“I Am” and “I Practice” — An Important Distinction

Jesus Icon

If we want to practice what some, including Michael Spencer, have called a “generous orthodoxy” – a commitment to the creedal Christian faith that recognizes “one holy catholic and apostolic Church” – then we must learn to speak about our own personal faith identities and commitments precisely.

Here is the way I have learned to respond when asked about “who I am” or “what I am” with regard to my spiritual and religious identity:

I am a Christian, and I practice my faith in the Lutheran tradition.

I find this helpful for a number of reasons.

First, it makes clear who I am at the root: I am a Christian. I am a member of the Christian family. My identity is bound up with the person and name of the Lord Jesus Christ. I believe in Jesus. I follow Jesus. Jesus’ story is the story into which I have entered. I have taken his name. I interpret and approach life through him.

Just like my surname represents not only my personal identity at this moment in space and time history, but also my family, my background, my heritage, my ancestors and a particular story woven throughout the history of humankind, so my identity as a “Christian” links me to all who have borne that name through the ages and to those who continue to bear that name around the world in various traditions. If you are a Christian, you are my sister or brother. Though we may be far removed on our family tree, we are nonetheless organically related.

When articulating my faith identity, this is the first and most fundamental thing I say.

Second, it makes clear that the particular tradition to which I belong is important but not the ultimate essence of who I am. It is my practice, the way I approach living out my identity. I practice my faith in the Lutheran tradition.

I won’t delineate this second point here today. Suffice it to say that my understanding of what it means to practice faith as a Lutheran is bound up with a commitment to the ecumenical creeds, particular forms of evangelical Catholicism in the western Church, the Protestant Reformation as specifically pursued by Martin Luther, his writings and the Lutheran confessions, and the development of an ecclesiastical tradition that has morphed over the centuries and which I now experience here in the United States as a member of a mainline Lutheran denomination. I concur with those who say that Lutheranism was not meant to be a separate denomination as much as a renewing movement within the church catholic. If I had my druthers, I would do away with the term “Lutheran” and opt for some designation like “Evangelical Catholic” to describe this particular branch of the Christian family tree.

niceneI am and I practice. I find it helpful to distinguish these verbs. Let’s explore why by looking at identity at its most basic level.

I am a human being with a story. This is my fundamental character. As a human being, my specific identity is tied to (1) the story of all human beings and (2) a particular family story. I practice or live out my life as a “human being with a story” in the context of various traditions, settings, and circumstance.

I live my life as a twenty-first century American. I live as a family man. I live within the context of my marriage, my position as a father and grandfather. My parents call me their son, and my in-laws their son-in-law. I live as a member of a certain generation. I dwell in a particular community. I work for a company and have a job designation. I write for this blog. I belong to certain organizations and live out who I am through my involvement in those groups. I have learned to enjoy and value particular habits and hobbies and activities and I live out my identity pursuing those. Various experiences have shaped me and caused me to look at life in certain ways and to think, speak, and behave in certain ways.

All of these things are important, but none of them get to the essence of who I am. And therefore none of them should be of the essence when I relate to you.

I am an American, but that does not mean if you are from a different country you are less of a human being. I may think my country and government functions in better ways than yours, but that does not change the fact that, at root, we are both human beings. Our practices may be different, but at the core, we are connected by a common identity. I can relate to you as a fellow human being. We may discover that we have serious differences about how to approach life, but the bottom line should be that I accept you as one who is related to me at the most fundamental level. Our shared humanity makes us neighbors, which is to say, members of the same “community” (common + unity).

Applying this to the realm of faith: as Christians we share a common creedal identity. The ecumenical creeds provide the rule of faith which locates our identity within the Story of Jesus. Those who align themselves with this Story are baptized into the Christian family, and share the unity of “one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all” (Eph. 4:4-6, NRSV).

If this is your Story, you are my brother or sister. We may have profound differences and perspectives on the faith, but we share the faith itself. When we discuss, debate, argue about, or even fight over our differences, we do so not as enemies who ultimately stand in opposition, pronouncing judgment, but as brethren engaged in a process of trying to gain a better understanding and practice of the faith. You may have to hold your nose to recognize me as a fellow Christian, but you do it nevertheless, though our family feud runs long and deep.

Several people have tried to illustrate the distinction between essence and practice. The most famous is C.S. Lewis, who distinguished between “mere Christianity” that exists in as in a Great Hall, and particular traditions that meet together in smaller rooms off the Hall:

LewisI hope no reader will suppose that “mere” Christianity is here put forward as an alternative to the creeds of the existing communions — as if a man could adopt it in preference to Congregationalism or Greek Orthodoxy or anything else.

It is more like a hall out of which doors open into several rooms. If I can bring anyone into that hall, I have done what I attempted. But it is in the rooms, not the hall, that there are fires and chairs and meals. The hall is a place to wait in, a place from which to try the various doors, not a place to live in. For that purpose the worst of the rooms (whichever that may be) is, I think preferable. It is true that some people may find they have to wait in the hall for a considerable time, while others feel certain almost at once which door they must knock at. I do not know why there is this difference, but I am sure God keeps no one waiting unless He sees that it is good for him to wait. When you do get into the room you will find that the long wait has done some kind of good which you would not have had otherwise. But you must regard it as waiting, not as camping. You must keep on praying for light: and, of course, even in the hall, you must begin trying to obey the rules which are common to the whole house. And above all you must be asking which door is the true one; not which pleases you best by its paint and paneling.

In plain language, the question should never be: “Do I like that kind of service?” but “Are these doctrines true: Is holiness here? Does my conscience move me towards this? Is my reluctance to knock at this door due to my pride, or my mere taste, or my personal dislike of this particular door-keeper?”

When you have reached your own room, be kind to those who have chosen different doors and to those who are still in the hall. If they are wrong they need your prayers all the more; and if they are your enemies, then you are under orders to pray for them. This is one of the rules common to the whole house.

Lewis’s metaphor is helpful, but I think it suffers by locating everything indoors, as though the faith is a matter of finding a place to settle down and get comfortable. Michael Horton and the folks at Modern Reformation advanced the complementary notion that we should think of the old New England arrangement of many individual church buildings surrounding a village green where people meet together. This is better — at least they get us out of the building!

“…evangelicalism is like the village green in older parts of the country, especially New England.  There may be two or three churches on the grounds, but the green itself is a wide open space where people from those churches can spill out in conversation and cooperation.”

Let me try a couple. If you will forgive the militancy of this illustration, perhaps we can think of an institution like the U.S. military. There is one military establishment, but it exists in various branches: Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard. Together and separately, they share a common Commander in Chief and an overall common mission. They actively engage in protecting and defending our country. At the core, they are all military, while in practice, they perform their tasks within their own unique branches, complementing and cooperating with each other strategically.

Or perhaps we can think of the United States itself, as a nation with the slogan, E Pluribus Unum“Out of the many, one.” Made up of a variety of states, regions, and communities, we nonetheless are all Americans with a common federal government, who all swear allegiance to the same flag and sing the same national anthem. An Alaskan is no less an American than a New Yorker, though their lives and experiences may be extremely different.


Disunity and schism in the Church is not inherently seen in our diversity, but in our divisiveness. In far too many Christian conversations and dealings, we assume that so and so simply can’t be a Christian because he or she disagrees on certain points of doctrine or practice that we assume are fundamental to our identity, when in reality they represent matters outside the rule of faith. And so we cast anathemas at each other for disagreements about many things that are, at best, of penultimate importance.

Of course, this is a broad statement, and in the complexities of ecclesiastical life and teaching we cannot simply leave it here. However, I think it may be a good starting point.

If we could develop the habit of simply identifying ourselves like this: “I am a Christian, and I practice my faith in the ____________ tradition,” perhaps we could learn to distinguish the rule of faith from perspectives and practices that characterize us but do not ultimately define us.

72 thoughts on ““I Am” and “I Practice” — An Important Distinction

  1. In chapter 1, the intro to Robert Capon’s book The Parables of Grace Capon uses the metaphor of “theological porches” to describe the reason for the different traditions. Here’s a teaser;

    A certain couple once built a house. They set it on solid founda¬tions and made it proof against all weathers. But in their haste to take up occupancy, they made no provision for access to the front door. To enter, they simply leaped up onto the doorsill and yanked themselves in. As they began to feel more at home, however, they decided to make their comings and goings more convenient. First, they built a short flight of steps. These served well for a while, but eventually they replaced them with a small, plainish porch on which they could sit and contemplate the excellences of their house. In good weather, they even entertained friends there with wine, cheese, and conversation.

    Soon enough, though, they tore down this first porch and built a much larger one. They gave it a roof supported by carpenter gothic columns; they surrounded it with intricate railings; they provided it with a wide, low-pitched staircase; and they decorated it everywhere with gingerbread ornamentation.

    Many years passed, during which they enjoyed both the porch and the house. But then, on a cold and stormy night, the woman came to the man as he sat by the fire and shook a sheaf of bills in front of him. “Have you ever considered,” she said annoyedly, “how much we spend on the upkeep of our porch? For something that’s usable only four months of the year—and not even then, if one of us is sick—the cost-benefit ratio is appalling. Between the dry rot and the peeling paint, not to mention the lawsuit your friend Arthur brought against us when he caught his ankle in the gap left by those missing boards, it’s more trouble than it’s worth. Tear it down and let’s go back to the way we started: no porch, no steps, no nothing; just up into the house by one leap.”



  2. For the present, I’m hanging out in the hall.
    I grew up Southern Baptist, drifted away from the faith in my early 20’s, rediscovered faith in a nondenom/Charismatic fellowship, did the home/simple church thing for several years after the nondemon church fell apart, and, one after another, every simple church fellowship I’ve joined or tried to start has fizzled and disapated.
    Lately, I’ve been visiting a small Baptist church ? really Bapticostal would be more accurate. The people are great, but I’m just not there anymore theologically. I’ve also visited some other churches in my area, both mainline denom and nondenom, but I can’t help feeling like an alien or like some shell-shocked soldier who returns from war only to find that he’s no longer comfortable in “normal” society.
    Honestly, I feel like some kind of spiritual orphan, and it’s getting cold and lonely out here in the hall.


  3. For the present, I’m hanging out in the hall.
    I grew up Southern Baptist, drifted away from the faith in my early 20’s, rediscovered faith in a nondenom/Charismatic fellowship, did the home/simple church thing for several years after the nondemon church fell apart, and, one after another, every simple church fellowship I’ve joined or tried to start has fizzled and disapated.
    Lately, I’ve been visiting a small Baptist church — really Bapticostal would be more accurate. The people are great, but I’m just not there anymore theologically. I’ve also visited some other churches in my area, both mainline denom and nondenom, but I can’t help feeling like an alien or like some shell-shocked soldier who returns from war only to find that he’s no longer comfortable in “normal” society.
    Honestly, I feel like some kind of spiritual orphan, and it’s getting cold and lonely out here in the hall.


  4. numo: Glad you had a good experience with the nuns; in my own case, I grew up as a Catholic (Roman) and did not have such a good experience with the nuns. Oh, boy, did I never! Now I spend a lot of time among ELCAers, some of who are also “absolutely terrific people.”


  5. Robert F: I’m Lutheran, born and raised (ELCA), but I did spend quite a bit of time in my youth with Catholics who could fairly be called evangelical – charismatic, too. Some of them were nuns – absolutely terrific people.


  6. Very nice post. However, during Lent I find myself saying to myself, “I am a Christian and I am a poor example of practicing my faith in the Eastern Orthodox tradition.” Perhaps future unity would be better served if we would all admit just how poorly we practice our own faith tradition.


  7. numo,
    Thanks for quashing an idea that I really liked. I have just one question for you: do you now or have you ever worked in an official capacity for the Roman Catholic Church?


  8. CM, now I’m confused. I still take the original account for a legitimate story, if somewhat off topic. Are you saying we were pranked? Or I was? Sorry to monopolize this end of the discussion.


  9. Hey, I really *do* get what you’re saying!

    I also remember that it took a long time for the ELCA to switch the wording in the creeds from “one holy Christian and apostolic church” to “one holy catholic and apostolic church.”

    Because people of my parents’ and grandparents’ generation were very much opposed to the use of small-c “catholic” in the creeds.

    Even I did a doubletake the 1st time I saw the revised wording.


  10. It probably would muddy the waters greatly, and I doubt if it would ever gain serious traction. I do like it as a descriptive phrase, however, for what I take Lutheran tradition to be. Evangelical: focused on Christ and the Gospel. Catholic: one with the one holy apostolic and catholic church.


  11. I just noticed it had changed because I couldn’t find it at first. I hope you weren’t getting hit with too many searches for that group. They gained a foothold in my area about 20-25 years ago and then drifted off.


  12. +1

    Whenever someone says “non-denominational” I assume their sign is a bit of a fib and should really say “Fundamental Bible Church” or “Baptist.” The charismatic renewal may or may not have visited.

    Same thing with Fellowships and Centers.


  13. As Father Anderw Greely ( a VERY liberal RC priest, and best-selling author) states so ofthen….

    Catholic means “here comed EVERYBODY!”

    (and I sure more sizes, shapes, colors, and accents at Mass than I do going into or out of other area churches, which tend to be: 100% white OR 100% black OR 100% Korean [apparently all the Hispanics in our little city are Catholic, or don’t go to church….])


  14. Steve, I too am a Catholic who thinks you are missing the point. First, I assume you DO believe in life everlasting, Heaven as eternal bliss in God’s presence???? Ok, we agree on that…..

    Second……have you ever asked a friend or pastor to pray for you and your needs?? Intercessionary prayer for other people holds them up to the Lord and asks for blessing for them….still agree???

    Well, if our souls are the same ones we take to heaven, why in the world is it so unusual to ask a friend who is is on the OTHER side of the veil to pray for you??

    “Steve, I have a job interview tomorrow, please pray for me” and “St.Patrick, I have a jobe interview tomorrow, please pray for me” are the SAME ACTION! The only difference is that we know St. Patrick loves God well….with Steve we are taking a guess.


  15. Christianity Today just ran a bunch of stories on evangelical Catholics (roman Catholics, that is).

    While not a big fan of CT, I think that their use of the term has made many evangelical protestants aware of the existence of evangelicals in the RCC, so it might be muddying the waters to refer to Lutherans as “evangelical catholics,” unless you do it as I just did, with a lowercase “c.”

    This is one of those situations where there oughta be a style manual call on phrasing. (You know, NYT style manual, or some other major newspaper’s style manual – terminology needs to be defined.)


  16. Re: “It is similar to what happened during a confrence I attended….”

    I was part of the band… well, the wife of the piano man
    And it was a ladies confrense.

    The ladies were paying the fee and signing up and given their
    name tag necklaces.

    I don’t like name tags.
    I put mine in my pocket…

    I walked around — and heard, “I am so excited… God is going to meet us here.”
    And the ladies talked to one another… up and down the halls and in the rooms —
    welcome, welcome happy smiles and hugs and…

    I looked at the hotel lady rolling the cart. I smiled and shrugged my shoulders
    she and I were not part of the happy welcomes. I gave her a hug and said thankyou.
    An odd thing to do. I wondered if everyone knew each other.

    The it occured to me…
    It was the nametags.

    I didn’t have my nametag on — and neither did the hotel housekeeper…


  17. Because there is such a chasm of language confusion between protestants and Catholics, my note hear will surely not close the circle on this point. Catholics do not pray to Mary or to the Saints. But because of our believe in the communion of the saints as defined by the Creeds we ask them join our prayers with theirs before the Lord. Nothing spooky about that.


  18. Anybody who disagrees with me is obviously looney. ELCA? Heretic scum. I would never read a blog by someone in YOUR denomination.

    Ok, fine, I’ll draw you a picture: 😛


  19. Yes, I’ve seen quite a bit of the diversity of the RCC. My entire extend family, on all sides, is Roman Catholic. I’ve been to Mass in 3 continents. However, wherever you go, the Mass is the same. The culture and the music change, but the Mass does not. AND, imo, that is one of your strengths; it’s a model of the synthesis of unity with diversity. But as a point of comparison, Calvary Chapels don’t only have the same liturgy wherever you go; they tend have the same culture and music as well.


  20. Well for a shower, that’s a telling story.

    This discussion seems like a more sophisticated version of one we did many years ago when I was in grade school. We would ask the question of another kid, “What are you?” and that was shorthand for what kind of church do you go to? The denomination, not the particular church. There was no such thing as non-denominational then and I don’t remember anyone ever saying they were anything but one of the mainstreams including Catholic. Twenty years later the question “What are you?” would have been interpreted as “What’s your sign?” and answered with a sign of the Zodiac. Both seem a lot simpler than today’s question.

    I AM a child of God and I relate to my Father in the tradition taught and demonstrated by God’s Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth. That seems overly complex in an effort to be accurate, And I must admit I don’t like to be identified with the church with the broken shower by assumption. I have my own broken shower if you want to know the truth but I’m working on it.

    I went to church this morning for the first time in many years other than for funerals. I was impressed and found nothing to take offense at, much to admire. My guess is they have a working shower somewhere. If I had to attend a church I would probably choose that one but it is forty miles away. How would Jesus have answered the question?


  21. ’tis all too true, Ted!

    As for “I am a Christian,” the “a” part seems to be evangelical usage. The “a” isn’t used when people of other faiths refer to themselves (I’m Jewish, I’m Hindu, I’m Muslim, I’m buddhist).

    I decided to drop the use of “a” and just say “I’m Christian,” since evangelical-speak makes people wary. (I think; maybe some of that is dependent on where people live?)


  22. I understand; the thing is, it will more than likely confuse a lot of people out there, Catholics especially. 😉


  23. Chaplain Mike, while we’re on the topic of labels:

    The title of this post, “Making My Christian Identity Clear”, juxtaposes a couple of perfectly innocent words that may make your position UNclear to some people at first glance. I don’t know if you’re aware, but “Christian Identity” is the name of a white-supremacist hate group. I won’t describe them, but Wikipedia can.

    As I said, your word choice is perfectly innocent, but now that you’re aware you might join with scientists who are Christians and who, in order to avoid confusion, don’t refer to themselves as Christian Scientists.


  24. Uhhhh, I meant sue Chaplain Mike; that’s right, they can just sue Chaplain Mike. It was his idea, not mine. Right, Chappy?


  25. Well, unless they have the copyright, it’s fair game, and I want it. And if they don’t like it, they can just sue me.


  26. But… “evangelical Catholic” has already been appropriated by many RC folks who see themselves as being both Catholic and evangelical.

    Seriously; the phrase has been around for at least a decade – probably longer.


  27. “looney theology”

    I want to take your use of the word “looney” as tongue in cheeck.

    I really do.

    one of the ELCAers who posts here from time to time


  28. Chaplain Mike,
    I like your idea about changing “Lutheran” to “Evangelical Catholic.” Then I could say “I’m a Christian who practices his faith in both the Anglican and Evangelical Catholic traditions.” It works for me. Very very very comprehensive.


  29. “They make the Roman Catholic church seem like a festival of cultural and doxological diversity.”

    You do know that there is a great deal of diversity in the Catholic Church. At my Midwest Catholic Church we have immigrants from India, Togo, and Mexico worshiping together and sharing their cultural traditions. People from all backgrounds provide music, service as extraordinary ministers of communion and lectors. Catholics really aren’t as provincial as some people like to think.

    It always shocks me that when a Lutheran wants to insult someone they compare the person to a Catholic. My Lutheran friends frequently do that and don’t seem to realize how insulting it is to me as a Catholic. Lutherans seem to be the only ones who do it in my area.


  30. The Bible itself is part of tradition, I would say the central part of tradition and the measure of all other tradition, and the most stable, but still tradition. There is no way to get to Christ and the Cross without the mediation of Biblical tradition.


  31. Actually, a lot of evangelical church communities still accept, recite and affirm those creeds.


  32. IMHO, Much of Evangelicalism has sought to distance itself from tradition and that is a foundational weakness of the Evangelical movement. If you can not accept the Apostles Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athunasian Creed as accurate formulations of Biblical Doctrine, how can you call yourself “Evangelical”?


  33. …and their churches are more homogenous than any tradition I’ve ever seen. They make the Roman Catholic church seem like a festival of cultural and doxological diversity. Most CC’ers I know, upon moving to/visiting another town, immediately look for the nearest branch. Their brand loyalty is ridiculously high, which is rather odd given that the Pastor-as-supreme-unquestionable-Pontiff is their only real doctrinal or practical distinctive.


  34. I’ve seen a lot of non-denominational-ism come out of Methodism and Wesleyanism. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe the sequence went: Methodist –> Holiness –> Pentecostalism –> Foursquare –> Chuck Smith –> Calvary Chapel –> Vineyard. Somewhere along that line infant baptism got dropped. It seems to me that Wesleyans are theologically predisposed to pragmatism, and somewhere along that way, infant baptism gets seen as a barrier of traditional religion. Maybe there is a non-denom out there baptizing infants, but I’ve not seen one. Kind of like how Charismatic mega-churches generally give up speaking in tongues as they grow larger because after a certain point it actually inhibits growth because it alienates more people than it attracts.

    My point is this: Is there really any substantive difference between the “non-denominational” tradition, the “Evangelical” tradition, and the “Baptist” tradition? Even if it is Methodist in origin, it seems that the gravitational pull towards least-common-denominator Evangelicalism gradually turns [conservative] Methodism into credo-baptism. It’s a rather strange phenomenon, but it seems rather consistent.


  35. It is the “and”. I no issues with venerating saints in the Faith as examples to follow and honor. But we are not to pray to them. All believers in Christ are saints.

    I was not clear that in what I wrote.


  36. One thing I enjoy about confessional Lutheranism is that it is a “room” or “branch of the military” in which allows me to believe that it holds the right understanding of Scripture without having to anathematize any of the other rooms. My AoG, SBC, ELCA, etc… friends might read the Bible through distorted lenses, but their errs are not damning errs. They’re just family members with looney theology. And I’m sure that my theology appears that way to many of them. But that alone is not enough to dislodge my confidence that Scripture is more clear to me now than it has ever been. At this point, even if I find mistakes in my tradition, holes or quirks that I cannot in good conscience agree with, I think I have enough confidence in everything we get right to just live with it. Who knows. Maybe in 20 years I’ll be convinced that the Methodists were right after all, but I doubt it. I feel there is a tension between recognizing that the things we have in common are far more significant than the things that divide us (as those baptized into Christ), but at the same time, I can’t understate the importance of what many miss and the benefits they do not receive from not believing the crucial truths of Scripture that form my tradition’s distinctives.

    we do so not as enemies who ultimately stand in opposition, pronouncing judgment, but as brethren engaged in a process of trying to gain a better understanding and practice of the faith

    Absolutely. Just because I am absolutely convinced that I am right and you are wrong does not mean we can’t enjoy a jovial rhetorical exchange and learn from one another. Theology must always be approached with humility because there’s always the guarantee that we’re missing something, somewhere in our belief.

    you must be asking which door is the true one

    “Are these doctrines true: Is holiness here? Does my conscience move me towards this?

    Absolutely, and amen. I would even add that it is not arrogant or presumptuous to believe you have found answers to these questions, as long as you are willing to listen to the answers others have found and give them a fair shake.

    But I wouldn’t phrase it as CM does. I don’t just attend a Lutheran church. I believe, teach, and confess the historic doctrine of that church. I am a Christian, I believe that Scripture is true and the Book of Concord is an accurate summary of it’s key teachings, and I practice that belief in a congregation where very few share that second point.


  37. Practicing “tradition-free” Christianity is just as absurd as practicing modernist/enlightenment atheism via “Reason Alone”. The moment you have your first thought in the English language, you are already grounding yourself in your culture, along with all its various contingencies and the accompanying baggage of history and tradition.

    The *sola scriptura* I read has been handed down to me through all kinds of traditions and translations.

    Tradition is an unavoidable part of the human condition, whether or not we choose to recognize it.


  38. I am a Christian, I believe Christ is God’s son who died for my sins. I consider anybody who believes this to be a Christian, regardless of tradition.

    I’m a Lutheran because I believe other traditions do not accurately teach what Christ taught. The Holy Spirit preserved an inerrant record of Christ’s teachings through history in Scripture, though history left some question about which books and letters are part of that perfect record. The Lutheran confessions correctly apply Scripture to the many false teachings about Christ through history, judging from the text of Scripture and the tradition of the church. Scripture says to separate fellowship from traditions that teach falsely because false teachings lead Christians to despair or self-justification, which prevents enjoyment of the full peace of Christ.

    Nevertheless, there are many Christians in traditions that teach incorrectly, and I look for unity with them to the extent it exists.

    In the end, there is no one perfect visible church, but some churches more closely follow Christ’s teachings than others. But, the further a church departs from Christ’s teachings, the more dangerous for faith and well-being the church is.


  39. I’m with Chaplain Mike on this one. Abandoning all tradition is a little like a child who insists on holding his breath until he gets his way. He might be very committed to it at first, but eventually, he starts breathing again (or, he passes out, and then his body automatically starts respirating) because breathing is such a natural part of his existence that it is not a conscious process.

    Same deal with traditions. Take the evangelical church movement, which has eschewed a lot of traditions. Over time, those traditions have just been replaced with new traditions. You’ll see that phenomenon with any institution (higher education, military, etc.). The traditions and symbols that folks might want to dump were initially created to help folks “get back to Christ and the Cross only.” Toss them out, and after a while, we’ll just start replacing them with new symbols and traditions.


  40. I am a Christian, I practice my faith in the Lutheran tradition, and my theology is increasingly influenced by Eastern Orthodoxy


  41. “There are many traditions that point us away from Christ. These include praying and veneration of the Saints and Mary.”

    This is an inaccurate generality. Instead, veneration of Mary and the Saints points directly to Christ and are beautiful devotional aspects of Catholic worship of Christ. Pitching Mary and the Saints by the Reformers was/is a loss for those who agree with that position. An explanation of these issues far exceeds the intent of this thread.

    Below are remarks by Luther about Mary in particular. More extensive comments by Luther and early “reformers” can be found widely and also at the website Catholic Culture, subject lines Luther and Mary.

    “The veneration of Mary is inscribed in the very depths of the human heart. (Sermon, September 1, 1522).

    [She is the] highest woman and the noblest gem in Christianity after Christ. ..She is nobility, wisdom, and holiness personified. We can never honor her enough. Still honor and praise must be given to her in such a way as to injure neither Christ nor the Scriptures. (Sermon, Christmas, 1531).

    No woman is like you. You are more than Eve or Sarah, blessed above all nobility, wisdom, and sanctity. (Sermon, Feast of the Visitation. 1537).

    One should honor Mary as she herself wished and as she expressed it in the Magnificat. She praised God for his deeds. How then can we praise her? The true honor of Mary is the honor of God, the praise of God’s grace.. .Mary is nothing for the sake of herself, but for the sake of Christ…Mary does not wish that we come to her, but through her to God. (Explanation of the Magnificat, 1521).

    While I do not often look to Luther as a source for support, here he is right on!


  42. I would say “a non-denominational” tradition or “the evangelical” tradition. Depending on where the church comes from, there may be other answers as well. For example, the “Community” churches in which I served were started and led by people from Methodist and Wesleyan traditions. One advantage of talking this way for a person in your position is that it makes clear that you ARE a part of a tradition, whereas many in such churches don’t think they are.


  43. Calvary Chapel is Dictatorship-of-the-Pastor Funagelical that calls itself Non-Denominational.


  44. “Non-denominational” has become a denomination of its own.

    “Non-denominational — you know, Baptist with the labels painted over?”
    — call-in to a Christian radio talk show long ago

    Though in my experience, “non-denominational” is just as likely to be “Fundagelical with the labels painted over” as Baptist.


  45. “Calvary Chapel” offers all that nonsense about being non- or multi-denominational, and coming from different traditions, so I’m guessing that might be your answer.


  46. I am currently in a church that is not affiliated with any one tradition; it is non-denominational, or as I think they sometimes refer to it, multi-denominational, as our members have come from many different traditions, but worship and fellowship together now.

    So how would I fill in that second blank? “I am a Christian, and I practice my faith in the _________ tradition.” I grew up attending a Baptist church, but I don’t feel much attachment to the Baptist tradition in particular.


  47. Correct. I am using it as Michael Spencer used it, not in a pluralist sense. See the post from last Sunday, in which he said, “My orthodoxy is far more generous than before.”


  48. Traditions can be good, bad and neutral.

    There are many traditions that are very good that point us to the Christ. These traditions include the Creeds, the Church Calendar and the common legionary.

    There are many traditions that point us away from Christ. These include praying and veneration of the Saints and Mary.

    The Lutheran Reformation was to keep the good, through out the bad and examine the neutral. It was the and still is the “Radical Reformation” what wants to through out all tradition and worship live the early Church, which is impossible. Likewise, there are many traditionalist that view tradition as so important that they cannot see how we need to understand tradition and keep what continues to help us and set aside those that no longer do.

    We have nearly 2000 years of great traditions that we should look to that helps points us to Christ.


  49. If I say that I am a Christian who is abandoning all tradition and seeking to get back to Christ and the Cross only, I suppose that too over 2000 years has become a tradition.


  50. The one objection I have to the term “generous orthodoxy” is that it’s used by some as a term of embrasure for a pluralist religious viewpoint, not just a wide embrace of different expressions of Christianity; from what you say here and what I know of your views from other posts, that is not your viewpoint. Is that correct?


  51. “I am a Christian, and I practice my faith in the ____________ tradition,” reminded me a bit of AA meeting’s “I’m ______ and I’m an alchoholic….”.

    Maybe we could start another group: Divisive One True Churchers Anonymous?


  52. “I am a Christian, and I practice my faith in the evangelical tradition…” (the last two words sound like they conflict slightly)

    (Also the link “Disunity and schism in the Church” currently goes to a wordpress login page)

    I like the village green analogy. Unfortunately, people keep wanting to fence off various sides of the green…


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