What’s So Christian About Christianity?

street preacher(Credit: Tim Snell, Flickr Creative Commons)

The ancient Greek philosopher Socrates is famous for saying, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

Those words have become something of a Philosophy 101 cliché since Socrates first uttered them centuries ago, but cliché or not they’re as true today as they were in ancient Greece.

And should be just as convicting.

Particularly for those of us who call ourselves Christians.

I worry that far too many of us attach the name “Christian” to ourselves without ever really stopping to consider what that name implies or the demands that name makes (or should make) upon on our lives.

For example, even though it’s delicious, we wouldn’t call ourselves vegetarians if steak was a regular part of our diet because vegetarian describes not just an ideology, but a particular way of life. You can’t just believe that vegetables are a good thing. To be a vegetarian, you have to actually live like a vegetarian. And if try to eat meat while claiming to be a vegetarian, people will call you out on it in a heartbeat for your gastronomic hypocrisy.

In theory, the name Christian should work the same way. Yet we seem to feel free to call ourselves Christians so long as we simply believe in Jesus and agree to a certain list of beliefs.

But is that really all that Christianity is about?

Believing something the Bible says even the Devil believes?

Shouldn’t Christianity be more than just a list of beliefs? Shouldn’t it also be a particular way of life? And shouldn’t that particular way of life resemble the life of the person who gives Christianity its name?

And if it should, then don’t we have an obligation to our integrity (to say nothing of our faith) to pause, examine our lives, examine the Church, and ask a really hard question, “What’s so Christian about Christianity today?”

Particularly in America.

In other words, how well do we who call ourselves Christians actually resemble the Christ we claim to be following and embodying for the world?

Because if we’re being really honest with ourselves and compare our lives with the life of Jesus, then I’m afraid the answer is not much.

Or at least not nearly enough.

Jesus made love the foundation of his ministry. We make doctrinal purity the foundation of our faith and treat love as a nice afterthought.

Jesus said to turn the other cheek and put away the sword. We go out of our way to justify violence.

Jesus called his followers to love their enemies. We call for bombs to be dropped on their heads.

Jesus called his followers to give up everything, relying on God and each other for their needs. We idolize financial independence, prosperity, and self-reliance.

Jesus made radical changes to his community of faith and promised the coming of a Spirit who would do even more. We fight change at every turn and at any cost.

Jesus grew in wisdom. We already know the absolute truth about absolutely everything.

Jesus battled religious authorities in order to bring the marginalized and outcast into the Kingdom of God. We try to use our religious authority to keep people out of the Kingdom who don’t act and believe exactly like we do.

Jesus fellowshipped with sinners. We damn them to hell.

Jesus looked at the big picture of scripture in order to liberate people from legalism. We take a microscope to scripture in order to shackle people to rules and dogma.

Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world.” We try to sanctify America through the ballot box.

Jesus blessed the poor, declaring that the kingdom of God belonged to them. We blame the poor for their poverty and treat them as charity cases instead of brothers and sisters.

Jesus made healing the sick central to his ministry. We treat healthcare as a luxury for the employed and well insured.

Jesus made women a central part of his ministry. We bend over backwards to keep them out of ministry.

Jesus called people of other faiths “good” and immortalized in parable their love and grace. We write off a billion people as nothing more than inherently evil terrorists.

Jesus said the Kingdom of God is made up of little children. We too often do too little to protect them from systematic abuse at the hands of religious leaders.

Jesus never stopped forgiving. We hold grudges in the name of righteousness.

Jesus embraced the aliens living in his homeland, praising them for their the love and faithfulness. We pass laws and build walls to keep foreigners out of our homeland.

Jesus died to bring the “wrong” people into the kingdom of God. We fight to keep them out.

Jesus made hard demands of his followers. We reduce Christianity to little more than a list of beliefs.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m just as guilty of most of these things as the person sitting next to me in the pew on Sunday morning.

But it’s because of that, because of my own complicity that I worry that being a Christian today has come to mean little more than believing in a list of doctrines.

If that is true, if our identity as Christians is primarily found in our heads and not in our lives, then perhaps that is part of the reason so many of us in the Church today feel persecuted for our Christian faith.

Perhaps, like a vegetarian eating steak, the world recognizes our hypocrisy, the chasm that exists between our lives and the lives of Jesus, and we’re being called out for living a life that looks almost nothing like what we preach.

 

FROM THE VAULT: As I’m always welcoming new people to the blog I sometimes like to revisit an old post or two that sparked a good conversation, but may have been missed by those who weren’t around when it was originally posted. A slightly different version of this post appeared a little over a year ago.