The journey of faith begins with our beliefs. We can’t have faith in something we don’t believe exists. We can’t have faith in something we believe is true. We also can’t have faith in something we don’t know.
In 2008 Willow Creek Association published FOLLOW ME based on their REVEAL research project. They were seeking to identify catalysts for spiritual growth. First they identified four stages of spiritual maturity, then they studied what activities, attitudes and values prompted a person to transition from one stage to the next.
Their research highlighted the importance for young Christians to solidify particular foundational beliefs as a catalyst for moving to the next stage of spiritual maturity. But how do we define “foundational spiritual beliefs”? For the purposes of their study the FOLLOW ME team identified four core beliefs critical to a young Christian’s growth:
- Salvation by Grace
- The Trinity
- Personal God
- Authority of the Bible
“Perhaps there is nothing more important to a person’s ultimate conversion to the Christian faith, and even to the pace and depth of their spiritual growth over a lifetime, than to fully understand and accept the implications of these core beliefs. These spiritual fundamentals are as critical to spiritual growth as basic arithmetic is to learning calculus, or the rules of grammar are to writing a thesis. The church provides an essential learning platform for these fundamental beliefs as well as a faith-based environment for a person’s early impressions of Christian life.” (Follow Me, p57)
In Sunday’s sermon I asked how well all of us could explain these ideas. Here’s my effort in 100 words or less:
Salvation by Grace: We cannot make God do anything. We cannot make him love us. We cannot make him bless us. We cannot make him forgive us. Yet he does each of these things for us. Why? Only because he gives us grace. The sooner we realise that we cannot force God to do anything, the happier we will be and the stronger our relationship with him will be. Yes, it requires humility and dependence to accept this, but it’s a fundamental truth about us and God. (Ephesians 2:8)
The Trinity: The Bible teaches that God the Father, Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit are all God. It also teaches that there is only one God. Centuries ago the church reconciled these statements by concluding that in a mystical way the three persons are at the same time one. There’s no real logical explanation for this. It requires faith. Yet it involves some wonderful implications. Here’s one: God is by definition loving: three persons bound together in love. (John 17:21-23; 1 John 4:16)
Personal God: It’s easy to look at a verse like John 3:16 “God so loves the world” and feel like we get lost in the crowd. We can visit a church and have the same anonymous experience. But one way God connects with us individually is through the Holy Spirit, who lives inside each of us. When we have a hard time expressing our thoughts to God the Holy Spirit helps. Think about it, “God lives within you”. It doesn’t get more personal than that! (Romans 8:26-27; 1 Corinthians 6:19) (This blog also gives a healthy perspective on this issue.)
Authority of the Bible:It’s logically illegitimate to use the Bible to defend the Bible’s authority, but that’s our starting point. The Bible claims to be written by men inspired by the movement of God in their lives. We believe that it accurately describes God’s will for humanity. Since it’s inspired for God, individuals to not have the authority to override or alter it. History affirms the basic facts of the Bible and church history affirms the power of the Bible’s teachings to transform lives. But only faith can affirm the spiritual significance of the events and teachings found in the Bible. (2 Timothy 3:16-17; Rev 22:18-19)
- Any beliefs you would add to the list of foundational beliefs for new Christians? (Remember, they can’t all be foundational.)
- Here’s a broad statement. It’s my impression that Churches of Christ have often emphasised congregational purity over individual growth. Agree or Disagree? (eg. I haven’t seen many (any?) lists like this originating from within Churches of Christ, but I’ve seen plenty on the hallmarks of the “true church”.)