By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.
I John 4:20
Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
I John 4:11
It makes no sense to take the name of Christian and not cling to Christ. Jesus is not some magic charm to wear like a piece of jewelry we think will give us good luck. He is the Lord. His name is to be written on our hearts in such a powerful way that it creates within us a profound experience of His peace and a heart that is filled with His praise.
Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than going to a garage makes you an automobile.
I keep seeing a billboard that reads: Real Christians Follow Jesus’ Teaching. I’m taken with the phrase and wonder who sponsored the ad. I also wonder whether the sponsors would think I was a real Christian.
I’ve had a couple opportunities to think about this lately. The candidacy of Mayor Pete Buttigieg has raised the issue of what makes a real Christian. One commentator (Erick Erickson) who I’m guessing won’t vote for the mayor, has questioned the mayor’s faith, especially his reading of the Bible. The commentator notes that because Mayor Pete is an Episcopalian, he might not actually “understand Christianity more than superficially. Episcopalians are shallow Christians.”
Mr. Erickson may be right as I look at my own heart, and am struck by the depth of my own shallowness. But it’s been my privilege to know so many Episcopalians who know God and follow Jesus and are filled with the Spirit. I wish Mr. Erickson could know them.
Looking at the question from another angle, I recall conversations with one woman who responded to the RenewalWorks inventory. She bristled at some of the questions and said she preferred to “self-identify” as Episcopalian, not Christian. A part of me gets her point because the association with Christians in our culture is pretty grim. When people outside the church looked at the church in the first days, they said “See how they love one another.” Now, surveys indicate that people might say “See what hypocrites they are. See how judgmental they are. See how they fight with each other. See how they are captive of a particular political agenda.” Anyone who has hung around church for a while, and especially anyone who has gotten involved in sausage-making governance can probably provide examples.
At the same time, my own experience of the Episcopal Church is that it offers me an authentic way to be a follower of Jesus, for which I believe I will be eternally grateful. My journey to the Episcopal Church was personally salvific.
So what’s a follower of Jesus to do? For starters, remember that Jesus nowhere uses the term “Christian.” His first followers who met in small communities described themselves as people of the way. I suspect we’d all be better off if we’d stuck with that name. Jesus said to his disciples “By this shall people know that you are my disciples if you have love one for another.” Not by your doctrine or your stand on social issues or the name of your group or how you do liturgy or the way your interpret scripture.
Jesus’ own ministry was marked by harsh judgment primarily directed at religious people. He said “Not everyone who says “Lord, Lord” will enter the kingdom of heaven.” He told the parable of sheep and goats (Matthew 25) and said that those who welcomed the poor, the hungry, the imprisoned would inherit the kingdom. Those who ignored those in need would be excluded.
Finally, Jesus seemed pretty expansive in his understanding of who lies within the range of God’s grace. A Syro-phoenician woman, who apparently expanded Jesus’ vision of his own ministry. The Samaritan woman at the well, who engaged Jesus on the subject of worship. A Roman Centurion who Jesus described as having more faith than anyone he’d met in Israel. A child who understood what the kingdom of heaven is all about when adults were dense. You get the point.
In current discourse about who is a real Christian, columnist Cal Thomas (see column on April 8) denied that Christianity was inclusive. He said Christianity is about exclusion for those who refuse its central message of repentance and conversion. I think he’s doing what we all do, reading scripture selectively, reading it in a way that serves our own purpose and, in this case, is anything but good news.
Which leads to this insight which Jesus gives: Why get all worked up about the speck in somebody else’s eye when you’ve got a honking timber going through your own? When as a kid I was scrapping with my siblings, my grandmother would say: “Take heed to yourself,” which is somewhere in the Bible. Not a bad word for all of us who wonder who is a real Christian. Maybe we don’t need to worry about that. Maybe we should let God worry about that. While God is sorting that out, maybe we can direct our energy elsewhere, like figuring out what we should do to live into Jesus’ call: “By this shall all people know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another.” We all have some growth edges there.
Our church would be in much better shape if that became our singular focus.
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.
SAVE THE DATE
Leading for Discipleship:
A conference especially for those
who have worked with RenewalWorks
Sept. 30-Oct. 2
Registration and more info coming soon!