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Christian Orthodoxy

Irreducible and Non-Negotiable

What is the Christian faith all about? Two stories, 18 centuries apart, provide a clue.

Across an ancient Roman city, a deadly plague was spreading. The wealthy, including the doctors, all fled to their country estates, abandoning the poor. Paganism, you see, did not teach that human life is sacred.

But the growing number of Christians in Rome at that time believed that humans are made in the image of a loving God. They stayed and cared for the sick, sacrificing themselves for others.

Imagine a young Roman Christian—let's call him Fortunus—pulling a hand-drawn cart toward the fountain at the city's center, where the sick were going for water once their families had abandoned them. Today Fortunus finds 20 plague victims, loads them up, and takes them to a make-shift hospital for care.

Fortunus and his fellow Christians know they are risking their own lives. But paradoxically, their compassion did not deplete Christian ranks in the long term—quite the reverse. Tending to the sick increased the disease survival rate by as much as two-thirds—and this witness of Christian sacrifice attracted many new converts. The Church grew.

By acting on the teachings of Christ, without regard to their own welfare, these Christians progressed from being a small sect to the dominant cultural group.

Flash forward 18 centuries, to October 5, 2006, Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania. Charles Roberts burst into an Amish school house and shot 10 girls at point-blank range, killing five. He then shot himself.

But what happened next astonished the world. Amish families attended Robert's funeral, for the Bible says to mourn with those who mourn. As money poured in to pay for the wounded girls' medical bills, Amish leaders insisted that funds also be set aside to care for the killer's family.

Many were amazed at the love the Amish showed the family of their children's murderer—but it was the same love that every Christian ought to practice. It is nothing but the Gospel, although admittedly an all-too-rare instance of its full practice. But why don't Christianity's critics understand that the practice of love and forgiveness are hallmarks of Christianity—real Christianity?

Because we Christians ourselves do not truly understand the tenets of our faith—and therefore, we can neither fully live them out nor defend the faith.

This is exactly why I wrote what I believe may be my most important book. It is titled The Faith: Given Once, For All. It contains the essentials of the faith that all true Christians have always believed—the minimum, irreducible, non-negotiable tenets of Christianity, without which one cannot be a true Christian.

I passionately believe that this is what people need in order to defend and live the Christian faith in the midst of the extraordinary challenges of our time. And that is why I am devoting an entire week of "BreakPoint" to discussing it.

Now, I know a lot of radio stations do not like their commentators to push their own products, but I've got nothing personal to gain here. All the royalties go to Prison Fellowship.

At age 76, I have only one burning desire, and that is that the rest of my life be used to advance God's kingdom. I hope you will read The Faith—and learn how to equip the Church to know what it believes, why it believes it—and why it matters.

This is part one in a five-part series.

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From BreakPoint®, February 4, 2008, Copyright 2008, Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with the permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or distributed without the express written permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. "BreakPoint®" and "Prison Fellowship Ministries®" are registered trademarks of Prison Fellowship

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