I’ve been writing lately about what I see as the problem with the liberal/mainline/progressive church. I’ve talked about Liberal Vs. Progressive, why we’re not growing, and said that I think Mark Driscoll is right. Then I shifted a bit and raised the question “Why Christianity?” and offered my reasons as to “Why I Am A Christian.”. My next question was about a “Salvation Moment” and my answer. I want to continue in that vein of raising a question and then offering my answer on a variety of different topics. I’m not trying to provide definitive answers, but rather to raise what I see as the provocative and/or essential questions that the church needs to be able to have answer for (even if that answer is to say that this isn’t an idea we need).
I know this question is a dicey one. It’s one that I went back and forth on asking. In the end I am deciding to ask it in spite of it’s complicated nature. As a queer person I have often had people tell me that I can’t possibly be a Christian so I know how these questions are used to berate and belittle people. I know how the question sounds. It sounds like I am trying to draw clear boundaries around who is in and who is out. That’s not why I am raising the question.
In the tradition I grew up in, there were clear guidelines about how a Christian was supposed to look and act: no drinking (or at the very least no drunkenness), no swearing, no smoking, no pre-marital sex. In order to be a good Christian you needed to be a part of a “Bible-believing” church and attend regularly. You needed to spend time in the Bible daily and be sharing your faith with others.
I think a lot of us are familiar with that tradition. We are also familiar with the ways failing to live up to those standards caused heartache and pain. I know I suffered for years with thinking that I wasn’t good enough and that God couldn’t possibly love me because I kept screwing up. I am not interested in creating a new checklist of things one needs to do to be a “good Christian” but I do think it’s important that we raise the question of what it means to follow in the way of Jesus. I have long been of the mind that anyone who wants to claim the term “Christian” should be able to claim it for themselves, but I think that in the mainline/liberal/progressive tradition we have watered down the term “Christian” so much that now it doesn’t mean anything as far as behaviour goes. We have abandoned the checklist (which is a good thing), but there isn’t anything in its place except a general sense of “be nice” and “do good things”.
I should state that I don’t believe in eternal damnation, so when I raise this question I am not asking who gets to claim salvation or who gets to go to Heaven.
But shouldn’t those who claim to follow in the way of Jesus look different than the world around them? Shouldn’t they have different values, different allegiances? And if so, what does that look like? What does it mean to take the Jesus story and the Gospel message seriously? What does it look like to live into and work for the Kingdom of God?
Are there certain practices that we should be encouraging in Christians both on the corporate and personal level? Daily prayer, Scripture reading, being a part of a community of faith (whatever that looks like), working in the community?
If someone were to come to you and say, “How is being a Christian different than just being a good person?” what would your answer be? Are there certain behaviours that are definitely incongruent with following in the way of Jesus, and if so, what are they?
Tricky questions, I know. I’ll give my answer in post tomorrow. I would love to hear your take on whether or not you find these questions helpful and if so, what your responses are.