What does it mean to be a Christian? What things does one have to do or say or believe to be considered a Christian? How do we live that designation in the world? Faith or deeds? Do we need to prove our faith, or are we simply save by grace alone?
There are deep theological musings to be found in these questions and the rabbit holes they can take you down. For me, however, as someone going into ministry, and cultivating a public space to write about the Christian faith, I’m not interested in arcane theological debates centered on understandings of St. Paul and the Book of James. I want to know, how do you talk to the average Christian about what it means for them, in their daily life, to be a Christian. Do they just have to believe, or is there a way of life required? Do we have to evangelize and get people into “Right belief,” or invite them into a life of service.
Samantha Field, over at her blog, tackles these questions in here post “What Does It Take To Be a Christian?” I think her takeaway is a really great way of thinking about it all:
I can’t find the quote now, but a long time ago I read an analogy that I liked. Veganism isn’t about believing that people should follow a plant-based diet. Being vegan means actually eating a plant-based diet. If you say you believe we should only eat plants, but eat bacon every other day, you’re not actually a vegan and insisting that you are because of your “beliefs” is ridiculous. They went on to apply this example to Christianity: you can have any sort of “beliefs” about Jesus and God and the Bible, but if you fail to act like a Christian, then calling yourself a Christian because of your supposed intellectual positions is equally ridiculous.
I thought of that quote the other day when I got this comment, which I’ll quote from in part:
“I would have a lot more respect for you if you would just stop applying the Christian label to yourself. In every article you seem to revile the teachings of scripture. You don’t seem to hold a confident belief in any traditional Christian doctrine. I doubt you really believe the resurrection occurred or believe there is a personal God or afterlife. So why do you cling to the title Christian?”
He went on to accuse me of “infiltrating” Christianity so I can “destroy it” from the inside– honestly, it’s one of the more hilarious comments I’ve ever gotten, right along with being accused of sorcery. But, I get these sorts of comments and e-mails all the time, and they fit a spectrum of everything from frothing-at-the-mouth to concern trolling. I don’t seem to hold a confident belief in Christian doctrine, and to this sort of person that means I’m most definitely not a Christian.
The fact that I do my best to act like Jesus taught us to doesn’t make a lick of difference.