What Is A Christian? Pt.1

On my fifth birthday I went to McDonalds, and in the midst of my wonderful Happy Meal and playground experience, I also had an experience where I prayed a prayer asking God into my life. Some people might say that was the day I was “saved,” the day I became a Christian. Nineteen years later, I am still asking, what does it mean to be a Christian?

I heard Stanley Hauerwas once say that it upsets him how many Christians make up Christianity as they go. They create their own version of Christianity. To quote Augustine, “If you believe what you like in the gospels, and reject what you don’t like, it is not the gospel you believe, but yourself.” Jesus makes quite clear in the Gospels that the mark of a follower of his is the way that person’s love. So, I am haunted by the question that Augustine poses in his Confessions of, “What do I love when I love my God?” To love God requires both an existential receiving and a personal response. This is the call to faith in God.

Jurgen Moltmann says in his Experiences of God, “What I accept in faith as being certainly true for myself, I accept perceptively in its own truth. What applies to me in faith, exists quite apart from me in what I perceive. In faith I relate God to myself. In what I perceive I relate myself to God. So in the interplay between faith and perception, truth is assured and assurance is true. This means that the question why I am a Christian requires an answer that is subjective and objective at the same time.”

So what is the journey of a Christian? The journey to God is something that is both received and reproduced. It is a matter of seeking and being found. It is of knowing and of being known. It is the call to die so that we may finally truly live. It is a call to deep stillness, and yet one that is calling us to the reconciling story of God. It seems to me, its receiving and living the life of God.

What does that look like to you?

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19 thoughts on “What Is A Christian? Pt.1

  1. Will Rochow says:

    I like the way Oswald Chambers put it. He said, “When we become advocates of a creed, something dies; we do not believe God, we only believe our belief about Him.” (My Utmost For His Highest; April 29). Blessings 🙂

  2. I USED to think that to be a Christian you needed to believe the creeds and go to church every Sunday. But as I started to really get into the Gospel ACCORDING To Mark, things changed. I started to understand that we are limited in our scope of God when we just believe something to be true. Jesus proclaimed “The Kingdom of God/Heaven” to be at hand. I didn’t find that in any creed in any church that I ever attended. My awareness of God changed after that. And I’m not part of an institutional church at this time because of the views I have.

    Life within God is not about creeds. To be honest, I have no way to put into words right now how I am with God. I just know that I am.

  3. I think I’ve been considering this as well. So many will recite the creeds or doctrines and dogmas that they derive from the biblical texts and tell us that this is what it means to be a Christian. A list of don’ts with maybe a do thrown in here and there. But isn’t this Phariseeism? All of our doctrinal statements and interpretations fail and become false when we insist that they are the only. This because God cannot be contained in any of our propositions. So, can being a Christian be contained in propositional statements?

    Jesus tells us people will recognize us as His followers by our love. Our love of one another, the other, and God. And that by loving one another and the other we are loving God. Does this love define what it is to be a Christian? Is the evidence that we are the definition?

    Maybe this question really has no concrete answer.

    • Mike Friesen says:

      I think that a question with such a broad and unique history can have a hard concrete answer to arrive at. What has following him brought you to? Maybe in practice but also maybe in indoctrination.

      • I had to come to the end of reason to begin my journey with Him. I think I am coming to the end of knowledge and moving into the sphere of experience. Kind of like the mystics of old, e.g., St. Gregory of Nyssa & St. John of the Cross. And I’m not exactly sure what I mean by this, it’s kind of an evanescent type thing–when I try to look directly at it it fades.

        Practically what I have is love. Not from others as much as for others. I find solidarity with the marginalized, disenfranchised, the outcast. Solidarity with those who suffer oppression from the hierarchical power structures, those who have been hurt by these.Yet I still have love and grace for those who oppress and hurt, who hate and exclude.

      • Mike Friesen says:

        Paul, it seems like you have put the social and the personal together so well by your confession. Do you see an interplay between these two?

      • I think I do see a connection.
        “Holy solitaries’ is a phrase no more consistent with the Gospel than holy adulterers. The Gospel of Christ knows no religion but social; no holiness, but social holiness.”
        — John Wesley

        Wesley isn’t necessarily talking about social justice, but about community. We are created as relational beings and to live for me alone is to deny this. I am learning to reject the post-Enlightenment notion of individualism. I am no longer sure of a line of demarcation betwixt me and the other. We share collective experience one with the other. If my fellow is in bondage, I am in bondage too. One cannot be truly free if there are any who are in bondage. We are interdependent, social.

        I look for authentic community in a society so thoroughly Modern and individualistic that it has forgotten what community is. I can either accept the worldly ideal of the individual or reject it for what I see as the more biblical community. I choose the latter. I try to think of others as greater than myself. Of course I fail miserably most of the time, I am a child of the Modern Age.

  4. daph says:

    Perhaps to avoid the danger of throwing the baby out with the bathwater, we can say that creeds can be helpful mnemonic tools that help people in professing their faith, reinstating what they know to be true as they say it. Especially when creeds came about during times when people were largely illiterate.

    Being a Christian means shedding off the ‘surrender/sacrifice’ mentality to embrace this treasure in the hidden field. Huge challenge! If I read it right, Jesus is saying that it is perfectly logical to abandon all for him, though it would appear stupid or crazy to those who don’t know that there is treasure in the field.

    • Mike Friesen says:

      That’s a great point Daph. There are many creeds, prayers, and practices that can be abused over time. Yet, there are many people who hold things like the Nicene Creed as their foundation to their beliefs. We could risk throwing out several Church traditions with this. What treasures have you found in creeds or practices?

      • Daphne Tan says:

        I don’t have any creeds, maybe Galatians 2:20 would be the closest for me. On a sidenote: interesting that Paul includes what seems like a creed/profession of the early church in 1 Cor. 15.
        As for spiritual practices that I’m involved with, some that I can think of: daily Quiet Time, praying when a specific topic/person comes to mind, and meeting with my community every week. I hold on to these because they help me obey God, either the command to continue meeting together to live community life, or individually.

    • I believe that the creeds are beneficial. I believe proper interpretations (arising from proper exegesis and stating bias) are beneficial and as important as they are inevitable. Yet they all fail. There is this tension we live in. Maybe the trick is not to hold them too tightly, too rigidly? Recognize their limitations while still being guided by them?

      • Mike Friesen says:

        ‘The spiritual life is a long and often arduous search for what you’ve already found… If you would fully own the treasure (of God’s love), you must go sell everything you own, and then come back and buy the field. Only when you let go of everything else can the treasure be completely yours.’- Henri Nouwen

      • Love the Henri Nouwen quote

      • Daphne Tan says:

        Agreed. Nothing should be our idol – neither certain methods or spiritual exercises nor our healthy skepticism of it. Easier said than done, but absolutely possible with Jesus. Terribly great news!
        “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life…” 2 Pet. 1:3

  5. Adam Mearse says:

    I almost hate to even start answering this question, because of the introspection and self-examination required once you open that door. For that reason (and the 500 reasons on my to-do list), all I can offer now are some cursory thoughts that spring to mind. First, as many of already pointed out, defining God, Christ, christianity, etc. is difficult because we are so apt to create a composite (C.S. Lewis’ term) of these things and call them by that name. It is impossible to get all the way out of our own minds, thus speaking objectively is not really possible.
    I don’t want this turn into some philosophical, esoteric discussion (even in my own head) though – christianity is, at its core, about life on the ground. To be Christian implies living Christianly even more than believing Christianly. The “right beliefs” are formed much more readily by living out the example of Jesus than the “right life” is by understanding theology of Jesus. So, at its core, whatever Christianity is (at some level always a subjective reality), it is lived. It pervades and affects all of life, hoping to provide some kind of representation of Jesus himself to the world we live in.
    One last thought – this kind of discussion points me to the sovereign wisdom of God in providing for Scripture’s existence. I will never get fully out of my own head, but I know that the Spirit has spoken via Scripture and continues to speak to me through it and in that process is constantly refining my definitions of God, Christ, christianity, etc.
    Thanks for the challenging question, Mike! And thank you to all those that have commented for your wisdom as well. Grace and peace.

  6. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately because a very close friend recently told me they no longer believe. I am so sensitive to the feelings and emotions of others, I had to ask myself (and still do), “DO I believe?”

    My beliefs haven’t changed in the last few years. I still think it is good to read your Bible regularly, and because you want to, not because you have to, and that it brings you closer to God. But I haven’t read it regularly in years, and haven’t picked it up in months.

    I believe that the community at church is where you are supposed to worship God, share all you have, break bread, and spread the word/minster to the community (individually as well, but doing so as a part of the body is a must). But I haven’t been to church the handful of times I could’ve made it this summer because I didn’t want to. I don’t know when I’ll go back.

    And I’m filled with anger, have lost relationships over hurts and developed bitterness. I don’t think there is much in my life I would say is different than a non-Christian’s.

    Yet I’d still say God is good, and God is all powerful, and you can only be saved by believing what Jesus did on the cross and I believe!

    But am I saved? There is no fruit.

    I suspect the definition of a Christian – at least the only one with eternal, weighty significance – is one who is saved.

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