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.

 

42 Comments
  • Karen Clark
    August 3, 2015

    To identify oneself as a Christian is as vague as describing a particular animal as a mammal. Of what species? So many church groups are an embarrassment to Christianity; they are mean spirited and hateful. To profess Christianity is setting the bar higher; our friends and neighbors expect better of us.

    • Frank Leyland
      August 4, 2015

      The church groups of which you speak are all false. They go wrong when they come up with man-made names – Pentecostal, Baptist etc etc. There is only One church, and it should be known as “The Jesus Church”.
      AWAY with all this other man-made rubbish!

      • George Washington, Jr.
        August 18, 2015

        Even calling it “the Jesus Church” is man-made and too specific. Once you say “Jesus is the ONLY way,” you are excluding people for whom the name “Jesus” has forever been poisoned by the hypocrites that the article describes. A truly inclusive Christianity must acknowledge the validity of beliefs other than Christianity, otherwise, all you have is a social club with people congratulating each other on how much better they are than everyone else.

        • Frank Leyland
          August 18, 2015

          And here’s to you, Mr Washington – I believe that the Christian faith does NOT acknowledge the validity of other beliefs.

          ” I am the way, the truth and the life. NO-ONE comes to the Father but by Me.”

          • George Washington, Jr.
            August 18, 2015

            And that, my friend, is one reason I’m not a Christian.

            By the way, that passage doesn’t mean what you think it means. It does not mean that you have to be a Christian to go to heaven; only that Jesus decides who goes. As the “gatekeeper,” he can send anyone he wants to heaven. He can send Muslims, and atheists, and anyone else – and he can exclude Christians, too. Especially sanctimonious ones.

          • Frank Leyland
            August 19, 2015

            You’re not a Christian so, until you are, how are you EVER going to know what it means?

            It’s like you don’t know the first thing about the French language but you are trying to teach it. That is just plain daft!

          • George Washington, Jr.
            August 19, 2015

            Because I’ve studied Christianity and probably know more about Christian apologetics and the Bible than most Christians.

            That interpretation of John 14:6, by the way, isn’t my own – I got it from John Shore, an Evangelical Christian author of several books about Christianity and the Bible. Here’s an explanation that’s probably more on your level:

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ztDgyOKej1k

          • Frank Leyland
            August 20, 2015

            Christian apologetics and Bible study are not faith. And I don’t care WHAT you got from John Shore (never heard of him).

            The difference is this: I have faith and you do not. And that is where the levels are. Hope you get to aquire it, but only The LORD can do this for you.

            ps, I WILL “level” with you. I never watched your cartoon. You saw it first and you can keep it!

          • George Washington, Jr.
            August 20, 2015

            So I assume you never comment on atheism, or Buddhism, or Islam, or other denominations of Christianity other than your own? I highly doubt that.

            Fine, you’ve never heard of John Shore. So much for your knowledge of Christian thought. All you need is “faith,” right? You are exactly the kind of sanctimonious, arrogant, rule-loving fake “Christian” that the article is talking about. Enjoy your church where everyone sits around, patting each other on the back and gloating over how superior you are to everyone else.

          • Frank Leyland
            August 21, 2015

            “Judge not and you shall not be judged.”

            I studied comparitive religion and decided upon the Christian Faith for me.

            You don’t know anything about my knowledge of Christian thought and, as you seem to have difficulty in understanding, salvation is available only through the Messiah, Y’shua (Jesus).

            Where will your “non-faith” get you? Not very much further with me, I think.

            I perceive you to be a time-waster and not a real seeker of Truth.

            Well, you won’t waste much more of my time: we are fast reaching the point where I “…shake the dust from my feet…” and leave you to it.

            YHWH is The LORD!

          • George Washington, Jr.
            August 21, 2015

            And yet you feel perfectly qualified to judge me. I’ve also studied comparative religion, and reject all of them.

            Believe whatever nonsense you want if it makes you feel better. As long as you’re not trying to change the law or affect my life directly, I don’t have a problem with it. It’s only when you people demand special rights and accommodations, or try to force your beliefs down my throat, that I will resist.

          • Frank Leyland
            August 21, 2015

            I judge no-one but I am entled to an opinion.

            However, I do not try to force my opinion down anyone’s throat. That includes “my people” and “your” people, whoever THEY are.

            Governments make and change laws and, although I was invited to become a politician some years ago, I decided not to stand for election – too busy with other things, eg evangelising the unsaved, such as yourself. (You condemn yourself by your own words).

            A couple of theological questions for you, the answers to which are not so straightforward as most (including Christians) think:

            Q. Who and how many were crucified with Jesus? What were they excecuted for?

            Q. An easy one: what was the full name of Barabbas, and, obviously, how does this translate to English?

            Q. Who killed Saul?

            Q. Approximately How old was Miriam, the mother of the Lord, when she gave birth to Him?

            I have more for you when you have answered these – enjoy yourself!

            Yours,
            Frank Leyland
            (The Jesus Church).

          • George Washington, Jr.
            August 21, 2015

            You know as well as I do that the answers to those questions are easily found on the Internet, although I could answer all of them except the last one without looking them up, as I’m sure you could. So now you’re saying that knowing a bunch of facts is what your religion is about?

            I’m glad you didn’t run for office. And you might think you’re not forcing your religion down anyone’s throat, but when people like you attempt to limit your fellow citizens’ civil rights, or make medical procedures unavailable, or force public schools to teach children your religious stories in place of science, that’s exactly what you’re doing. And don’t tell me that you are being forced to live in a secular society. We live in a religiously neutral society because it is composed of people from many different faiths. Your particular denomination is not the official one.

            “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

            Just curious if you have much success “evangelizing the unsaved.” Because your arrogant, sanctimonious approach is having the opposite effect. I might possibly be interested in checking out Zach Hunt’s church, but I would run the opposite direction from yours.

            Why are you on this site anyway? To prove to everyone how smart you are?

          • Frank Leyland
            August 22, 2015

            Yeah.
            Why are you on it?

          • George Washington, Jr.
            August 22, 2015

            Someone on facebook posted a link to it.

            People like Zack Hunt must really drive you bonkers. I know you don’t expect much from an atheist like me, but it must be unnerving when a co-religionist calls you out on your hypocrisy.

          • Frank Leyland
            August 22, 2015

            I am not a hypocrite – you are a false accuser. If you search the Scriptures you will discover what Jesus thinks of you. I am not going to do His job for you.

            And I have had no correspondence with Zack. But he also is entitled to his beliefs.

            Some people (like you) think they know what the Christian faith is about without ever experiencing it – impossible.

            There is a reason why Gentiles are called belatedly into the plans of YHWH. I know not if you are a Gentile or a Jew, and you may know the reason for the above. If you don’t, and if you wish to, you’ll find the answer in Romans, chapters 9 to 11 and written by Paul of Tarsus, (called to be The Apostle to the Gentiles even though he was a Jew himself). And this in spite of his previous hatred of Christians and the despised “Goyim”.

            So we have had this correspondence indirectly because of a giant of theology, and called to be so by The Lord Himself.

          • George Washington, Jr.
            August 22, 2015

            You’re assuming that the Bible is an accurate record of anything and not just a collection of stories.

            Good to know that you never accuse Muslims, Buddhists, Wiccans, atheists etc. of anything since you don’t follow those religions and therefore aren’t qualified to comment on them.

            When you claim to know “what the Christian faith is about,” does that include Greek Orthodox, Coptic, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and all of the other around 40,000 different Christian denominations? Or is only your own particular denomination the correct one?

          • Frank Leyland
            August 23, 2015

            Which one do you want? Why should it concern you when you don’t believe anyway?

            I’m still awaiting your answers to my earlier questions. You’re just “ducking out”.

          • George Washington, Jr.
            August 23, 2015

            1. Two thieves were crucified with Jesus according to the story. Whether this actually happened in reality is debatable as there is no other contemporary reference to this event. However, the Romans did conduct multiple crucifixions, so it’s not impossible that three criminals would have been executed at the same time.

            2. “Bar Abbas” in Aramaic means “son of Abbas.” “Abba” is Hebrew for “father.” His full name could have been “Yeshua bar Abbas” which is an interesting coincidence because Jesus Christ’s Hebrew name was also Yeshua. Probably a common name back then.

            3. I assume you mean King Saul and not Saul of Tarsus. King Saul was killed in battle with the Philistines (supposedly) by I assume an unnamed Philistine soldier. Saul or Paul of Tarsus was supposedly killed by the Romans.

            4. Mary didn’t give birth to “the Lord;” she supposedly gave birth to Jesus, and was a teenager. Joseph was considerably older. This was normal at the time (and even in our time if you’re in the Duck Dysentery family), and Joseph’s advanced age and possible impotence gave rise in part to the “Pantera” story – that Mary was impregnated by a Roman soldier, and the “virgin birth” explanation was concocted to cover it up and avoid embarrassment.

          • Frank Leyland
            August 24, 2015

            You need more research on your answers: “Two Thieves”,
            and King Saul was reputed to have fallen on his own sword but there is aso another claim. That makes three.

            In your answer (2), Y’shua was also known as: “The Son of The Father”, therefore, “Jesus, the Son of God”.

            re: your answer in (4), Jesus is known by us in the Christian Faith and The Scriptures, as “The Lord”.

            YHWH = The LORD.

          • George Washington, Jr.
            August 24, 2015

            Thank you, professor.

            I see I’m wasting my time here. Go back to Sunday School where you can impress the kiddies with your erudition. I’ll let you have the last word if it makes you happy.

          • joe ho
            September 8, 2015

            How do you respond to the frequently-made charge that atheists are bigots?

          • George Washington, Jr.
            September 8, 2015

            Some atheists are bigots, just as some Christians, or Muslims, or Scientologists are bigots, but certainly all of them are not.

            If an atheist automatically dismisses all religious people as deluded fools or vicious theocrats, without taking the time to check if the person in front of them meets those definitions or not. I would ask any religious person who said “all atheists are bigots” to define what they mean by “bigotry.” If it’s “making blanket judgments about individuals based on what group they belong to,” I would clarify that I try not to do that.

            However, I have run into people who accuse me of being “closed minded” because a truly open-minded person, according to them, would accept Jesus, and there’s nothing constructive I can say to someone like that. If they want to call me a bigot because I don’t agree with them, that just demonstrates that you can’t have a reasonable discussion with a fanatic.

          • joe ho
            September 9, 2015

            yes. i was referring to the charge that atheism is itself bigotry because it dismisses all supernatural/religious claims and rejects the kinds of personal experiences of “the divine” on which the claims are often based. the dismissal of those experiences as unacceptable evidence is pretty much like implying that the believers are foolish. hence the charge that atheism dismisses and degrades the vast majority of the world’s population.

          • George Washington, Jr.
            September 9, 2015

            By that logic, every religious denomination is “bigotry” because they all dismiss every religion and denomination other than their own. So unless you’re completely apathetic, you’re a bigot. I think that makes the term so broad as to be meaningless. What you’re describing is merely opinion.

            However, you touch on an important point when you mention dismissal of others’ experiences. I can acknowledge that a religious believer has had a meaningful and significant religious experience, and is sincere in his belief, without sharing that belief myself. So bigotry would be as you say dismissing all believers as foolish without bothering to determine if they’ve given careful thought to their beliefs – which many of them have.

            If a religious person dismisses all atheists as anti-religious bigots, that says more about them than about atheists.

          • joe ho
            September 9, 2015

            but how then do you deal with their plea that their personal inner religious experience ought to be accepted as credible evidence for the existence of a deity? the modern atheist approach is generally not to claim that they know there are no gods, but that there is no credible evidence for their existence. the believer insists that his personal feelings and fantasies count as credible evidence and the atheist is unfair to dismiss them.

            another trend in the industrialized west, perhaps due to the increasing rate of decline of belief and the rapid rise of atheism/agnosticism/skepticism, some of the religions and denominations are taking a softer stance, retreating on their historical claim that theirs is the only way to salvation and validating the religious experiences of all other religions. as they feel threatened by the strong culture shift away from supernaturalism to scientific materialism, they seem trying to join hands with their former rivals and make common cause against what they derogatorily call “scientism”. this way, too, they can avoid the charge of bigotry and discrimination against other religions by implying that all religious experiences within whatever faith tradition are experiences of the same universal god, but in different faces. this then also allows them to cast atheists as the bigots against religion.

          • George Washington, Jr.
            September 12, 2015

            While “personal inner religious experience” may be significant to the person who experiences it, anyone who defends their faith on that alone isn’t going to convince many people. Most of the discussions I have with religious people involve other claims, such as the supposed inerrancy of the Bible or attempts to argue logically that the universe had to be created by a conscious mind.

            If a religious person is willing to accede that people with different religious beliefs are “experiences of the same universal god,” they probably are liberal enough to understand that atheists are sincerely following their own “path to god” without calling it “god,” and everyone then joins hands and sings Kumbayah. The more argumentative religious folks I run into, like “Frank Leyland” on this thread, are more of the mindset that anyone who disagrees with them is wrong and there can be no recognition whatsoever of the validity of anything other than their chosen denomination. This is someone who says that because I’m not Christian, I shouldn’t even be allowed to have an opinion on it.

  • Nathan
    August 3, 2015

    We live in an era of keyboard Christians. Most of whom spend 40+ hours of their week working, 30+ taking care of their kids, maybe 1-2 hours researching why they believe what they believe (mainly Fox News and Franklin Graham books), and 0 hours a week going into their cities and practicing what they preach.

    If we Christians were more open to admitting the flaws in our lifestyles, rather than seeking justification for every blatantly wrong step we take, the world would in turn open itself to the idea of grace being at the heart of who we are.

  • Frank Leyland
    August 4, 2015

    Jesus violently chased the money-changers out of the Temple frontage. He also said that should anyone harm any youngsters who believed, then they should be “…dropped in the deepest ocean with a millstone around their necks…”
    He was not ALWAYS forgiving.

    • Philip Mills
      August 4, 2015

      While Jesus may not always be forgiving, he’s called us to be.

      I heard a great sermon on the money-changers in the temple. The biggest point is that Jesus didn’t call his disciples to be a part of his judgment. didn’t say go and do like wise. This was a point in time where Jesus acted in the judge.

      We don’t get to be the judge so it’s a moot point when it comes to how we should act, other than to be aware that Jesus was most angered when we’ve created systems and processes that make it harder for people to worship him. Religion essentially, which is what the money-changers had been a part of creating. Pushing out the marginalized from their place of worship. So ruthless self reflection in our own communities about the barriers we create may be the best learning from both your stories mentioned. That or be aware that creating and enforcing an un-christ like system that causes people to stumble and be forced away form Christ does come with judgment at some point.

      • Frank Leyland
        August 4, 2015

        I would call your first paragraph “conjecture”.

        And what about the chidren and the millstones/deepest ocean for those who would harm
        them?

        • Philip Mills
          August 4, 2015

          It was just a different perspective to consider.
          When reading and studying the bible the consistent message of Christ is one of love for all, as well as grace and forgiveness for all who want it. I think Jesus is always willing to forgive, even pleads for those who don’t ask like he did on the cross.
          If you see Him as vengeful and looking to toss people into the ocean, you can find backing for that, but I don’t think it’s consistent with the teaching in the text (even those your quote) or character of Christ described in the text.
          But we probably won’t see eye to eye on this, and that’s ok. I see the teaching on the millstone as a warning about teaching and religiosity with a fair amount of hyperbole. It sounds as though you read it as a threat of what Christ will do to those people. Fair enough I suppose, I simply don’t see it, nor am I particular interested in being convinced that’s what it is.

      • George Washington, Jr.
        August 18, 2015

        It’s a valid question to ask why there were money-changers in the Temple in the first place. The reason is that people came from all over to offer sacrifices. Since the animal had to be “without blemish,” it was easier to buy a sacrificial animal in Jerusalem than to bring one from home and risk injuring it, so this necessitated money-changers to deal with the various forms of currency that different people had. And since the Temple was a large covered area, it made sense for the money-changers to be there, by the sacrificial animal sellers, priests, and everyone else involved in the process.

        In light of this, Jesus throwing the money-changers out of the temple makes no sense, since they were performing a valid religious function, and as a rabbi he would not necessarily have opposed this. So I suspect that this scene was added to the story later on, after the Christian Church had separated from Judaism, as a way of showing that Jesus was opposed to Jewish ritual, which people at the time would have understood from his disruption of a legitimate religious activity.

        Many Gospel stories have as their basis the attempt to separate Christianity from Judaism, for example, the Jews are blamed for Jesus’ death, even though the Romans carried it out, and of course Christianity would not exist without the crucifixion.

        • Philip Mills
          August 18, 2015

          I suppose the possibility exists that many parts of the story of Christ are add or never really happened at all. I think it would be hard to pick those out and make that type of delineation.

          If your interesting in some teaching that may explain the why of Jesus actions in the temple you can check out Bruxy Cavey’s Wrecking Religion series, sermon 1 http://www.themeetinghouse.com/teaching/archives/2013/wrecking-religion/

          I hesitate to paraphrase because I think I’d butcher it, but worth the listen if your interested.

  • Thomas
    August 4, 2015

    In light of the recent Planned Parenthood shenanigans, I’ve been in a back-and-forth with my brother-in-law over abortion. He’s the head of the local Right to Life organization and also the local CPAC, and he’s working with politicians to try to get abortion outlawed completely in our state. I’m challenging him to look at it from Jesus’s perspective and find different ways to help children and their frightened mothers.

    And one of the points I’m trying to make is that the questions are more important than the answers. You don’t ask a moral question once, answer it, and move on with moral certitude. You keep asking. You meditate on what it means to be a child of God, because once you stop asking, you stop growing.

    I’m making this point because it’s all too easy for people on BOTH sides to stop asking and stop growing. Those who have nothing but spite and venom for conservatives are just as bad as those who have nothing but spite and venom for the poor. I grew up distrusting immigrants. I grew up defining my faith by dogma and not by love. I grew up calling for war with Muslims. I was a pharisee of pharisees, and it’s only by the grace of God that I am what I am.

    If we can’t welcome legalists like Nicodemus the same way we welcome the needy, we’re still not living as Jesus lived.

  • corimallott
    August 4, 2015

    Yes! Yes! Yes!

  • Jeremy Olson
    August 4, 2015

    hmm..where did Jesus call non-believers good?

    • John Schaefer
      August 4, 2015

      Luke 10:29-37! See also John 4:4-26

      • John Schaefer
        August 4, 2015

        Also Luke 17:17-19

        • Jeremy Olson
          August 4, 2015

          Err…no. The take away from those verses and the parable are not that Jesus thought the non-believer was good. That wasn’t at all the point in any of those verses. He’s using these examples to make a spiritual point.

          • Tim
            August 5, 2015

            And that point was that the “foreigner” (outcast because of race, religion, whatever) often “gets” God better than those who should know better.

  • scott montgomery
    August 12, 2015

    Interesting article. While some valid points are made, I would argue that there are more than a few flaws here. First, A Christian belief presupposes an understanding of the Biblical narrative and Doctrine. Second, while it is true that “some” Christians do follow this “ballot” box mentality, we are called to have a Biblical standard of truth and worship. This involves understanding that we don’t accept everything as though Jesus just accepted everyone in whatever sin they were involved in. He was always about showing them a better way. Finally, as Christians, we are called to have a voice to the voice-less – see the unborn, the abused, the wanderer, etc. This sometimes means coming into conflict with governmental authority. Understanding the book of Romans allows us to live out this faith.

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