Face turning red, eyes narrowing, the older man said, “You’re not a real Christian if you don’t live up to your potential. The more money you make the more you can give.”
After our dinner conversation, I reflected on the man’s statement and other things said during dinner. I said to Ellen, “Preferred flavor or essential ingredient?”
She said, “What?”
“Tonight’s conversation made me think about our faith and how much we confuse preferred flavors with essential ingredients.”
I enjoy baking homemade bread. Let me amend that statement. I enjoy eating homemade bread. I figured out a few years ago that, if I waited for Ellen to make it, I’d have a long wait.
I could whine. I could beg. I could say all kinds of encouraging words like, “I sure love when you make homemade bread. You’re really good at it. No wonder your family heritage includes a successful bakery. It seems to be in your genes. You’re a natural. You’re great.”
Still no lovely smell of baking bread in our home.
Then one day I said, “Hey, I can follow a recipe and bake bread in the bread machine.” And I began to bake my ever-loving hind end off.
Here’re the essential ingredients in baking bread.
That pretty much sums it up. I better double check my recipe book.
Slap on head. I forgot water (or milk). How could I have forgotten water? That’s essential!
Everything else becomes preferences—whole wheat vs. white flour, molasses or honey vs. pure cane sugar, barley, flax seed, raisins, etc. Once I’ve got the basics down I can get creative. And Ellen would tell you that I do get creative.
So what about the essentials of our faith versus the preferences?
You tell me…
Choruses or hymns?
NIV, KJV, NKJV, NASB (just in case you’re wondering, those are not government programs but Bible versions, although they may also be government programs)?
Altar calls or choral benediction?
Beards or clean-shaven?
Suits, dresses, jeans, or t-shirts?
The Four Spiritual Laws?
Focus on the Family?
Crosses or tattoos that say “I love Jesus”?
The list can be endless.
Earlier I made a list of essential ingredients for making bread. After making the list, I consulted a recipe book which reminded me that I’d forgotten one essential ingredient.
When I’m confused about the essentials of the Christian faith, I do have somewhere I can turn. Here are some basic questions that can help guide me.
1) What does the Bible say? This isn’t the only question I can ask but it serves as a bookend. What do I mean by that? This is the one that I begin and end with. It’s foundational to our faith to know what the scriptures say.
2) What is historically true of our faith? Councils have met periodically throughout history to determine the basics of the Christian faith. We see this even in Scripture itself when Christian leaders like Paul, James, and Peter addressed the issues facing the early church (see Acts 15). The historical creeds guide us in our understanding of God, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, and the Church.
3) What counsel do mature people of faith offer? I recently read the story of Reheboam taking over the kingdom reins from his father King Solomon. In the early days of his reign, he had a decision to make. He consulted the elders then he consulted his young companions. He opted to follow the latter’s advice. The result? The kingdom split (sounds like a few churches I know). I may prefer what my pals say about an issue but I better seek the counsel of the mature. By the way, gray hairs tend to mark maturity but not always. Listen and observe. You’ll know who the wise are (they’re usually listening and observing).
4) What does experience suggest? From the beginning, I must engage my mind and add my own life experiences to recognize God’s truth and faith’s essentials. Scripture cautions me to “not lean on [my] own understanding” but I don’t believe that means to ignore it altogether.
I’m curious. What do you believe are the Christian faith’s essential ingredients? What preferences have you seen become more than preferences within a church?
Something worth thinking about:
Jon Acuff’s “The R-word.”
Chris Patton’s “Why Do Business From An Eternal Perspective?”
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