Living out a 'gracious Christianity'
Excerpted from Gracious Christianity: Living the Love We Profess by Douglas Jacobsen and Rodney J. Sawatsky
Grace is at the core of the Christian gospel. We are by no means the first people to come to this conclusion. Many others have said it before. One of the most articulate was Johann Arndt, who lived around 1600. Arndt was a Lutheran minister whose preaching was set amid the religious violence that convulsed Europe for almost a century following the Protestant Reformation. Catholics and Protestants tried to silence one another, and Protestants and Catholics together sought to crush the religious revolutionaries known as Anabaptists. Violence was rampant in the streets. Churches were destroyed. Children were sometimes taken from their families. People were killed for their beliefs.
In the midst of revolution bordering on anarchy, Arndt published a volume entitled True Christianity. He argued that the essence of true Christianity, the characteristic that indicated whether or not anyone, Protestant or Catholic, was truly Christian, was “nothing else except service given to neighbor with love and pleasure.” For Arndt, serving others with love and pleasure was the indicator of Christian character. His description of Christianity represented a stunning break with the culture of his day and stood in contrast to the aggressive dogmatism that defined so many of the churches of the day, including his own beloved Lutheran Church.
It is important to note that, for Arndt, love of neighbor was inseparably linked with love of God. As he put it, “The love of God and the love of neighbor are one thing and must not be divided.” If we genuinely love others, we are in some sense also loving God. If we genuinely love God, we will find that we also necessarily love others. Arndt reminded his contemporaries that this is what Jesus commanded us to do. This is the creed of Jesus; this is the Christian’s rule of life. This is gracious Christianity.
Gracious Christianity is not a new kind of faith. It is not another new version of Christianity that sees itself as better than, or in competition with, other church traditions. It is part of our common heritage and part of our common hope. Gracious Christianity is the nub of what C. S. Lewis called “mere Christianity,” the convictions that have been “common to nearly all Christians at all times.” Mere Christianity does not deal with everything that can be said about a particular theological subject; such a degree of detail has to be worked out by each church on its own. Rather, Lewis likened this common core of faith to the hallway of a large guest house. The people who live in the house share the hallway, even though they reside in their own particular rooms. Similarly, Christians reside in their own particular congregations and denominations where they are nurtured and sustained in Christian faith, yet they share a hallway of common commitments and beliefs.
Whether Baptist or Catholic, Methodist or Pentecostal, Presbyterian or Mennonite, Orthodox or Anglican, as mere Christians we share a common calling to serve our neighbors with love and pleasure. As gracious Christians, we are called to be people of steadfast conviction as well as people of welcome and embrace. We are called to be people of high moral courage as well as people who refuse to judge. We are called to be people of deep spiritual devotion as well as people who understand the earthly needs of those around us.
As Christians, every one of us participates in a story of grace received and grace re-gifted to others. It is that ongoing cycle of grace that defines gracious Christianity. We need one another’s help to keep that cycle going, and we need a framework of Christian ideas to remind us why we ought to be gracious to everyone, to our enemies as well as to our friends. In the end, however, it is living itself that matters, and we hope this book in some small way helps followers of Jesus to better live the love we profess.
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