Friday, July 28, 2006

Definitions

An ad I heard on the radio (for a Christian dating service, no less) got me thinking about the question: What does it mean to be a Christian? It's one of those things that's easy to take for granted, yet the term "Christian" has to mean something - certainly something more than being an American who occasionally darkens the doors of a church or having a vaguely-defined belief in some sort of higher power.

On the other hand, Christians have fought among themselves repeatedly over that definition, sometimes to the point of killing each other - and that doesn't seem right either. Some groups go so far as to declare that anyone who doesn't attend one of their churches and hold exactly to their interpretation of every last verse in the Bible is going to hell. If God really is that capricious and nitpicky, he sure did a poor job of communicating that given the Bible's incessant talk about love.

And, ultimately, only God is in a position to say for certain who his true followers are. I tend to suspect that heaven isn't going to be as sparsely populated as a lot of Christians seem to anticipate - in fact, some of the more dogmatic types may find themselves reevaluating whether they really want to stay in heaven when it means spending eternity with some of the individuals they spent a lifetime looking down upon. But I digress.

First and foremost, a Christian is a follower of Christ. Of course, that takes us back to our original problem of defining what it means to follow Christ, but certainly it involves striving to follow his example. Christ cared deeply for the poor, the sick, the outcast, the sinner and so on. He spent a lot of time talking about caring for "the least of these," and a lot more time putting that talk into action. In that regard I haven't always been a very good follower of Christ, but I'm trying to change that.

A few things that don't automatically make a person a Christian, despite popular perception:

-It's not about how often a person goes to church, though being in community with other followers of Christ is important to one's spiritual life.

-It's not about how well a person follows a list of rules, though a commitment to loving God and loving others will inevitably involve curtailing certain behaviors.

-It's not about having all the right theological positions, though one will have a hard time being a follower of Christ if they don't know who he is.

-It's certainly not about a political agenda or any set of cultural trappings, though one might get a very different impression from a lot of churches.

For my part, I can affirm the doctrinal positions articulated in the Nicene and Apostles' creeds. Beyond that short list of essentials, I see significant room for disagreement on any and every other issue of doctrine. It seems to me that the church would be a much healthier place if everyone truly lived by the following guideline:

In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.

It sounds simple enough, but I'm not holding my breath for the day when the church actually takes it seriously.

3 comments:

Liadan said...

I think the sticking point is in what many people define as essentials. I know more than a few people who would refuse to worship with "unrepentant sinners," by which they mean unapologetically gay believers.

CrackerLilo said...

I don't know how a Christian dating service would work, but I bet you couldn't use it to find the man of your dreams. Or a whole lot of other things.

E said...

Liadan,

Yes, that is part of the problem - a lot of people (including some who would deny being legalists) have come to equate their faith with a list of dos and don'ts. Of course it helps that, for most of them, homosexuality isn't their 'sin,' but that's another discussion entirely.

Lilo,

No, I definitely won't be finding a boyfriend through that service anytime soon. It was the ad's mention that one of their interview questions is "what does being a Christian mean to you" that caught my attention.