Christians are a very diverse group of people. From fundamentalists to Unitarians, there is a quite a range of beliefs. There seems to be little in common at the ends of the spectrum, and sometimes even from the middle to the ends.
The temptations are to stick stubbornly to one set of beliefs to the exclusion of others or to accept them all.
It can be rather daunting to consider all of the very earnestly and sincerely held beliefs of people who call themselves by the label “Christian”. Live and let live is certainly my tendency. When Jesus says, “Enter through the narrow gate”; however, I want to be one who enters that narrow gate (or door), wherever it is! For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.” (Matt. 7:13-14 & Luke 13-23-34 (door)) Much rests on being “right”.
There are certain accepted, fundamental and core doctrinal statements that most of the Christian world accepts. Jesus was God who came in the flesh, was born of the virgin Mary, lived a sinless life, suffered and died on the cross and rose again. He died as atonement for our sins, and by his death and resurrection we are forgiven and may enter into fellowship with God. Jesus was God and man. He is part of the godhead – being God the Father, God the Son & God the Holy Spirit – three in one. There are certain things that are accepted by most people who call themselves Christian. Is this the narrow gate? (or the wide path?)
There were certain things that were accepted by the religious leaders of Jesus’s time, too, and it turns out they were wrong about many of those things. Jesus called into question the spiritual interpretations and conventions of His time. The Sadducees and Pharisees were the spiritual leaders, and they more or less represented the conservative and progressive points of view. The Sadducees were the conservative “old believers”, accepting only the Mosaic Law and rejecting the newer revelation. They were the aristocratic priesthood focusing on temple worship. The Pharisees were the progressives, embracing the newer revelation (the rest of our Old Testament), believing in resurrection, angels, spirits and rewards and punishments after death.
The Pharisees were a lay group of priests and more in touch with the common man. That may explain why Jesus seemed to run into them more often. Significantly, though, Jesus raised the ire and was rejected by both groups. It seems both the conservatives and progressives of the day missed the boat. (And, that is the problem with labels.)
Jesus did not embrace the conventional beliefs of his day. He was God who became man and walked among His own people, and his own people knew Him not. He seemed attracted most to the irreligious and sinners.
Jesus took issue with accepted beliefs of religious leaders in His time (calling the Pharisees such endearing terms as “white-washed tombs”!), but we also see him describing the right way as narrow and few will find it. No wonder so many Christian groups see themselves as the only way. Who wants to admit their way is not “the” way, especially if there is only one Way.
I am not sure we can really compare today with the time of Jesus. God was doing a new thing, something that had never been done. God was inserting Himself into His own creation and moving the story of man in a whole new direction. Still, I think it is noteworthy that both the conservative and progressive religious leaders had issues with Jesus, and He with them.
When Jesus addressed the Samaritan woman at the well, he was speaking to one who would be rejected by both camps of Jews. She questioned why He, a Jew, would ask her, a Samaritan, for water. Jews and Samaritans had fundamental disagreements over where to worship and who were the chosen people of God. There was even a greater chasm between Jews and Samaritans than Sadducees and Pharisees. Jesus blew through the doctrinal divide by speaking of living water that quenches thirst so that anyone drinking of it will never thirst again.
It was not that Jesus was rejecting what we might call “closed-minded” thinking. He was rejecting wrong thinking. Jesus clearly thought it important that people believe and understand truth. Jesus says one of the most “closed-minded” things imaginable when He said He is the way, the truth and the life, and no one comes to the father except through Him. (John 14:6)
And, so the “dilemma” continues: who is right and who is wrong? In some sense, it is not a matter of right and wrong thinking. When the Samaritan woman asked Jesus whether the Samaritans who worshiped on their own mountain or the Jews who worshipped in Jerusalem were right, Jesus threw her a curve ball: it is not where you worship, but who you worship (the Father) and how (in spirit and truth).
Jesus says the sheep hear the voice of the shepherd, and so His followers will hear the voice of the Good Shepherd and follow Him. (John 10:7-11)
I was prompted to write this after reading an article on 16 Ways Progressive Christians Interpret the Bible compared to how fundamentalists interpret the Bible.
I do not want to be dismissive of doctrine. I am reminded that, from early on, the disciples and apostles who were entrusted with the very message of Jesus, delivered to them in person and visited upon them by the Holy Spirit in dramatic fashion on the Day of Pentecost, were very protective of that message. Examples of their concern for the truth of the message exist throughout the New Testament. The message, itself, is obviously of central importance.
They also learned that things like the food a person eats, whether a person is circumcised or uncircumcised, whether a person is a Jew or a Gentile does not matter. It does not matter if a person worships on a mountain or in Jerusalem, in a temple or not in a temple; what matters is the living water, God the Father, worshiping in spirit and truth. It is a matter of the heart. The Shepherd calls His sheep, and the sheep know His voice. We are ultimately all either in a relationship with our God or not. And that makes all the difference that matters.