What is ‘Being a Christian’?

Wikipedia Definition 

A Christian (meaning: Little Christ) is a person who adheres to Christianity, a monotheistic religion centered on the life and teachings of Jesus Christ as presented in the New Testament and interpreted by Christians to have been prophesied in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament.” 

From this definition – I would say I am a Christian. However, from reading mainline denominational statements and religious blogs – I would say I am an outsider – and from the black n white machine with problems in gray-scale – an unbeliever.  

Am I really a Christian? Who is a Christian? 

I have thought about this for some time now – my focus is not accepted into the mainstream faith, I don’t attend church, I question the culture of the church, I reject a lot in every denominational statement, I don’t believe in the Trinity, the bible does contain errors, I don’t try to cross compare many books from many authors, and I question the history of the church.

However – the church community is not the great moral place it considers itself to be. It is pushing forward ideals about God that are very problematic: 

  • Unconditional loving God whose full love is dependent on your decision
  • Focus on fear as an underlying motivator to remain faithful to God
  • Worship a 3 tier God we also call One (in direct breaking of the Shema) – We cannot break the commandments – excluding the 1st one
  • Faith that moves in a bi-polar fashion – highs of love to extreme lows in judgment (of both fellow believers & non-believers)
  • The rule of thumb is the best talker is the best Christian – taking the focus from a real world application onto better lyrics
  • Defining spirituality in terms of various aspects of the human and not the whole human experience (ie: church as a place of worship)
  • Ideas of exclusion/division that seek to both segregate the believer from others and produce feelings of religious superiority
  • A faith system that rejects the common notions of reason and testing via the human experience – so doctrinally nothing is open to alterations
  • Teachings on forgiveness, mercy, and responsibility that defend it’s limitations more than it’s full capacity
  • The ability to break it’s own teachings with scriptural justification
  • Inherent sin idea that has at it’s focus the repugnance of being human
  • Faith systems that have amalgamated powerfully with Western societies that separating faith and patriotism is becoming unattainable (and revealing cultural biases)

So where does this leave me? As it stands, I view the Christian faith as too conservative and quite ineffective in the maturity of society/communities – I would even say their current interpretations are now working against their growth and success. We need change (no more hypocrisy) and what’s more – we need a faith that is less talk and based off the human experience in interaction with the teachings.

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16 thoughts on “What is ‘Being a Christian’?

  1. A few notes. I hope you take them in an encouraging way.

    Unconditional loving God whose full love is dependent on your decision

    He’s loved you from before you were born. Why do you say His full love is conditional? Your “full love” of him didn’t bring you this far.

    Focus on fear as an underlying motivator to remain faithful to God

    On one hand, if you don’t fear God, He’s not real to you. On the other hand, everyone knows that when this is presented as a technique, it is disingenuous. I would never cheat on my wife because I love her, and because I love her I fear her. That is the right relationship. It’s a love thing…first.

    Worship a 3 tier God we also call One

    When John baptized Jesus, the HOLY SPIRIT descended like a dove onto CHRIST, and THE FATHER said, “This is my Son, in whom I am well-pleased”. That dynamic appears elsewhere in the New Testament. That is the Trinity.

    Faith that moves in a bi-polar fashion

    We miniscule, He’s infinite. We suck, He’s awesome.
    I agree with that. As Isaiah said when he had his first vision of Heaven, “I am ruined!” We should repeat those words loudly and often…..when we’re alone in prayer. But it would make for a cool church activity once in a while.

    I didn’t get your rule of thumb point. But church as a place of worship – church is part of the experience only. Following Christ is a way of life.

    Ideas of exclusion/division that seek to both segregate the believer from others and produce feelings of religious superiority.

    Church people are sinners too. Deal with them like anyone else.

    A faith system that rejects the common notions of reason and testing via the human experience

    Screw “faith systems”! Genesis 15:6 reads “Abram believed God, and God credited to Him as righteousness”. Abram had a real encounter with God and believed Him. As Jesus taught, let your Yes be Yes and your No be No. Doctrine is not whim, so it cannot be overcome by whims. That is common reason also, don’t forget.

    The next two need more explaining. Then you write Inherent sin idea that has at it’s focus the repugnance of being human.
    We’re repugnant. So, what else is new? That we are hopeless in our own sins is beyond debate.

    Faith systems that have amalgamated powerfully with Western societies that separating faith and patriotism is becoming unattainable (and revealing cultural biases).

    Human corruption. Yup, we are called to fight against it.

    Your summation is not new. In fact it is little different than the message Jesus brought.

  2. Then you write Inherent sin idea that has at it’s focus the repugnance of being human.
    We’re repugnant. So, what else is new? That we are hopeless in our own sins is beyond debate.

    Beyond debate? I would say not. I’m with Jason on this one. Each morning I pray, “The soul the You, my God, have given me is pure.” We are created betzelim Elohim, in God’s image. It is not forordained that I will automatically do wrong; my soul desires to do good and most of the time I do what is good. It is only when I choose to do wrong that I do wrong and even when that happens my natural inclination is still towards teshuva, repentance, doing right.

    God told Cain, ” Why are you distressed, and why is your face fallen? Surely, if you do right, there is uplift. But if you do not do right sin crouches at the door; its urge is towards you, yet you can be its master” (Genesis 4:6-7). Sins urge is towards us, our urge is not towards sin. I find it interesting that Cain ‘not doing right’ isn’t called sin. Not doing right only allowed sin to come right up to his door so that he could easily give way to it.

    So, Jim, although you may well be repugnant, your words, not mine, please don’t include the rest of us in that category! 🙂 We only are if we choose to be.

    I agree with Jason pretty much on all his points, but especially this one since it is a major difference between Judaism and Christianity. I just don’t get the value of telling people they’re bad all the time. Self-fulfilling prophecy comes into play too easily. Why not help people see the good in themselves and the world instead? God didn’t tell Cain that Cain was born a sinner and destined to sin. God told Cain that he, Cain, had a choice to make. Cain chose wrong, but it wasn’t inevitable that he would do so.

  3. God told Cain that he, Cain, had a choice to make.

    Yes, that’s true. I was comparing us to God. Without God, I am repugnant, but you are saying that God’s image still exists within me. I was quoting Isaiah and Isaiah was comparing himself to God.

    Jim – President – NRA – National Repugnance Ass.
    🙂

  4. “He’s loved you from before you were born. Why do you say His full love is conditional? Your “full love” of him didn’t bring you this far” (Jim)

    Honestly, I have no problem with an all loving God – I see God that way personally. My problem begins when doctrinally we do not have God’s full love until we accept the Christ – and this is a common thought within mainstream denominations. Cause if you think about the salvation calculation we are not accepted by God into heaven without the acceptance of Jesus.

    “On the other hand, everyone knows that when this is presented as a technique, it is disingenuous” (Jim)

    But it is always presented as a technique when hell as a doctrine exists – then I think we have no choice but to serve out of fear (on some deep ineer level). I like to think of having respect for God as a better interpretation of ‘fear’ – or that the idea of ‘fear’ find it’s balance within the idea of love – which you also pointed out.

    ““This is my Son, in whom I am well-pleased”. That dynamic appears elsewhere in the New Testament. That is the Trinity.” (Jim)

    It has been read that way a lot in history – the problem happens when we look at that exact sentence you wrote out – it makes 3 seperate people – God (voice), Spirit (as a dove), and Jesus (human) – how can you tell me they are ‘one’? Now, one in spirit/purpose – I woudl agree; But one whole person – well they appear as 3 seperate identites even in your example.

    “We miniscule, He’s infinite. We suck, He’s awesome” (Jim)

    Possibly – but that doesn’t address the problem our faith has with judgment – namely the right to judge others as an aspect of loving them. It always makes me laugh when someone tells me this line of thinking – I almost wonder – have they ever truly loved another person? If they have, judgment of them is the last thing on their mind.

    “Doctrine is not whim, so it cannot be overcome by whims. That is common reason also, don’t forget.” (Jim)

    Good counter point. Maybe it will take time for doctrine to change – and this cannot happen in such a small time frame.

    “We’re repugnant. So, what else is new? That we are hopeless in our own sins is beyond debate” (Jim)

    This one gets conflicting views biblically – depending where you look. I have a tough time seeing it all theologically as us being people who are so without beauty that we need God to supply us some – didn’t that happen at creation (even our births)? Now I know we all deal with sin – no problem there (that’s true) – but we are also good, worthwhile people or why would Jesus even so much as waste his breath both teaching us then sacrificing his life for us? Was not the very point of this faith that God loved us so much…Jesus died for us yet while we were sinners? Sounds to me like humans are of some precious value even prior to the atonement.

    “Your summation is not new. In fact it is little different than the message Jesus brought.” (Jim)

    That’s high praise Jim – I am not worthy of it – but I thank you for it.

  5. lol – Good post. Having studied (Reformed) Theology I can easily break down the flaws without feeling hypocritical. Having studied Psychology for 9 years I understand that people are just people. After much though my conclusion was that I could spend all my time defining and parsing and making list of rules and guidelines for being a believer OR I could just live. That is, live unconditionally, understanding no matter how screwed up of broken or flawed or wrong I am God loves me. There were just two positions, towards Him and away from Him. The rest was just smoke and mirrors. After all, we know that observing the path of a subatomic particle influences its path. that is not the same as influencing the universe. We are part of the process, we were not intended to try crowbar everyone else.

  6. Yes, that’s true. I was comparing us to God. Without God, I am repugnant, but you are saying that God’s image still exists within me. I was quoting Isaiah and Isaiah was comparing himself to God.

    Jim – President – NRA – National Repugnance Ass.

    Jim,
    You’d better put this NRA acronym up on your blog…I’m thinking of the reaction of some readers….too funny.

    Isaiah, huh….Another big difference in views I suppose. I usually take prophetic descriptions with a grain of salt. They had their mission and liked to deal in exaggeration and polemic in order to get attention. I liken it to when my kids have pushed me beyond the limit. They know I don’t really mean what I’m saying, but they also know they’d better shape up quick!

    And sometimes I find what God is supposed to have done repugnant, so I’m not going to say God is always right and I’m always the bad one in comparison. This was actually the focus of a very interesting discussion in my Jewish Ethics class one night: those times when we should not emulate God, those times when we have decided to take a higher road even than God took. I kind of like it when we can get in God’s face a bit, too. Relationships just shouldn’t be all one-sided if they’re going to be healthy. JMJO

  7. The idea of repugnance and humanity is tricky. I may be misunderstanding, but is this saying that humanity = repugnance? Can we even make a comparison between humanity and God? By sheer definition of the two words, the comparison is unequal.
    It’s like comparing dogs and trees. Of course one is going to fall short because humans aren’t Gods. We aren’t even created with the ability to be Gods, so why be told we’re unclean compared to God?

    The thing is, we are commanded by God to love one another. How do we love someone who is repugnant? How can God love us if we’re only repugnant? What’s the source of that love, then? Wouldn’t we have to keep telling ourselves, “I must love him because God said so.” The love then becomes a chore. Yet if we look for the beauty in people, wouldn’t the love be produced naturally?

  8. “After much though my conclusion was that I could spend all my time defining and parsing and making list of rules and guidelines for being a believer OR I could just live” (Flytrap)

    I think this is where I am also – maybe all the rules didn’t work and just made me question whether I follow God robotically or by virtue of love. I think there is a huge discourse to be had about this aspect of most churches – who develop a lot of rules for the faith – then if we fall out those doctrinal lines we are ‘wrong’. I am more along your lines – we just need to live and enjoy this life. God created us to enjoy this life – since this seems to be the purpose of living – and our faith can help guide us – but it should not entrap us.

    “I kind of like it when we can get in God’s face a bit, too. Relationships just shouldn’t be all one-sided if they’re going to be healthy” (Yael)

    Good point. I have mentioned this before that in Christian circles this is tantamount to blasphemy (questioning God so hard that He can be wrong). I think it is an interesting theology and I look forward to delving into it deeper.

    “The love then becomes a chore. Yet if we look for the beauty in people, wouldn’t the love be produced naturally?” (OSS)

    Honestly, this is a debate between adhering to doctrine and comparing that with reality – there seems to be some disconnect between the two. All one has to think about is how they love someone close to them (a child, family member, or spouse) and that idea of people born repugnant loses all of it’s basis in reality. At least this is what I have found.

    However, what I am truly getting at here is that someone’s theology does effect the way they will treat others. If someone believes in hell, the right to judge, or exclusivity – then they will also live accordingly – and I find once this is done then we will find a faith that walks away from its core values and basing them in a living reality. I think OSS has pointed out the problems with believing in hell and its effects on the psyche…but I would go further to say judgment is the same way and so is exclusivity. All of these doctrinal ideas play out in a reality that make good people act in not so good ways.

    EX 1: With judgment – we see Christians judging the world and the people around them – always pointing out wrongs in the other (because for some odd reason they do not have those wrongs). For some this turns into outright condemnation (which no Christian has a right to do) and sometimes it turns into religious self righteousness (by virtue – judging one somehow less than you will do this). Judgment as it works out in reality, based on certain theology, makes for horrible messes.

    EX 2: Exclusivity as an idea does have adverse effects in real living. Now a Christian person can believe they are following the only ‘true way’ but what soon happens is they develop rules as to why not associate with certain people (ie: the world). Some churches move themselves to the outskirts of cities, home-school their children, ignore community groups outside their own, etc. What one starts to find is they cannot even so much as be like their teacher (Jesus) – who hung around sinners and had no problems with that – because they fear being influenced by ‘the world’. In the end, this idea originally made monks – now it makes enclaves.

    So for me, the true debate is really about how theology impacts the way we move and interact in society – even what values we porttray…and I think Christianity has doctrine/dogma that is, at the least, 30+ years behind – and even might be centuries behind.

  9. OSS
    Recognizing our utter hopelessness without God is critical. Most people love others because they are similar; this is a narcissistic love. To love people because God created them in His image is a more difficult process.

    societyvs,
    “Judge not lest you be judged” means that the way you judge other people is the way that you will be judged. Do you condemn or humiliate others? If you do, you get Simon Cowell as your judge. If you don’t, you get Paula Abdul….or something like that. I’ve only watched American Idol once. I hope I got that right.

    Judgmental holier-than-thou Christians unwittingly chose that judgment for themselves. Don’t worry about them. Worry for them.

    Obviously my “repugnant” remark refers to God’s glory next to our miniscule value. My friend who has Lou Gehrig’s disease can’t bathe or feed himself. His wife does all that for him. That is true love. It’s not sexy or mutually benefical or a “two-way street”. It’s quite the one way street. You might even call it repugnant. That’s what the Via Dolorosa was like when Jesus walked it.

    It’s when we forget ourselves that we find Christ. And that is what it means to be a Christian.

  10. Society,

    The thing to possibly consider with theology is maybe the ‘you can’t earn salvation’ damages behavior, in a way. If you are told that how you behave doesn’t matter because you’ll never be good enough, and all you need is to ask forgiveness, doesn’t that relax the accountability someone might feel? Yeah, you’re suppose to behave good after salvation, but even if you mess up, you’re still forgiven so long as you repent. If you are a monster until three minutes before death, and then are born-again, you’re in heaven. There’s no accountability for your actions at all.

    Whereas if works do matter, if they are credited to you or used in evaluation … wouldn’t that call for more self-examination of one’s actions? Wouldn’t it make someone stop before doing something hurtful, and ask, “What’s the ramification of this and why?”

    Jim,

    **Recognizing our utter hopelessness without God is critical. **

    I’ve never found this a necessary step, because there’s nothing, period, without God. You don’t exist without God, you don’t love without God, you have no other images to love without God. There’s no chance to be hopeless, or on our own, because God’s everywhere. Jesus’ focus seemed to be more on “Relax, the love is universal” and less on, “First recognize your hopelessness.” When you love someone, you don’t make them realize they’re hopeless before you can do anything for them. You simply love them, regardless, and let that love pull them in.

  11. “You might even call it repugnant” (Jim)

    But I wouldn’t call that version of love repugnant because one is not getting some secondary form of satisfaction – I would simply call that what love is all about. I have a brother in a wheel-chair and I help him get around the odd time – i don’t do it because I get something beneficial back – I do it because I love him (and he has asked me to drive him). I don’t think that is repugnant – but admirable.

    “It’s when we forget ourselves that we find Christ. And that is what it means to be a Christian.” (Jim)

    I disagree – in shades. I think it is when we forget our intentions and values previous to learning about God that we find ‘the way’. We have to be willing to admit our flaws and how we thought was likely destructive and not life-giving – and in essence – selfish to the point of another’s demise (as long at it wasn’t us). The way to God is all about losing that selfishness or even re-directing it to the new focus ‘love your neighbor as you love yourself’ (hand in hand type thing).

    Whereas simply forgetting ourselves doesn’t do much – even can cause one a self image that is horrible – and I am not sure God admires that? Isn;t it once we notice we are created in God’s image that we start to build value in everything around us?

    “Whereas if works do matter, if they are credited to you or used in evaluation … wouldn’t that call for more self-examination of one’s actions? Wouldn’t it make someone stop before doing something hurtful, and ask, “What’s the ramification of this and why?”” (OSS)

    I look at that also and think the same way – life’s all about accountability and responsibility – even within ideas of the faith like repentance we see this (so this aspect is meant to be within theology). I am under the assumption what you do is what you are and there is no way around that – however – you can change who you are by learning and change your actions.

    If God holds me personally accountable for the way I treated others/my actions – I will respect that 100%. I don’t want to destroy others but build them up – and I make mistakes – but that’s where repentence and responsibility for my actions come in. I also need to make ‘things right that I make wrong’. I have a lifetime to do this and I understand the give and take of this all. What bothers me about Christian faith is this is usurped for the purpose of vicariously living on someone else’s merit. That bothers me to no end.

  12. Society,

    **Whereas simply forgetting ourselves doesn’t do much – even can cause one a self image that is horrible – and I am not sure God admires that?**

    You’re touching on this, but I think the ‘forgetting the self’ depends on how one defines self. What is ‘the self?’ That can’t only be a selfish person, or we’d cease. Does the ‘self’ contain God’s image? Is that what we forget? Maybe it’s losing the false self, and replacing it with the true self? Or maybe discovering the true self?

    **I am under the assumption what you do is what you are and there is no way around that – however – you can change who you are by learning and change your actions. **

    I’m like that, too. Actions and motivation are intwined. I don’t think this works for everyone, in that you can’t always use actions to determine motivation. For some people, who they are is that they’re a deceiver, and so what they do is always a lie.

    **What bothers me about Christian faith is this is usurped for the purpose of vicariously living on someone else’s merit. That bothers me to no end.**

    Hmm. Perhaps there’s a new spin the “I am the vine, you are the branches.” We don’t get absorbed or replaced by the vine. We sprout from the vine, and we produce the fruit. We’re connected to the vine, but the vine isn’t coming out of us, or seen in us.

  13. “Maybe it’s losing the false self, and replacing it with the true self? Or maybe discovering the true self?” (OSS)

    I think it is all about the correct placement of the ‘self’. If one admires themself too much they lose sight of the ‘other’ and replaces the need of the other with their own too much – to the point the other is a product of us and not themselves. I think the pattern is to recognize we are created in God’s image and defining what that means in real living and relationships. The whole idea of ‘know thyself’ is important – but even that has to be bounced off something.

    As for the vicarious living thing – I think this is an aspect to the gospels that has been added in. Jesus may be the atonement but that does not mean we do not get involved in the freedom afterwards – comparing it to Moses and the freedom march from Egypt – which went to a new land (Canaan). Jesus as the motif for the same event – he plays the lamb and figurehead in this story – we follow him to a new land (something called the kingdom of heaven). At least, I think Matthew wrote like this.

    But vicarious living (living off someone else’s merits) is not something we admire in society yet in Christianity it’s seen as a virtue. Now I may be wrong but I don’t think this was the message Jesus was giving us in the gospels – not with how much teaching is being done on such things like responsibility, forgiveness, mercy, integrity, value building, etc. It seems to me Jesus is asking we be participants in the change.

  14. societyvs
    Here’s my response to your response from my site.
    What you describe as forgetting ourselves is exactly what I meant by it. And the world is who finds agape love repugnant.

    OSS
    I like your understanding of this issue. Good points.
    “Maybe it’s losing the false self, and replacing it with the true self? Or maybe discovering the true self?” Exactly.
    I recommend Thomas Merton’s writings on the self, particularly “Opening the Bible” and “Merton’s Palace of Nowhere”. Some folks don’t like his theology (or don’t understand it perhaps) but I think his work in the area of the self was spot on.

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