taking the words of Jesus seriously

Red Letter Christians believe that what defines a person as a Christian is having a personal transforming relationship with the resurrected Christ. We talk about being spiritually invaded by the Holy Spirit who cleanses us gradually from sin and empowers us to become progressively more and more Christlike.

Our doctrines are embodied in the Apostles’ Creed. We also have a very high view of scripture, believing that those who wrote the books of the Bible were imbued by the Holy Spirit in such a way as to keep them from making errors that could lead us astray. When it comes to hermeneutics, however, we acknowledge that different Christians and Christian groups interpret some passages in the Bible in different ways.

My wife and I, over the years, have interpreted Saint Paul’s words in Romans, chapter one, concerning same gender erotic behavior differently, but I never once doubted her Christian commitment, nor do I think that she ever doubted mine. As Red Letter Christians, Peggy and I, despite our differences, are agreed as to the core of our beliefs as embodied in the Apostles’ Creed.

Related: World Vision Changed My Life. Now What?

The Board of Directors of World Vision USA tried to make room within their organization for Christians who do not believe that scripture condemns same-sex marriage, even though the board members themselves believe that it does. They simply were saying that their beliefs on this issue, as important as they might be, do not define whether a person is a Christian and, therefore, a possible employee within World Vision USA.

I am a Baptist and, as such, I believe I can make a strong Biblical case for believer’s baptism by immersion. However, I do not consider this to be a defining doctrine. I do not for a moment consider those who interpret differently than I do what scripture teaches concerning baptism to be any less Christian. Beliefs about baptism for most Evangelicals are not a defining issue. I must remember, however, that there was a time when they were. Wars were fought and persons were willing to be martyred because of differences on how and when people should be baptized.

My Mennonite friends read the Bible in such a way as to make a strong case for non-violent resistance to evil. This leads them to their opposition to participating in the military as combatants. Yet those Christians who claim that the Sermon on the Mount supports their commitment to being what they call “A Peace Church” are not likely to write off as “non-Christian” those who hold to “just war” theories. As important as their beliefs about non violent resistance to evil may be, they do not make those beliefs the basis for saying who is and who is not a Christian.

Episcopalians (i.e. Anglicans) and Lutherans believe that in Holy Communion there is a real presence of Christ in the bread and the wine. They tell Red Letter Christians who claim to take the words of Jesus seriously, that Jesus did say that the bread is my body, and the wine is my blood. Episcopalians and Lutherans, nevertheless, do not regard as non-Christian those of us who say that the bread and wine only symbolize the body and blood of Christ. What they believe about the Eucharist is basic to their denominational identity, but is not a defining criteria as to who is and who is not part of Christ’s Church.

Also by Tony: Is Evangelicalism Headed for a Split?

What disturbs me about those Christians who responded so ferociously to the decision by the World Vision USA Board to be inclusive of those in same-sex marriages, is that they are making their interpretation of Romans 1, and a few other passages of scripture that they believe deal with same gender eroticism to be a defining criteria as to what is Christian and what is not. They have made same gender marriage a defining issue. I believe that it is not.

What upsets me even more is that, within 24 hours of World Vision USA’s initial decision, there were more than 4, 000 cancellations by those who had been sponsoring children in Third World Countries through the auspices of World Vision USA. It is hard for me to understand how being opposed to the hiring policy stated by World Vision USA should lead these fellow Christians to withdraw support from desperately needy children. To make innocent children suffer because of outrage over what the Board of World Vision USA decided does not seem to me to fit with the requisites of Jesus as he outlined in Matthew 18 the way to handle differences between Christian brothers and sisters. But then, that’s my belief – and I could be wrong.

About The Author


Tony Campolo is Professor of Sociology at Eastern University, and was formerly on the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania. For 40 years, he founded and led the Evangelical Association for the Promotion of Education, an organization that created and supported programs serving needy communities in the Third World as well as in “at risk” neighborhoods across North America. More recently, Dr. Campolo has provided leadership for the Red Letter Christians movement. He blogs regularly at his own website. Tony and his wife Peggy live near Philadelphia, and have two children and four grandchildren.

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