Faith: What Is Distinctive About the Christian Faith?

Although faith is generally seen as a religion, since it concerns our relationship with that Absolute called God, that notion does not seem to be very helpful in order to grasp its unique character. Should it then be called a spirituality? Yes, in the sense that it offers a personal and lived-out way of penetrating the meaning of life more deeply. This way, however, is not left to the discretion of each individual; it is not made up of elements that we can take or leave according to our own whims. It is a pilgrimage in the steps of Christ, and it sets the pilgrim necessarily in a relationship to all those who are walking along the same road.

Is Christian faith a life in common, then? This definition has the great advantage of corresponding to the life of the early Christians as seen in the New Testament. Still, we must immediately add that this shared life is far from being a simple human sociability; it is rooted in God. It is a sharing in the divine Life, a Life that is Love and thus Life for others. This common life is by nature inclusive, universal; it radiates outward to encompass potentially every human being. In this sense, the boundaries of the Christian community are not defined once and for all; in the final analysis they cannot be distinguished from the entire human family, or even from the whole of creation.

In its essence, then, faith in Jesus Christ can be defined as the offer in progress of a universal communion or fellowship in God. First of all, Christian faith, far from being a human undertaking, is essentially an offer or invitation coming from the side of God. This was already true for Israel of old: that nation drew its identity not from geographical or genealogical criteria, but from the free choice of a mysterious and transcendent God. With the coming of Christ Jesus, this quality is even more salient. In him, however unthinkable this may seem, the very Source of life comes to encounter us.

If the Christian faith is an offer coming from the side of the Absolute, the role of human beings is essentially to welcome the invitation and to reply to it. It is not up to them to define its contours. And if God calls, through Christ, to a sharing of life, to a communion, then this invitation is addressed to the most personal dimension of human beings; it seeks to awaken freedom in them. For all these reasons, such an offer is at the opposite extreme from every form of constraint. Any attempt to impose it by coercion, whether overt or subtle, is absolutely foreign to its nature.

Secondly, the Christian message is an offer in progress, in other words an invitation that is real and not theoretical. Just as Jesus communicated the essence of his message by his life given for us to the point of dying on a cross, disciples turn their own lives into the message they want to get across. Christianity is perhaps unique in that, if it is not to be emptied of its substance, there can be no dichotomy between doctrine and practice. On the contrary, the doctrine is identical to the practice, for in both cases it is a matter of communion with God and among human beings. If Christians do not practice love for others, if the Churches live in mutual indifference or competition, their preaching will inevitably remain a dead letter.

—Excerpt from Short Writings from Taizé 3 (Brother John)

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