Part of the extended series Evidence for the Faith
Skeptics like to point at all the different versions of Christianity and ask, “Which one is the true one, and how do you know?” It’s an important Christians, meanwhile, bemoan the differences among us. We are all too aware of the different Christianities that lay claim to being the True Version. It’s a diminishing trend: denominational leaders are more likely these days to accept that members of other churches can be true Christians, yet it still has its strict limits. Mormonism is not Christianity. Neither is the religion of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. How do I know? What is real Christianity?
This is a crucial point to clarify as I begin a series explaining reasons to believe in Christianity.
Real Christianity is first of all biblical Christianity. Its authority is rooted in Scripture, its beliefs are tested by Scripture, its principles are guided by Scripture.
That’s a true answer and yet not quite adequate, for there are multiple Christianities that claim to be founded on Scripture and yet have different beliefs. Church history demonstrates that it took years to develop a solid and workable statement summarizing several key doctrines, especially on the Trinity and the dual nature of Jesus Christ. These statements, or creeds, were worked out in a series of Church Councils convened to discover what the Scripture really said about these key topics.
If you have an iPad, I highly recommend Doug Powell’s “iWitness Heresies and Cults” as a guide to these councils. Doug’s approach to cults and heresies (besides being enormously creative and visually appealing in design) was to focus on the truths of creedal Christianity, to which the doctrines of non-creedal religion could be compared. I think it’s safe to consider true Christianity as residing within the boundaries of these conciliar creeds.
(Protestants, however, tend to avoid the term theotokos, “Mother of God,” applied to Mary, not because it is entirely false—she carried and bore Jesus Christ, God in the flesh—but because she is nevertheless not mother to the one eternal God, and because Protestantism is wary of following the Roman Catholic path of Mary’s Immaculate Conception, prayers to or via Mary, etc.)
If you don’t have access to that app (iPad only), then you might take a look at this summary of the councils’ work.
C.S. Lewis spoke of “mere Christianity”—that which is merely Christian rather than specifically Protestant (Reformed/Anglican/Calvinist/etc.), Catholic, Orthodox. His mere Christianity is roughly the same as the creedal Christianity I’ve just described.
The great majority of what I write will apply to all creedal Christianity; in fact, as I think ahead to the content I will include, I can’t think of any of it that would apply more narrowly than that. [Update: see comment 7]
Yet I am not a Roman Catholic or a member of one of the Orthodox churches. I am a Protestant with certain specific convictions. and just a few items of belief on which I am suspending any final decision. I heartily accept the statement of faith adopted by Ratio Christi, the mission group in which I now serve as national field director, as well as that of Cru, with which I served for 34 years before that. The two statements overlap almost completely.
If you want to know which version of Christianity I believe and practice, those statements will tell you almost all you need to know. If you want to know which Christianity I’m defending in this series, look first to the Bible, and along with it also the early church councils and their creedal interpretations of God’s authoritative word.