Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Chemistry for Christians

Litmus Tests

I loved chemistry when I was in school. Even today, I am a big fan of chemistry. There is a wonderful series of videos on YouTube from the University of Nottingham on all the elements of the Periodic Table and then some. They are truly engrossing and I get as much excitement watching a reaction of potassium with water as they do.

One of the earliest experiments I learned in chemistry was a simple one:  trying to find out the pH balance of a liquid to determine if the liquid were acidic or basic. Water would almost always have a pH balance of 7. If the number were lower, then the solution was more acidic (like cola). If it were higher, than the solution was more basic (like something with baking soda in it).

All you had to do was to dip one of these litmus test strips in the solution and then compare the color of the reaction to see if the solution were basic or acidic.

A Test for Christians?

Is there a test for Christians? What or who determines who a Christian is? For some people this answer is quite obvious. They will start off spouting also sorts of rhetoric, including words such as "saved," "born again," "baptized," etc.

My own denomination likes to pass out in its literature the ABC's of Salvation. It is a simplified guideline for those wishing to identify as a Christian. It involves: Admitting your need (used to be admitting that you're a sinner), Believing in Christ, and Committing yourself to Christ.

We Salvationists tend to leave the baptism part out of it and the rest of the Christian world screams in uproar. Most Christians worldwide (with the notable exception of the Society of Friends (Quakers) and The Salvation Army) practice baptism as a rite into Christianity. The Salvation Army did away with those with very good theological reasons. (For an in-depth treatise, I recommend Dr. R. David Rightmire's book, Sacraments and The Salvation Army:  Pneumatological Foundations.)

Baptism is often seen as a wonderful rite into Christianity, until you get into the nuances behind it. When do you do it? The high church tradition (from Orthodox to Roman Catholic and even United Methodists) practice baptism at infancy. Anabaptists tend to do it at an age of accountability, a nebulous time when a person is old enough to decide for him/herself to make religious decisions. Then some churches have it as a prerequisite for their own church membership, whether or not they have been baptized before.

Is it something we do? Then what? Get baptized? Eat some bread and drink wine? Do we help people? Do we serve others? Is it what we believe? Is it what we read? The Bible? Which translation? (Weird tangent:  I hold the New World Translation with the same esteem as I do The Message, which is none.) How many books does it have? Protestants have 66 while Catholics and Orthodox have many more. Why were some excluded? What makes them scripture?

We Christians have been arguing with each other over what we believe that it's no wonder we keep on splintering into more and more denominations.

I sometimes imagine that we Christians just like to argue with each other, quite similarly to this Monty Python sketch:

We seem to thrive on debate, but then the debate turns into argumentation, then into contradiction, and finally into rejection.

What does it mean to be a Christian?

I have recently been confronted by people who are trying to find some sort of way to see if I'm still a Christian or not. Some do it out of concern. Some do it out of spite. It seems to me that the latest "litmus test" for Christianity is where one stands on LGBT inclusion. The United Methodist Church is going through that great discussion this week. I am so glad that they can talk about it openly. My denomination regulates such discussions to committee meetings and there is no room for open debate. I believe that these committee could do great things, but I'm just concerned that there is no input from those in the denomination itself. If there is a way for such input, then this information is not disseminated to the rest of the denomination. (A lack of communication tends to be a hallmark in my denomination, all based on the idiom "need to know.")

I am very worried that we Christians are going about trying to figure out who's a Christian or not. I don't think that's our job to do. When we start down that path, we begin to judge other people. We become dualistic:  It's us versus them.

Our job is not to be exclusive. This is a bit ironic. We Christians are called to be holy, which literally means to be set apart, but it's not how you think. Being set apart for Jesus means to do what Jesus did. Jesus set himself apart, not from the sinners, but from the religious. He set himself apart by mixing in with society, by immersing himself with the population and scorning the religious establishment. His harshest words were for those who should have known better.

So what makes someone a Christian? You know what? I don't care anymore. My job is not to define that. My job is to be a Christ-follower and not to determine who is and who isn't. I leave that decision up to God.

My fear is that we are turning into the religious elite of Jesus' day. My fear is that Christ is more welcoming and affirming than his own followers are today.

photo credit: Litmus Bottles.jpg via photopin (license)

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