Is Christianity a fortress or a beacon?
In other words, is the primary function of Christianity to defend the good guys from the bad guys, or is its primary function to shine a light that will illuminate everyone, the good and the bad alike?
It’s a good question. But maybe this question poses a false dichotomy. We could just as easily say that Christianity is meant to be both “a mighty fortress” and the “light of the world.” I agree, let’s not get dualistic here. Nevertheless, where should we put our own focus: on shining the light, or manning the defenses?
Obviously, different members of the body of Christ will answer this question in different ways. Some Christians will be enforcing the boundaries while others will be seeking to unleash the luminosity. Perhaps it is important for the light-shiners and the bulwark-strengtheners to refrain from judging each other. In fact, there’s no perhaps about it. “Judge not” means more than just Christians need to be kind and loving toward atheists — it means that we have to be kind and loving toward each other, sometimes the hardest task of all.
Contemplatives are, in my experience, generally much more drawn to the beacon than to the fortress. We often play fast and loose with the boundaries, not worrying too much about such things as dogma, or theological precision, or having a clear understanding about just what we do or don’t believe. And then, we get annoyed when we discover that for other Christians, the dogma and the theological boundaries are what matters most. We think there’s something wrong with them, and when they suggest that there might be something wrong with us, we get defensive.
I think the Body of Christ needs both the ramparts and the radiance. It’s good to have a clear understanding of the difference between Christianity and Buddhism, or Christianity and Islam, or Christianity and Gnosticism. But it’s also good to let those boundaries be permeable enough that we can be in dialog with, and form relationships with, those whose faith is different from ours. That’s where the light shining comes into play.
Be who you are called to be. And try as best you can to love, rather than judge, those whose path diverges from your own.