you already studied it and either:

    a) know “the answer” but are not telling us, for your own amusement, or

    b) you couldn’t figure it out even after all your work and now expect us poor lesser-educated mortals to guess at it ……? 😉

    The common belief in the risen Christ is that he was fully God and fully man, he came, died and rose, again to pay for our sins. Don’t get me started on the whole Steve Chalke-esque debate, am a bear of too little brain for that! You require some more learned company and debate I feel, so will retire from any more comment.

  8. That is now the commonly held belief. Back in the 1st and 2nd century it was a massive debate. We think of the things that cause division now and they have no patch on the early church. Heck, Gnostics didn’t even believe that Jesus was man.

    I’m asking the question because it seems to me that the emerging church is primarily concerned with expressing the faith in a new way that is based upon the same ‘crown jewels’. It would seem to me that it is important to know what those jewels are if we are to retain integrity with the faith as we have received it.

    As to education, my brain feels fluffy all of the time. But I’m up for the journey…

    I’m also not convinced about there being ‘an answer’ as such!

  9. but what you are saying is, I think, that the faith ‘as we have received it’ is a moving feast according to the time of the receiving? So how do we know /test the efficacy of what we have received?

    I am about to have this debate with a very wise man who is an ex-DDO, next week, in regard to Pioneer vs ‘old style/trad/very liturgy based’ church. I don’t think the Pioneer folks should have to work so hard to justify our existence, as there have always been alternatives to the majority. And we should always be looking for substance over form.

  10. Wow – interesting point. I have to go out now but in the morning I will have a think about what you are saying!

  11. What I am saying is that people’s understanding of the faith has changed over time. As with the change in understanding of God through the Torah as God reveals more of himself to Abraham and the world changes. As when God reveals himself through Jesus and the world changed… when the council of Nicea put together the creed and the canon of scripture, it all changed again as God revealed himself a little more.

    When it is at it’s worst, alternative worship becomes a ‘program’ to get people into church – all form. At it’s best it is all about substance and engagement on a profound level and little to do with form. It is about discipleship and community and prayer. Form comes as a secondary concern. That said, the space is made to engage ina way that is meaningful for people in their cultural context.

    Don’t work hard to justify your existence as a pioneer. Go and be and do and follow. People who require your justification often won’t accept any justification anyway. Their mind is often made up already.

    Still engage – but be justified anyway. Point to the Archbishop and say “if he is happy to be part of a mixed economy church, so should you”.


  12. But do you believe God is constantly revealing himself a little more, and if so, how is that assimilated into our body of belief now, if at all?

    In general, I don’t try and justify the pioneering existence but at times I am asked to, or complained to “why is so much money given to these crazy projects that only cater for a handful of people?” and I feel the need to elaborate. But in the main its a life’s work for me to hear, stay rooted, go,be, do, follow, and I’m not particularly articulate in words anyway so debating isn’t really my forte!

  13. Yes I think God reveals himself over time. I don’t know if constantly is the word. When we look at Abraham God chose to start revealing himself to Abraham.

    Throughout history Christian belief has developed. If it hadn’t there would be no point in researching anything and little need for the scriptures. There would be a book of doctrine that we could refer to (some would chip in with the word catechism here and state that we do!). We certainly wouldn’t have figures such as Calvin and Luther!

    How is it assimilated? Pass. General acceptance? If you were to ask a Southern Baptist why Jesus died they would more than likely give a version of penal substitution (Jesus died in our place for our sins taking the punishment that we deserved). This view didn’t dominate until the reformation.

    Funding – people like to complain about the monetary aspects of fresh expressions and quietly sweep the traditional parishes who don’t self support under the carpet. Explicitly written into Mission Shaped Church is the notion that Fresh Expressions should be set up so that they aim to become self supporting, If you look to The Net in Huddersfield, that is what it is starting to do. Over 8 years it is getting to the stage where it is starting to pay its share and should (hopefully) achieve 100% in the future. Plenty of traditional parishes can’t say that!

  14. Hmm, its too late for much brain activity, but I think you seem to concentrate your answers more on what God did in the past and how it is shown by scripture, research etc, than what He is doing now. But that time in the past, was once a ‘present’ time when someone recorded things, and then they moved on and more things happened and were recorded. So all of history is the story of God, interacting with man.

    I think He is at work and in evidence as much now as ever – there’s no reason to assume it isn’t so and its all around us – its kind of sad that there isn’t much formal way of that being recorded for future generations. Maybe blogs will be studied for evidence in future theological training colleges!?

  15. I thought I said yes and then showed it through history. I can’t really offer evidence from the future and only time will tell as to how God has shaped the metanarrative in the present. The Charismatic movement will tell you that is where God is shaping the bigger picture. The emerging church will tell you that it is there. In 400 years time someone else will be able to say more certainly what is going on. The postmodern paradigm is difficult to pin down as we are within it and currently travelling through it.

    The big problem with Blogs as an authorative source is that they aren’t necessarily open to academic peer review. I can say anything here because I am in charge of it all. They will be evidense in the future but they will be handled by historians in a different manner to that which is published academically.

  16. Yes, you did and I apologise that I didn’t register that in my response.

    I was kind of joking about blogs in one sense, but I suppose in another they are useful for detecting a range of thought on a topic, if you read all the threads. Obviously with the limitation that they are self-selecting group of respondents and not a wider representative group of believers.

    I think perhaps if they are read in future, the degree of questioning, doubt and range of thought from ostensibly Christian believers might stand out from previous periods in history where the thoughts of the ‘common man’ were not so readily recordable. I find those personally of at least as much interest as the more intellectual/ academic research type material.

    I have a degree in history and am always interested in a social history which records the views, perceptions and experience of ‘the people’.

    Sorry to rattle on. I would be interested to hear your answer to your question on this though?

  17. Indeed. Academics can sometimes be so far removed that they talk all kinds of nonsense. But even when it comes to emergence, it is good to have people like Brian McClarren Asking the hard questions and giving them a theological context and a historical background.

    Which question? I have asked so many I’m not sure anymore 😀

  18. But are you finding answers….?

    I guess the ‘in what ways is the essence of Christianity recognisable down through the cultural shifts of the generations?’ question.

    I’ve not read any Brian McL – what do you recommend?

    Someone at church urged me to read him today. I’ve been a little overfaced with books and decided to spend more time direct with the Bible instead, but at some point I’ll come back to books, prob after Lent (having a long run up this yr!!).

  19. I would recommend Generous Orthodoxy as a starting place. Abosolutely brilliant!

  20. Thanks Robb, ordered! I had a look inside some of his others and read some excerpts on a well known online bookstore, looks very helpful and real.

  21. I love that book. I’d buy everyone a copy if I had any money 🙂

  22. I slightly regret it now as I saw my advisor this morning who gave me another 3 books to read for a months time. Ah well!

  23. Ahhhh… but Generous Orthodoxy will be much more rewarding.

    What have you been recommended? Christian Priest Today by Ramsey? I think that is recommended to anyone thinking of ordained ministry in the CofE…

  24. HAHAHA how did you know! Already had that one – bout halfway through, struggling with the Latin I’ve forgotten since school, and hoping that I don’t have to read much else this dull – BUT yes, it has some gems in it too, I know.

    Today we have ‘Transforming Communities’ Steve Croft; ‘Sacraments of Healing’ Christopher Gower, and ‘Voices From The Desert’ Leslie Griffiths. Basically its all about balancing out my understanding as I’m not from an Anglican background and the church I;ve moved to is Charismatic evangelical so we are trying to fillin the gaps in my experience 😆 Its fab actually.

    I left him a copy of The Irresistable Revolution by Shane Claiborne!

    I’m sure I’ll get straight to Brian McL when it comes – have to give up sleep perhaps. Have you read any of Barack Obama’s books?

  25. Sleep is overrated 😉

    Coming from a charismatic evangelical baptist background myself, the first thing they will expect you to be able to do at a selection conference is articulate a theology of Priesthood.

    Steve Croft is excellent. He’ll make a good bish!

  26. A charismatic baptist ….. really….??

    The fall down the stairs means stuck at home today so let the reading commence!!

    I hear you. So the ‘coming before God with the people on your heart’ part of Ramsey is relevant. I know I still need to learn in that respect as my view is much more ‘a priesthood of all believers’ and I’ve been giving people communion for years at prayer rooms.

    I must finish Ramsey today, he’s been languishing too long in my ‘to do’ pile, before I start on the more exciting ones.

    I was a bit overfaced yesterday when I heard the list of forms and interviews I have to do. I’ll surely be like Methuzela (spelling?) by the time of BAP. So many hurdles – as if being a working class northern baptist woman wasn’t enough already 😆

  27. Btw, Brian McL is blogging on the Share website this month sometime

  28. Guess what – it came!

  29. Quick potted history….

    Became a follower at university with an Anglican, a Methodist and a Free Churcher whilst in a Baptist Church. Attended the Baptist church for five years. ‘Worship leader’ whilst there (whatever that means) and housegroup leader. Completed my degree in theology. I first felt called back then – that is why I did the theology degree. During the uni holidays attended an Anglican church. When we relocated we decided to find an Anglican church because I had married the Anglican from step one and I was a latent Anglican. I was pretty sick and tired of having to defend my nonfundamentalism.

    Worked as an RE teacher and asked to get more and more involved with the church until I was told “I think God wants you to be a priest”.

    Is that charismatic enough?


    I suspect that if you describe yourself as a Baptist at BAP they may not like it. Nothing wrong with being working class or northern or a woman (OK, I was with you until the woman bit but it doesn’t matter which way I look at it I am definitely a man 😀 ). None of those things should go against you. You won’t have to justify your class or your place of birth or your gender. If you do, you can nail them to something (literally)!

  30. Thanks for that – its great to hear someone’s journey!

    For sure I wouldn’t describe myself as a baptist should I get to BAP! I don’t really get the denominational labels really, but I meant that it will present a bit of a hurdle in terms of having to ‘prove’ that I’m now anglican enough, having so recently moved from another denomination. And the other labels – I perceive the church to still be quite ‘southern white middle class intellectual male’ in its approach, but I’m trying to not be defensive!!

    Started the book – you were so right, really fantastic, plus hilarious. Thanks.

  31. It all depends on how small a box you want to be put in. I’m not really up for a small box either. I follow JC. I am an Anglican. That’s as small a box as I want 😀

    It can appear to be ’southern white middle class intellectual male’ some times – but not always. Certainly where I am we seem to be “old white female tea drinkers”.

    All the best books have good jokes in them 😉

  32. I think ‘I follow JC’ is as much boxing as I like. Better get used to more maybe… I think I’d be ok with ‘old tea drinkers’ as a group to find belonging with – as long as they have earl grey – I know, I’ve lived in the south FAR too long 😆

    Can’t put it down, must plan to read others.

  33. I tend to box myself depending on what I just did. “Sorry, I just got all evangelical on you” one minute followed by “sorry, just got all Catholic on you”. Some times the labels are short hand ways of saying something. Some times they are self fulfilling prophesies. I know lots of people who ignore scripture and preach evangelical alliance headlines instead. I also know people who ignore the catholic traditions of the church and purvey the finest Victoriana in it’s place. Both are boxes you can sit in and perpetuate. If you can migrate through all of the boxes you have a much better chance of being useful in the mission of God.

    Aha – you are Northern Diaspora. Where did you hail from?

    You should just have a duvet day and read them all 😉

  34. Sunderland.The frozen wastes…..:lol: Wider family in Yorkshire now.

    That’s hugely helpful – I guess I had this ‘defensive’ approach of thinking how can I stay away from some of this ‘mad stuff’ so it doesn’t get in the way of what I want to hold as ‘core’ in some way. Actually the G.O book also brilliant in that way. Am on such a steep learning curve – freakishly steep!

    Yesterday I had a ‘trapped on the sofa with knackered feet day’, and I did good headway on Ramsey and about half of the new one. But maybe a ‘retreat day’ at home is in order……duvets can feature in liturgy I feel….

  35. Duvets are a great liturgical resource! I have sat people on them and made people lie under them in the past 😉

    Don’t worry about the learning curve, you are where you are and you are who you are. They know that. What they will want to see is who you are now and who you can be in the future.

    Here’s the secret – we all feel like we are at the beginning of a huge learning curve. Anyone who doeasn’t has missed the point!

  36. Ah, I can see I have joined the right church tradition! 😉

    Perhaps I will encourage the liturgy of duvets by starting Sunday services at 11am in future – and you can publish your ‘getting ready for mass in 7 minutes’ handbook, which will be v helpful.

    Do you charge for this kind of support service btw?!! I am beginning to relax for the odd moment or two now, which is a huge improvement.

  37. The First Church of Jesus Christ and the Later in the Day Saints? I already have copyright 😉

    I can do bed to mattins in 7 minutes 😀

  38. well get publishin man, the need is great among the people 😉

    you can only do that because you’re in college tho right? shock to the system once you get back to the ‘real world’?! do you just pull on robes over PJ’s – haha.

  39. I am at the college but not in the college. I still have to make it there!!

    The secret is sleeping in a cassock ready for action!

  40. Now I have a great mental image of a kind of action-hero priest, robes flying on a harley to save the world, screeching up outside the church for mass!! Jon could do something great with that but sadly I can’t 😆

    Do you get crease-free cassocks for sleeping in – crimplene perhaps?

  41. Synthetic doesn’t crease. Natural fibers do. The denim one my fave old lady made me creases more than anything…. but it is denim 😀 The alb I am wearing in the avatar creases quite easily… but it makes me look like Obi Wan Kenobi!!

    Can I start with somewhere a little smaller than the world. My house for example. Maybe the cat….

  42. Flying in on a harley to save……the cat?? Oh ye of little faith 😆 what about moving a mountain, from here to there?

    Maybe you’re right though, as Jesus seemed an anti-hero type of hero.

  43. Thanks for the link!

    If I have too much faith I wont be able to do anything at all. I’ll try to keep my faith tamed down to the mustard seed size 😀

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