Odds are good that the essence of Christianity is something other than what you think it is, whether you’re a Christian or not. For many, doctrines of salvation are the essential issue in Christianity. For others, a comprehensive study of theology or scripture is the key to being a Christian. For some, following the rules and regulations of their church is of the utmost importance. But none of those, as important as they are (and I certainly do not intend to suggest that they are of no importance) are the true heart of the Christian way of living.
The true heart of the Christian way of life is following in the pattern of Christ’s life, adhering to the spirit of his teachings. If, like I have, you’ve read through the Gospels a fair number of times, you’ll be familiar with what I’m talking about here. Christ’s example to us is one of intense and comfortable relationship with God, of love, generosity, healing, and teaching. Christ does not spend nearly as much time dealing with issues of doctrine, theology, scripture, or specific rules of conduct as he does with addressing the physical, psychological, and spiritual needs of God’s people. Christ’s primary focus is on God and caring for the people of God. Is our focus consistently the same?
I dare say not. I’ve met a lot of people in many different Christian churches, and most seem to fall in the groups that are primarily concerned with doctrines of salvation, theology, scripture, or the proper rules of conduct as set out by their church. It is our inappropriate focus on things other than imitating the way of Christ that has lead to the rampant splits and divergences in the people of God. How many historical schisms between sects of Christianity were due to conflicts over doctrine, or theology, or scripture, or the regulations for worship services and social conduct? I hesitate to even start a list, as it would run many, many pages. How many were due to genuine and respectful disagreements over how Christ would approach a particular situation? None that I’m aware of. My suspicion is that this is because when we are truly focused on imitating Christ, it is hard for us to fight so bitterly over an issue that is probably not worth dividing the people of God over.
The person who really showed me how to live as a Christian, and continues to show me, is my grandfather. He always acts in a loving manner, is generous to his neighbor, and teaches his community from scripture with a humble spirit and a prayerful approach. He lives out the essence of Christianity, and while it is clear that sound doctrine and scripture and rules of conduct are important to him, it is even more starkly apparent that his heart is always and above all on serving God and God’s people.
I propose that he, in the way he lives, expresses the most fundamental and orthodox of Christian beliefs, that we are called to imitate our Lord Jesus Christ in all moments and all places. I hope that someday I and all Christians can have that fundamental approach to living that makes our own lives and that of others be happier, healthier, and more whole as God desires for us.