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In a recent ecumenical meeting of Christian leaders discussing theology and worship, two evangelical representatives expressed a shared dilemma: How should they integrate concerns for justice and care for the poor into worship? One complained that modern praise songs do not speak about these issues. Given their nondenominational backgrounds, they were not sure where to turn for help.

These evangelicals hit one roadblock that arises when "mere Christianity" severs our ties to theological traditions. At its best, mere Christianity can be summed up by Augustine's proverb: "In essentials, unity. In nonessentials, liberty. In all things, charity." Mere Christianity should also remind us to celebrate the oneness of all believers, united through our one head, Jesus Christ (Eph. 4:15). However, mere Christianity will disappoint when it becomes a substitute for the Christian faith. At its worst, mere Christianity shifts with the trends of praise music or the latest evangelical celebrity. Despite our best intentions, our theology and practice can become "conformed … to the pattern of this world" (Rom. 12:2).

Misleading Unity

The phrase mere Christianity can be misleading, suggesting we can act independently of traditions that guide our interpretations of the Bible. It's quite American to position ourselves above tradition. Sometimes even denominational churches do this by hiding their theological distinctives, thinking they will narrow the pool of potential parishioners. If you take Presbyterian out of the church name and avoid teaching about predestination and the sacraments, more people will come, right?

A friend of mine has a daughter-in-law who attends a large nondenominational church. My friend sent her the Heidelberg Catechism ...

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In the Magazine

February 2007

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