Are There Different Types of Christians?
The days of codified religious toleration make faith more honest: a person is free to claim any religion or none. The faith they do espouse is that much more meaningful.
C.S. Lewis wrote that there should be two types of marriage: Christian marriage and civil marriage. The first would be administered by the church, and subject to the strict requirements that Jesus and later Paul presented, that one man and one woman should remain together for life, barring a few extreme circumstances like adultery or desertion. The state could administer the civil type of marriage, and make whatever rules society deemed appropriate.
I read Lewis’s suggestion first as a teenager, and didn’t like it. I adhered to the “’Til Death Do You Part” school of thought, and saw giving people choices about their level of devotion cheapening the whole enterprise of marriage. As a middle aged person I’ve changed my mind. I like the idea of different levels of marriage: offering a choice of commitment level would allow those who want to live by Jesus’ admonitions to declare their intent to the world.
These days I favor several levels of partnership, from the covenant marriage available in some states to domestic partnership. A Christian life is not unlike a marriage. Is there more than one type of Christian? History progresses in that direction. In the centuries of a monolithic Christian church, the entire Western world was “Christendom,” everyone within its borders a “Christian.” With the Protestant Reformation entered the idea that faith made the individual Christian. The days of codified religious toleration make faith more honest: a person is free to claim any religion or none. The faith they do espouse is that much more meaningful.
Are there different sorts of Christians? If Christian at all, His blood washes us from all sin, assures us of salvation. Is there more beyond that?
What of divisions within the camp of believing Christians? Does God treat us differently? Is He fair?
The summer before my final year of college I lived in SmokyMountainNational Park as a Student Minister. The program I was affiliated with sent volunteer college and seminary students to conduct worship services inside national parks. Late one night I walked back to my cabin, flicked on the light, and saw my cabinmate and a guy mashed together on the couch. I stared at them in consternation, though not for the reason they thought.
That night I had been in the chapel praying. I often went there for some privacy after my workday of cabin cleaning, to plan my worship services, or have personal bible and prayer time. That evening as I prayed I sensed God impress on me that He wanted me more devoted to Himself than I was to my church, a little congregation near my college in Massachusetts, a group I particularly missed during this summer in North Carolina.
Criticism is hard for me. A correction from God is especially painful.
God’s unfairness hit me as I looked at my cabinmate and her boyfriend. She was also a Christian, though I wasn’t aware of her attending any church that summer. While I picked my way through the dark with a heavy heart over being too devoted to my fellow Christians, she snuggled with a guy. God chose me to correct, not her? Why? I didn’t care if she wanted to spend her free time making out – I just felt of the two of us I didn’t deserve the criticism.
God’s corrections are compliments. They just don’t feel like it at the time.
That summer I found a good friend in Rosemary, the wife of one of the permanent park employees. Next day I shared my dilemma with her. “That means you are a true son,” she smiled, referencing the scripture that God disciplines true born sons. I knew she was right. God’s corrections are compliments. They just don’t feel like it at the time.
Are there different sorts of Christians? If Christian at all, His blood washes us from all sin, assures us of salvation. Is there more beyond that? Is there delineation between the “‘Til Death Do You Part” Christian, and the domestic partner Christian?
There must be, though only He knows the quality of each person’s devotion. Over twenty years have passed since that summer in North Carolina. I spent much of my time there going for prayer walks, singing with my worship tapes, and talking about God with Rosemary. I still benefit from what I gained in Him that summer. Sometimes I still feel He doesn’t let me get away with anything, but I realize my life with Him is built on that foundation.
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