Who is Christian?
What does it mean to be a Christian? People have had a lot to say about this topic and there are actually a lot of different answers. It bothers me that so many people have been told by others that you are NOT a Christian unless your beliefs match up exactly with theirs. I myself have gone through periods where I felt as though I was not allowed to call myself a Christian. Why? Because I don't believe every word in the Bible is perfect and meant to be taken literally. Because I don't condemn homosexuality. Because I believe in evolution. Because I find a lot of value in other religions like Buddhism, and I don't believe you are going to hell if you are not a Christian. Some might say to me, okay, well if that's your stance, if you don't believe the Bible 100% and that Jesus died for your sins and rose supernaturally from the grave...then what makes you a Christian? I want to suggest a much simpler definition of who is Christian, at least in my view: Jesus taught people to love one another. He taught his disciples to live a life of compassion, kindness, forgiveness, justice, humility, hospitality, and servant leadership. He taught his followers to feed the hungry, heal the sick, and clothe the naked. Therefore I say that anyone who strives to live in this way is a Christian. Anyone who strives to live a life of love and compassion I welcome as a sibling in Christ. Even if that person has never opened a Bible or set foot in a church. This calls to mind the often quoted Bible verse when Jesus says "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6). Granted it could be that the author of John's Gospel intended this to be exclusionary, but there is another way to look at it. To quote author Roger Wosley: "Jesus is “the way, the truth, and the life,” and all who follow Jesus’ way, teachings, and example — the way of unconditional love, of radical hospitality, of loving-kindness, of compassion, of mercy, of prophetic speaking truth to power, the way of forgiveness, of reconciliation, and the pursuit of restorative justice – by whatever name, and even if they’ve never even heard of Jesus, are fellow brothers & sisters in Christ and his Way. To the extent that other world religions are about instilling, fostering, and nurturing those universal values – we see Christ in them." Some of the earliest Christians in history were known simply as the followers of The Way. Do you see? Perhaps in this verse Jesus is not saying that any particular idea or concept is the truth, but that his own life and example are the truth. There is a saying "The life you live is the lesson you teach." I think Jesus is saying something similar here. My way, the way of love and compassion, is THE way to live in order to find wholeness and happiness and God. Note that no one can have a monopoly on this way and claim it exclusively belongs to them. We all already know deep in our hearts that we were made for love. This is where we start to actually get in touch with the universality of the Christian way, not as a particular religious sect that has exclusive access to the truth, but as an expression of something that was true not only in Jesus but long before him, and that will continue to be true long after even we are gone. Even though Christians throughout history have done and continue to do some pretty horrible things, we all know that they are supposed to be loving. We know this because we are familiar with stories about Jesus and his way of love, healing, and forgiveness. Christians are supposed to be people who are kind, the type of people who stop and help when someone is broken down on the side of the road. The type of people who give without expecting anything in return, just because its the right thing to do. The type of people who don't seek revenge, but strive to make peace in the world. The type of people who also stand up for justice and stand with those who are oppressed and suffering in our society. When Jesus was asked what is the greatest commandment he said to love God and love your neighbor as yourself. "On these two commandments hang all the law and he prophets." (Matthew 22:40). Similarly when the ancient Jewish teacher Hillel was asked by a student to teach him the whole Torah while he stood on one leg he said "That which is hateful unto you do not do to your neighbor. This is the whole of the Torah, the rest is commentary. Go forth and study." Maybe if we, like Jesus and Hillel, focused on what was truly essential then we wouldn't get so lost in the commentary and get our priorities so screwed up. Yes, there are other things that come with Christianity, like the Bible and sacraments and tradition. Those things have their place, and in their own way they also are sacred and important. But I don't think those make you a Christian. In the Bible, one of the thieves that was crucified next to Jesus on the cross extended a few words of kindness and humility towards him. Jesus then tells him that today he will be in paradise with him. Just like that. No special prayers, beliefs, rituals, or classes were involved in order for him to belong in Jesus' eyes. In my view, to be a Christian is simply to strive to live in the Spirit of Christ, which is the Spirit of Love. All the rest is commentary.