December 2017 / January 2018 - Vol. 95

shining cross over highway

The Christian Way

A Statement by Evangelicals and Catholics Together

This excerpt is from the statement by Evangelicals and Catholics Together entitled, The Christian Way © 2017. The full statement is published in First Things, December 2017.

Christians freely obey Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God. “Come,” he beckons, “follow me.” Being a Christian requires more than intellectual or moral agreement with Christian teachings. Christ asks for our love and loyalty. Following him requires conversion, which leads to membership in the Church, the Body of Christ.

To be a Christian means being a citizen of a city that has a rich inheritance and glorious future. As the Psalmist says, “Walk about Zion, go round about her, number her towers, consider well her ramparts, go through her citadels; that you may tell the next generation that this is God, our God forever and ever. He will be our guide for ever” (Psalm 48:12–14).

Christianity is a community of faith shaped by the Holy Spirit, by worship and proclamation, by prayer and spiritual discipline, by ancient rites and teachings that are received from those who have gone before. Within this community of faith, we come to know and enjoy the presence of God.

Christianity is not a religion, if by that we mean one among many expressions of the natural human impulse to encounter the divine. The Christian way of life is rooted in the people of Israel. Christians share with Jews a common heritage reaching back to a time well before the age in which Jesus of Nazareth lived and preached. It begins with God’s gracious promise to Abraham: “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who curses you I will curse; and by you all the families of the earth shall bless themselves” (Genesis 12:1–3).

Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house. The search for God is perennial. Religious beliefs and rites are found in all cultures. Yet Christianity does not arise out of natural human impulses, desires, or instincts, not even of a religious sort.

Just as God calls Abraham out of his father’s house and homeland, so Christ calls his followers to live in accord with a new reality. We possess a natural religious sense, but the good news that God is love and desires to bring us to himself comes as an unexpected gift and amazing grace.

We cannot lift ourselves up to the divine; God comes and lifts us to himself. The Christian way is transcendent and supernatural, based in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Jesus reiterates God’s call to Abraham when he tells his disciples, “If any one comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26). He speaks with authority over the natural ties that bind us together. He does so not for the sake of destroying or undermining them, but in order to manifest his transcendent authority. He is the Lord over all things. Neither spiritual principalities nor worldly powers override Jesus’s call. That holds for our otherwise healthy sense of familial responsibility, just as it is true for career, pleasure, and other gifts that can become idols that pervert and distort our lives.

Jesus is the incarnate Son of God, sharing in the divine life of the Father, the one true God. In the power of the Holy Spirit who searches all things, the Lord Jesus reigns supreme over the Christian way and over all creatures. Those who follow him are to have no other lord.

Christ’s lordship gives the Christian way an indomitable character that can turn the world upside down (Acts 17:6). As finite beings, we live in a world ruled by many “satraps, prefects, governors, counselors, treasurers, justices, and officials of the provinces” (Daniel 3:2). In our time, worldly authorities have other names: experts, therapists, managers, bureaucrats, and more. They rule and exercise their authority in the normal course of life, sometimes for good, sometimes for ill. Christianity encourages critical assessments of all worldly authorities. And, as a way of life, Christianity fiercely denies their final authority: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3).

God is one, and as Creator of the world, he exercises transcendent authority. This assertion is expressed with special force in the proposition central to Christian faith: God, the Father, has raised the crucified Jesus from the dead through the power of the Holy Spirit.

In the affairs of men, death claims final authority. It lords over every magistrate and worldly power, over every culture and civilization. “From dust you have come, and to dust you shall return” (Gen. 3:19). Viewed from a worldly perspective, the annihilating nothingness of death seems all-powerful. “One fate comes to all, to the righteous and the wicked, to the good and the evil, to the clean and the unclean, to him who sacrifices and him who does not sacrifice” (Ecclesiasties 9:2). Yet God lovingly intervenes in history and says otherwise.

The Easter affirmation—“The Lord has risen”—is a joyful acclamation that unseats death from its high throne: “For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living” (Romans 14:9).

The dominion of sin is another cruel idol toppled by the risen Lord. The Bible describes the power of sin in different ways. It holds us in chains, enslaves, and imprisons. In the thrall of sin, we become willing instruments of destruction, transgressing against God, our neighbors, and ourselves.

We both choose sin and feel it as an alien compulsion. Our consciences rebel against our wickedness, yet we feel powerless. This produces a heavy weight of shame we cannot cast off, a defilement or stain that cannot be cleansed, and a debt that cannot be paid. Christians throughout the ages have debated the degree to which sin dominates our lives. All affirm, however, that the transgression of our original parents, Adam and Eve, put us under sin’s power.

As with death, Christ overthrows sin’s supposed everlasting power. In Christ, transgression is not inevitable, and it does not control the future. St. Paul writes, “Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:2). The First Letter of John: “The blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). The Book of Revelation envisions the destruction of Babylon, the city ruled by sin’s power.

The precise way in which Christ’s cross and resurrection topple the idol of sin has been a subject of reflection and debate for centuries. But all Christians agree that in Christ, the dominion of sin is overthrown. (See the ECT statement “The Gift of Salvation.”) The Christian is often still debilitated by sin’s ongoing effects, but the Christian way is not governed by its power. In faith, the Christian is enrolled in a pattern of life ordered toward God, and in God there is no hint of darkness.

Christ’s triumph over sin and death frees his followers to live in joy and praise. Obedience to Christ’s call of discipleship is paramount and overriding. Mammon, the idol of wealth, is another worldly power that seeks to enslave us with promises of security and happiness. But as Jesus teaches, “You cannot serve God and Mammon.” These are the words of a jealous God. This jealousy is not petty or self-interested, concerned with protecting divine prerogatives. It is the jealousy of a loving Father who will deliver his children from harm and destruction (Jeremiah 31:33–34).

The commanding authority of Christ frees us from our slavery to sin and death, allowing us to live with joy in fellowship with God. Our delight is in the law of the Lord (Psalm 1:1). His call of obedience is merciful. A self-directed life invariably circles back to sin’s bondage. Following the way of Christ, we are empowered to reject Mammon’s claims upon our lives, as well as the claims of other idols. “You are slaves of the one whom you obey,” writes St. Paul, “either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience [to Christ], which leads to righteousness” (Romans 6:16).

 To acknowledge Christ as Lord liberates his followers: “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).

> See full statement in First Things, December 2017

Evangelicals and Catholics Together

 Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT) is a fellowship of Christian pastors, theologians, and educators in North America. ECT was formed 18 years ago by John Richard Neuhaus and Charles Colson, along with other prominent religious leaders, to deepen the dialogue among their respective Christian communities on issues of common concern, to explore theological common ground, and to offer in public life a common witness born of Christian faith.  Since their founding in 1994, they have addressed together important public policy questions, such as the defense of life, and they have proposed  patterns of theological understanding on such long-disputed questions, such as the gift of salvation, the authority of Scripture, and the call to holiness in the communion of saints.

top illustration by (c) Kevin Carden

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