Both in this blog and in the culture at large, I have heard a number of comments lately that make me curious about how people view Christianity – even their own faith, etc. One of the ideas that’s been thrown out a couple times is that Christianity has been “hijacked by the conservative right”, strongly implying that there’s a “real Christianity” and a “fake new Christianity” (my words, my interpretation), and I’m very interested in understanding what was meant by that.
So, (this time) without spouting my own beliefs, I want to ask the crowd…
What is a Christian?
After a few people have chimed in, I’m sure I’ll give my thoughts and there’ll be plenty of discussion.
Technorati tags: christianity, religious right
I want to think about this some, but I will rephrase also. Who is not a Christian? What I mean is that many liberal Christians have been called nonChristian by the conservative right. This is what I am referring to in this discussion. I.E.
If you support gay marriage you are not a Christian
If you support a woman’s right to choose you are not a Christian.
Their are many interpretations of what it means to be a christian, hence the large number of denominations in the Christian faith.
Striving to be the person Jesus taught us to be and believing Jesus was more than man is my initial pronouncement, but as I said I plan to think on this more.
I think you can find a variety of very complex answers to this questions if you look at different creeds and affirmations of faith, but bottom line what I think makes me a christian is the simple belief in my heart that Jesus was the son of God, who died for my sins and was resurected. Everything after that is additional.
This is my preferred statement of faith (not my words, but words with which I agree)
Affirmation Of Faith
A Modern Affirmation
Where the Spirit of the Lord is,
there is the one true church, apostolic and universal,
whose holy faith let us now declare:
We believe in God the Father, infinite in wisdom, power, and love,
whose mercy is over all his works,
and whose will is ever directed to his children’s good.
We believe in Jesus Christ,
Son of God and Son of man,
the gift of the Father’s unfailing grace,
the ground of our hope,
and the promise of our deliverance from sin and death.
We believe in the Holy Spirit
as the divine presence in our lives,
whereby we are kept in perpetual remembrance of the truth of Christ, and find strength and help in time of need.
We believe that this faith should manifest itself
in the service of love
as set forth in the example of our blessed Lord,
to the end that the kingdom of God may come upon the earth. Amen.
In my personal faith walk I find myself inspired by the United Church Of Christ’s motto of being “Unapologetically Christian and Unapologetically Liberal”
Where have I heard that before? 😛
I just want to clarify that I wasn’t trying to claim that Christianity had been hijacked by the religious right or that I feel that they aren’t Christian. I feel that they see Christianity and interpret Christ’s teachings very differently than I do, but that does not automatically make either of us less of Christians. I often feel, as Brad mentioned, that there are people telling me I cannot really be a Christian because I believe in evolution, gay rights, stem cell research, acceptance of other religious beliefs as valid, etc. I worry that Christianity is being defined by these issues rather than by the sort of core beliefs that Eryn listed.
That is the concern I was raising: Because the conservative, evangelical, religious right groups of Christians have been most vocal about their faith, the general public is coming to believe that they represent all Christians. As I do consider myself a Christian and do not agree with their views, I think that requires me to, rather than hide my faith and disavow Christianity lest I be associated with those groups and viewpoints, be more open and active about my faith and present myself as a Christian with alternative views to remind people that not all Christians are part of the religious right/conservative movement.
Is it a coincidence that similar problems are occuring within Islam and Judaism? With fundamentalists who use terror and Zionists who are not open to comprimise.
All religions are always open to various interpretations, and there have been factions splitting apart in them forever, usually along change/tradition lines. I don’t know that there’s much but coincidence in what you mention, other than possibly the pressure of modern life and increased communications speeding up the process by providing more areas of change that faiths have to deal with.
I don’t think you should present your self as “a Christian with alternative views”. Just a thought here, but it seems to imply that the extreme right viewpoint of Christianity is the accepted or the norm. It puts you in a position where you are qualifying your own beleifs when your beleifs have inherent value. I don’t think we as liberal Christians should accept this kind of marginalization.
As far as the political right highjacking Christianity for political use, I think this is something that was interpreted from one of Brad’s posts. This is a frequent topic of cnversation in the Bull household because we are both sickened by seeing our faith manipulated and used as a tool to divide people rather than bring them together. I think it is absolutely immoral to use religiosity and dogma to suppress others.
As for Jeff inferring that this means there is fake Christianity and True Christianity. I think this is a false. What makes someone a Christian is simple beleif and I would never attempt to say someone was false in their faith while another person was true in theirs. What I do think it that there are people who realize the power of appealling to/manipulating Christians with a sense of moral indignation to ensure they go to the polls to support a given cause.
That’s kind of the problem, Eryn, I feel that the extreme right of Christianity is what is generally accepted and considered the norm. That tends to be the average person’s default perception when you mention someone as Christian. And I’ve recently come to the conclusion that I have been allowing my beliefs to be marginalized as a result, and I plan on changing that by doing what I can to be an exception to the standard perception of Christianity. I meant alternative simply as different from what I perceive as the default assumptions.
I agree with you that people’s perception is that the extreme right is considered the norm, but I don’t think it is truly the norm. I think they are more vocal than Christians who fall in the center or to the left of things. I beleive that people like you and I and the numbers of other liberal Christians have the capability to change the average person’s perception of Christianity by being both outspoken about our faith and outspoken about our views and I respect your plan to be the exception to the standart perception of Christianity!
I’m surprised there’s so much talk of Christianity and so little scripture. Christianity is, after all, a religion based on a book.
I think the definition of a Christian is pretty simple. It’s someone who believes that Jesus was the son of God and follows his teachings. What are those teachings? Mark 12:29-31 has Jesus issuing His 2 commandments:
1) Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.
2) You shall love your neighbour as yourself.
Jesus later strengthens His 2nd commandment in John 15:12, saying, “Love one another as I love you.”
To me, that pretty much sums up Christianity. Sure, there are plenty of other teachings in the Bible. And, as a practicing Christian, I have to say that I’m ashamed of many of them: subjugation of women, slavery, etc.. But Jesus, Himself, did not teach these things. His only commandments were the 2 given above.
Personally, I think the mixing of religion and politics is really bad. I cringe when I hear politicians use Christianity to justify their agendas. In fact, Jesus, Himself, had a little something to say about mixing religion and politics. “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” – Mark 12:17.
You’re right, not alot of scripture here. I’m not in the habit of quoting it and I find it is often manipulated as well. I think many people who quote scripture to prove their point fall into the trap of prooftexting where they quote the scriptures that support what they want while wholly ignoring the scriptures that contradict their argument.
I still hold that my defination of what makes a Christian bottom line is the belief I have listed above (Jesus is the son of God, who died for my sins and was resurrected). While I absolutely believe in following the teachings of Christ, I do not think this is the deciding factor of what makes someone a Christian.
I do think it is good to look at the commandments of Christ. I beleive that their were six commandments given by Christ:
‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, 19honor your father and mother,'[b] and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.'[c]” see Matthew 19:16-22
These commandments were then condensed into one single universal commandment. One of the ones you have mentioned.
A new command I give you: Love one another. As I d you, so you must love one another John 13:34
A Christian is someone who follows Jesus.
There are some pretty odd views about what Jesus said, these days. Jefferson was probably pretty close. Most of modern television-Christianity doesn’t come close.
I find myself wondering how someone who doesn’t follow follow the teachings of Jesus can be considered a Christian. In John 14:15, Jesus says, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” If you accept this statement, then you have to accept the contrapositive, “If you don’t keep my commandments, you don’t love me.” I knew the Church fathers had a good reason for developing logic!
With reference to the other thread, among those things Jesus did not command: Rejecting science information and theory in geology, physics, chemistry or biology. Nothing in “follow me” that says “don’t study Darwin.” Nothing that says “Earth is young.” Nothing that says “no Big Bang.”
Among other things.
Bill I agree with you. I do think that a Christian is someone who believes Jesus was the son of God, died and was resurrected, atoning for out sins. But I do not think you can call yourself a Christian without some element of striving to follow his will. Without that it would make it too easy to casually say “yeah I believe in Jesus, but I do whatever I want” which to me, is not a Christian person.
I do probably have a different view than most of you about the scriptures; I take them as the divinely inspired word of God. Though I admit someone could be a Christian without reading the good book or having it quoted to them.
I am thrilled to death with the myriad and diverse responses to this post. Thank you all for your ideas and participation. Keep them coming.
Here are my thoughts…
The word “Christian” means “follower of Christ” or “little Christ”. It is a wonderful definition to say “anyone who believes that Jesus is the Son of God, lived the perfect sinless life that I couldn’t live, died in my place to take my punishment for sin, and was resurrected to show His power and authority over death, that I might have eternal life, etc.” The only catch is what you mean by the word “believe”.
As Dave mentioned, one kind of belief is “a mental ascent to a set of facts” (what I’ll call “intellectual belief”). Another kind of belief is “internalizing knowledge to the point that it changes the way I behave or live my life” (what I’ll call “life-changing belief”). In my mind, the Bible (as well as Jesus) is clearly talking about the latter, not the former. I know this exactly because of the kinds of statements Bill pointed out … that Jesus commanded us to follow Him, to love God and love others, to demonstrate our love for Him by keeping His commandments, etc.
So, I think Jesus would consider to be a Christian those who maintain a life-changing belief in Him. This is further supported by Jesus’ comments in Matthew 7:15-23, which I’ll quote here…
Jesus said, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.”
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'”
Jesus seems to clearly be saying that without actions, “belief” is meaningless. Belief is more than just intellectual ascent. He explicitly states that some will say “Of course I believe in Jesus” but then act in ways that complete contradict their words. He makes clear that He does not accept this as a valid approach to the spiritual life.
This is why it’s hard (for example) to accept people who claim to be Christians but who either think that abortion is no big deal or that a woman’s right to choose trumps the baby’s right to live. I just can’t see Jesus allowing much of anything to trump the life of the baby – except maybe the life of the mother – and so because I’m a Christian (one who believes in, tries to follow, and wants to be like Jesus), I adopt what I think would be His view. That does not necessarily mean that if you support abortion on demand that you’re not a Christian, but I do think that it points to some soul-searching that needs to be done before God.
Please understand that I don’t question this person’s faith, because that’s not my place, but I wonder if Jesus would question them. In fact, I know how incendiary it is to talk about this, so I do so only in the context of this question, because I believe it’s very germane. If this weren’t the topic at hand, I would only wonder to myself and express nothing out loud, because I believe this is what we’re called to by Christ – to judge ideas, not people.
Also understand that I’m just using abortion as an example issue because it’s such a hot topic … and because so many on the left (including those who contribute to this blog) perceive conservatives to be saying, “If you’re a Christian, then you have to be pro-life / maintain a certain set of political views”.
I also choose abortion as my example because it’s an easy one in my mind. What Jesus would say seems clear and obvious. Issues of marital faithfulness, sexuality, etc would fall in this category as well. However, it seems to me to be FAR more difficult to try to figure out what Jesus would say about forms of government, foreign policy, war, economics, etc. When he talked about any of these issues, he talked far more about His Kingdom than the kingdoms of the earth. So it makes it difficult to navigate since I do believe we have a certain level of responsibility when it comes to earthly kingdoms, even though Christians primarily belong to God’s heavenly kingdom.
So, in summary… To be a Christian means to believe in and follow Christ. You cannot divorce action from belief, just like you can’t get an apple tree to bear cherries. As Jesus would say, you can always tell a tree by its fruit. That’s why many Christians drop the middle part of the explanation and just lump certain political beliefs in with religious beliefs. Not a good idea to oversimplify in this way, but it’s not without a certain level of legitimacy.
“‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, 19honor your father and mother,’[b] and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’[c]” see Matthew 19:16-22
These commandments were then condensed into one single universal commandment. One of the ones you have mentioned.
A new command I give you: Love one another. As I d you, so you must love one another John 13:34”
You have a different definition of murder than me. I don’t understand how you listed sexuality. Other than adultery it isn’t mentioned above. Since you won’t allow homosexuals to marry how could they commit adultery?
Can we get cherries from an apple tree?
I know that grafting of fruit trees does give a range of fruits you can get off a single tree of a different type. For example, I’m pretty sure that all commercial pears are grown on apple trees. There’s even a guy in Florida (I think) who has 40-some different types of citrus growing on the same tree. However, it’s generally limited to fruits within the same family, and I don’t think cherry and apple are close enough, so probably not.
Disclaimer: I present this all solely as cool horticulture stuff with no intent to imply anything about the analogy this was originally discussed in the context of.
I see where you are trying to come from Brad about homosexuality. But I fear I could live out a life that is very displeasing to God if I only read the red text in the Bible. There are parts of the new testament that do speak directly to that issue:
“In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.” – Romans 1:27
And I do try to not take scripture out of context to support my views, I try to draw my views from them. I do believe that the Bible is divinely inspired and that “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, ” – 2 Timothy 3:16
Though I do understand quoting a text on it’s own merits is questionable, I none the less do try to follow the instructions He has given us. Though even I often question what was meant for their society (the parts about a woman not speaking in church etc.) and what is not confined to a certain social environment.
As for abortion, I know the question will always come back to when life is created, and I don’t know of any scripture that can be referenced for that, so I do believe there can be Christians that are trying their hardest to follow Christ and truly believe that abortion is not murder. I would just disagree with them
This is why I should not post to this blog because i do not have time to keep up with reading the other posts and then reinterpreting my statements to those who do not get them…..
as to being a Christian and not following the teachings of Christ. I really beleive that belief is what is required to be a Christian. Yes, I try to follow the tachings of Christ, but I don’t think that is what makes one Christian. I think it is about accepting Christ in your heart. I think this acceptance will carry over into other aspects of one’s life causing them to try to live accroding to Christ’s example… There are people, however, who accept Christ and never have the opportunity to follow his teachings or commands ie death bed confessions and there are people who may have the capacity for only a simple understanding that they beleif in Jesus without being able to read and analyze scripture. I do not think that these people are any less Christian.
It seems popular to qoute the “you will know them by their fruits” but we also know that works cannot earn salvation…
as for people’s posts on abortion or homosexuality…don’t really feel like touching those with a ten foot pole other than to refer to previous comment about prooftexting. I think people’s minds are so set on these issues that dialog is probably pointless…
Sorry for my long absence. I’m back with questions…
Re: [The ten] commandments were then condensed into one single universal commandment. [Love one another]
This is true, Brad, but what is the point you’re making here? Are you saying in some way that if I “love my neighbor”, then it doesn’t matter to God if I violate the “original” 10 commandments, because they’re “old school” in some way? I doubt you are, so I’m confused. One question I’d ask you to consider in responding is to define what it means to “love your neighbor”.
Re: You have a different definition of murder than me.
I believe that destroying a fetus is killing it. It’s alive, and we know it is recognizably human, feels pain, etc a mere matter of days to weeks after conception. Certainly late term abortion (when the baby could exist outside the womb) is killing the baby, is it not? I’ve never understood how people make a distinction between killing a baby before its born (not a big deal to many strong supporters of abortion) but would oppose killing a baby after it’s born (which the same people would consider a heinous tragedy worthy of the strictest punishment).
Are you saying you do not consider abortion to be murder? (I assume so).
Re: I don’t understand how you listed sexuality. Other than adultery it isn’t mentioned above. Since you won’t allow homosexuals to marry how could they commit adultery?
My point was that the Bible is clear about what is morally right before God when it comes to sexuality and what is wrong. The Bible makes clear that sex is intended only for within marriage. In fact, it seems to make clear that the spiritual side of sex is what *defines* marriage (i.e. – If you have sex with someone, that marries you to them, spiritually speaking. It’s not the piece of paper that’s significant on that front. But that’s a whole ‘nother topic.)
The point is that if you have sex with someone other than your marriage partner, before, during, after, whatever, it’s adultery. Homosexuality is also clearly defined by scripture as sinful, aborhant behavior before God. Multiple partners, sinful. Etc.
My point was that the Bible makes all these things clear, where some other things are less clear.
Re: Quoting Scripture (out of context)
What I’m noticing here is that when someone quotes Scripture to support a position that some of you disagree with, you dismiss it because it’s being quoted out of context and therefore invalid, in your mind. However, you then cite other Scripture to support your points. I’m sure this isn’t what you intend, but I find it a little confusing.
Also, I’m curious how much time each of the people in this discussion has spent in Scripture, now and in the past. To be honest, I get the distinct impression the people complaining most about others taking the Bible out of context might also have spent very little time studying it. I’m concerned that you are finding what you want to find in the Bible, not trying to understand what God was actually saying in it. For example, many of the points Dave is making demonstrate a broad understanding of Scripture, but I don’t feel like some of the other comments being made do so as well. I’m not trying to be insulting, just calling it like I see it.
Re: I really beleive that belief is what is required to be a Christian. Yes, I try to follow the tachings of Christ, but I don’t think that is what makes one Christian.
I know this is a tricky point (it was tricky in Jesus’ day when he originally made it too), but… Your actions do not save you. Your actions demonstrate your belief, which saves you. In other words, “faith without works is dead” … which is James’ paraphrase in James 2:17 of what Jesus said a number of places in Scripture (and which I quoted earlier about the trees and fruit).
Re: I think it is about accepting Christ in your heart.
Correct, and if you truly accept Christ, what will that do to you? It will make your desire to be more like Him.
Re: I think this acceptance will carry over into other aspects of one’s life causing them to try to live accroding to Christ’s example…
Re: There are people, however, who accept Christ and never have the opportunity to follow his teachings or commands ie death bed confessions and there are people who may have the capacity for only a simple understanding that they beleif in Jesus without being able to read and analyze scripture. I do not think that these people are any less Christian.
This is also precisely correct, but demonstrates a lack of understanding of what Jesus was trying to say. This sounds like the fact that some *can’t* follow Jesus’ example gives you an excuse not to have to even though you *do* have the chance. The Bible makes very clear that God judges people according to their personal capacity (see the parable of the talents in Matthew 25 for a great example of this).
Because you get it, Eryn, you will be held to a higher standard by God than those who don’t get it (like the people you’re citing). So, “God cannot be mocked” (another way of saying you can’t dupe God). You won’t be able to stand before Him and point to those who didn’t know any better as an excuse for your behavior. You will be held accountable for what you know, as will I.
I seem to have read Eryn very differently than you did, Jeff. I didn’t think she was trying to say that those of us who can follow Jesus’ examples don’t have to because others can’t. I thought she was saying that people who believe but are unable to follow Jesus’ example (perhaps because of terminal illness) should not be excluded from the definition of Christians, which a definition based on works would do.
But that’s just my take, and hopefully Eryn will find time to come back and speak for herself.
And I hope my explanation demonstrates that I agree with that, although maybe not as clearly as I’d hoped it would. I was responding to the fact that Eryn’s comment came directly from a conversation about what beliefs-motivated-to-actions Jesus would support (or not).
again, I don’t have a great deal of time to keep up with this, but as to Jeff’s questions about how much time people have “spent in the scripture”..One can spend a great deal of time in reading scripture for personnal growth and involved in academic study of the scripture and have different understandings of it than yourself. There are many intelligent and well studied people who have more liberal views of the bible than you, or even more liberal than Brad or myself. I don’t, however, feel inclined to include a religious currisculum vitae.
Implying that someone fails to understand the entire work because they disagree with you is as much of a cop out as you are claiming is being used by those who state that scripture is manipulated and taken out of context.
I am aware and also believe that God expects more from me because I do have understanding, capability, resources, etc. I believe that I am responsible to be a good steward of the wonderful blessings I have in my life. This is part of my *personnal* relationship with God. However, I do not beleive there are different standards for what *MAKES* one a CHRISTIAN. I still hold to my origianl statement on this. I understand that there is a difference between myself and my hospice patients as far as ability and opportunity but I think all this really muddies the waters of what could be a very simple understanding/definition of what at the most basic level makes someone a Christian.
Re: One can spend a great deal of time in reading scripture……
Didn’t really answer my question.
Re: Implying that someone fails to understand the entire work because they disagree with you is a cop out.
My point was that you cannot be all about Scripture when it suits you, but then say that someone shouldn’t quote out of context when it does suit you … which has happened several times in this discussion.
The Bible is extremely clear about a lot of things that have been blatantly written off in this discussion, such as the truth that what you do flows out of who you are. I read several people in this thread saying “As long as I believe, it doesn’t matter what I do”. But Jesus said many times, and so did Paul, that the only way to know what you believe is by observing what you DO (not what you SAY or give mental assent to, etc).
So, yes, if someone does not understand this, then I question their understanding of the whole of Scripture … because this point is made OVER and OVER, and does NOT contradict the reality of salvation by grace alone. It’s the other half of the story.
So, getting directly to your point, Eryn… I hear you saying I’m wrong and that I don’t get it, but I have yet to hear your counter arguments for these points which are very well understood in the Biblical community. This is where I get the impression that you haven’t actually studied Scripture that much. Again, I’m not trying to insult you, but to challenge you. These aren’t MY words. This is what Jesus said.
Re: your last point…
I’ll say it again. Belief in Christ makes one a Christian. But belief that does not result in behaving the way Jesus behaved (in DOING the things that Jesus did) increasingly over time is no belief at all.
The Bible clearly says that “God cannot be mocked”. Or, you could say, “God cannot be fooled”. It doesn’t matter what we say or think, it matters what we believe … which is defined by our actions.
for not trying to insult, you do a good job….I don’t sit around and question your ability to read and spend time in study, but because I disagree with you I am somehow bereft of biblical knowledge.
do you honestly think that I am advocating saying “I beleive in Christ, but I think I will just live my life how I want….” I am trying to answer a simple question “what is a Christian?” which i have said is belief/acceptance in your heart.
And when you say that, I understand you to mean that “belief” is separate and disconnected from “behavior”. I’m saying that the two cannot be separated, and that the Bible makes that clear. So, behavior is absolutely a core component in answering the question at hand.
It goes directly to issues / questions that I cited way up there that nobody’s addressed yet, such as “How does one believe in Christ (the kind of belief that’s linked to behavior, not just a mental ascent), but feel that the right to choose trumps the right for the baby to live?” etc. In my mind, this line of debate / discussion is exactly on topic. Sounds like you don’t think so. Perhaps I’m missing something.
I’m also really sorry your offended. I’m not trying to insult you personally, but I do disagree with your argument (nothing new). For the reasons I’ve just stated, I feel we’re exactly on topic here.
Back to 19. David, you have a very valid arguement against homosexuality in Paul’s letter to the Romans. I have done some snooping and there are some theologians that have theories as to why Paul included this. The question also comes as to if this is the divine inspired word of god or Paul’s personal sermon. Either way it is in the bible, and in the new testament and a valid point. I personally cannot bring myself to persecute people who were born homosexual, and would not belong to a church which does so. I know this goes back to not taking the entire bible literally, weighing some parts more than others, and picking and choosing, so I will say it now. GUILTY.
I also believe that so thing were specifically written for an entirely different culture, and may not have as valid an application as other parts.