Have you ever painted a paint by number picture? The canvas has various parts of the picture numbered, and these numbers correspond to a particular color of paint. If the painter follows the number/color scheme they will end up with a beautifully painted picture.
This is a perfect illustration of historic, orthodox Christianity. Over the course of 2,000 years, the organized church, and the church has ALWAYS been organized, determined what colors went where. While the picture pattern and the colors have been tweaked, corrected, and slightly changed over the years, the picture has remained pretty much the same. Those who wanted to change the colors or use a different number scheme are condemned as heretics or banished to the margins of organized Christianity.
When I was a youth, I tried my hand at painting by number. I quickly learned that I was not much of an artist. No matter how much I tried, I couldn’t keep the paint with the boundary of the number I was painting. Thus, my finished painting still somewhat looked like it was supposed to, but it was quite evident that I had painted outside the numbers.
This is a perfect illustration of the increasing number of Christians who no longer accept the number/color scheme of the past. These people want to radically change the number/color scheme, and some of them want a new picture altogether. Most of the internecine battles fought within Christianity are between the people who want to use the same number/color/picture they have always used and the people who want to radically alter the number/color/picture. This battle is not much different from the battle between people who think the US Constitution is a fixed, unchanging document and the people who think the US Constitution is a living, breathing document in need of correction and change.
There are other people who claim the Christian moniker I call blank canvas Christians. Their brand of Christianity, if it can even be called Christianity, is a blank canvas upon which they paint a picture of Jesus, a picture that eerily looks just like the painter. These people want nothing to do with the number/color schemes of the past or present. They want to paint like Jackson Pollock, unhindered by the constraints of history. They refuse to acknowledge that their knowledge of Jesus, his divinity, and the claims they make for him, are only known because they were exposed to paint by number Christianity sometime in their life. They fail to recognize that there is no Christianity without the organized church. Even when it comes to the Bible, the Bible didn’t birth the church, the church birthed the Bible. The organized church has always been the gatekeeper and arbiter of what the number/color scheme is.
Perhaps blank canvas Christians should stop saying they are Christians. At what point a their version of Christianity cease to be Christianity? If Jesus is stripped of his divinity, his miracles, and resurrection from the dead, is the man who remains really the Jesus of Christianity? Once Christianity has been gutted, is it really still Christianity? Or is it really just a moral/ethical society or some form of spirituality, not any different from any of the spiritual practices found throughout the world?