Sunday, December 28, 2008

What is a Christian?

What is Christianity and what is a Christian. Those questions seem so easy, so time tested and so well defined two thousand years removed from the life and death of the Author and Founder of our faith. But there is much disagreement, and in fact rancor, concerning the answer to those two basic questions which should by now be settled but in reality continue to have a widening cross section of definitions. Let us examine the issues that surround what is Christianity and what is a Christian.

What is Christianity? That question must be answered fully within the context of who is Jesus of Nazareth. The exclusive source of authoritative information on this question comes only from the written Scriptures we call the “Bible”. All other supposed references are counterfeit and should not be given any weight, except those that add support to the Scriptures themselves. The postulate is this: If Jesus was God in the flesh and was sent to provide salvation for sinners, but He did not leave a clear and well articulated revelation concerning Himself and His mission, then how productive can it be to those who are in need of His redemption? The answer, of course, is that He did both – He came to die for the forgiveness of sins and offer eternal life, and He indeed left a written revelation of Who He was and what He did.

So a Christian is a sinner who has believed that Jesus was the Son of God, died on the cross for the forgiveness of sins, and rose from the dead. This sinner has embraced by faith Christ Himself as His only redemption and has decided to follow Him in his life. Christianity is the true collection of these believers and not the visual, organized, and labeled denominations which can contain a mixture of outward professors and true believers. Only God can accurately discern that important difference.

There is much debate on what outward manifestations, both in quality and in quantity, substantiate and give the assurance that a sinner who speaks words of faith is actually born again into Jesus Christ. There is also vigorous debate on what a person has to believe to be considered a genuine follower of Jesus Christ. These two main issues continue to divide the community of believers to varying degrees, ranging from friendly disagreement to fierce rancor and judgment.

Now many draw certain doctrinal lines in unmistakable detail while others seem to have vague and uncertain lines. There are arguments about the role of repentance, the immediacy of conversion, baptism, church membership, predestination, tongues, and a laundry list of other issues both core and subordinate. There are certain issues that most evangelical believers feel are absolute and without room for compromise which include the deity of Christ, the substitutionary core of the cross, the bodily resurrection, and even the authority of the Scriptures. And these issues define Christianity at its foundation since a person can be profoundly committed to a caricature of Christ and not the revelation of Jesus of Nazareth. Truth is important, and levels of compromise usually breed more dangerous levels of compromise which can eventually lead to complete falsehoods.

The purpose of my article will begin to unfold at this point since I will not be dealing extensively with these articles of faith but of the life which projects and obeys Christ and His Word. The general understanding of how a Christian reflects Christ, separate from verbally sharing the gospel, centers on love, forgiveness, kindness, and other similar attributes within that same interactive genre. There are many unbelievers who exhibit such generous traits among the community of humankind, so it becomes more difficult to distinguish a gracious believer from a gracious unbeliever. But is should be expected, even assumed, that a genuine follower of Jesus Christ would live a life of graciousness, love, and impartial and universal hospitality. And to be fair, all of us fall embarrassingly short of that goal but some have become blind to that goal in and of itself. And that is the centerpiece of this post.

How can we as committed Christians, dedicated to following and emulating the example of the Incarnate Master Himself, roam about the community called humanity with an arrogance and erudite dismissiveness that does not reflect the essence of Christ’s life, to say nothing of Christ’s cross? The hollowness of ungracious and disrespectful words only create the echo of an unspoken paradox that not only is incongruous to our faith, but is indeed counter- productive to Christ’s overall mission and profoundly misrepresents the Redeemer Himself.

I have disavowed the arena of politics for many reasons, however one good reason is the lack of respect and graciousness the candidates afford each other. Throughout the primaries there are lies, innuendos, malice, rancor, gossip, character assassination, personal attack adds, and many times an obvious display of distaste among the different players, only to be externally swept under the carpet after the nominee is chosen, and the viewing public is supposed to accept the mirage that they have always had a deep affection for each other. It is that kind of disingenuous metamorphosis that has led many to define politics as only a platform for self aggrandizement and permeated by manipulation without much real substance or truth.

But the body of believers known as the church should not mirror that political mess. How can we tell the world we love each other when many times discourse is filled with rancor and attacks and with an obvious lack of respect for the other? And when people read Christian blogs that contain malice, wounding sarcasm, self righteousness, and a stream of demeaning rhetoric that leaves the issue and attaches itself to a human host with the intention of draining the God given life out of them, are we not mirroring the political process and calling it “Christian”? No one who engages in such behavior can claim to be doctrinally pure or Biblically faithful since the Scriptures are replete with admonitions of humility, grace, mercy, and the cornerstone – love.

There are these days many doctrinal truths that are being questioned and even dismantled, but in the midst of all of that there are other, more unrecognizable and clandestine truths that are being abrogated and dismantled. These are the core issues of Christlikeness that extend far beyond the average systematic theology library, these are the actual issues of the very life of Jesus Christ being translated through the prism of a believers life. It is surely not enough to pass a theology test and claim that in and of itself showcases the Savior in our lives, because the dark and unregenerate world knows nothing of Biblical theology, but just as the thief on the cross recognized, the world understands love, forgiveness, and supreme humble sacrifice for others.

The church continues to fracture concerning God’s Truth, however we who hold to the core elements of that truth must not ignore other truths as a way of substantiating our faithfulness to these selected and foundational truths. Like the builder who establishes a concrete and sure foundation for his house, but then proceeds to build upon it with paper mache, so are we if we align ourselves with the foundational truths of Christ and His redemption and then present them upon a platform of smugness, personal rancor, and an ambiance of self righteousness. In many ways that suggests that God’s truth needs our help and without the addition of our oratorical malice that truth lacks the power it needs.

“Speak the truth in love” is our command, and these backyard blog brawls must be rejected even when the truth that is promulgated is pure. The finest steak covered in arsenic sauce must not be eaten and arsenic covered by steak must similarly be avoided. As a follower and representative of Jesus the Christ our mission is to both spread the gospel of Jesus Christ and live the life of Jesus Christ as well. Both are not only partners, they must be Siamese twins, each completely dependent on the other for life.

Let us be ambassadors for Jesus Christ in word and in deed, to His eternal glory.