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Is Christianity about Christian behavior or is it about Christ?

It's time to juxtapose.

First, let's go to Mike at Waving Or Drowning:

I've just cherry-picked this Kierkegaard quote from my South African brother Tom Smith's post In so many ways (literally) I'm not a Christ follower ...but. Read Tom's entire post when you have a moment, but this quote is an absolute killer:

When we see someone holding an axe wrong and chopping in such a way that he hits everything but the block of firewood, we do not say, "What a wrong way for the woodcutter to go about it," but we say, "That man is not a woodcutter." Now for the application. When we see thousands and thousands and millions of Christians whose lives do not resemble in the remotest way what - and this is decisive - the New Testament calls a Christian. Is it not tampering with the meaning to talk as one does in no other situation and say: "what a mediocre way, what a thoroughly inexpressive way these Christians have." In any other situation would one not say, "These people are not Christians." Now be earnest about it and say: We are not Christians. Let this become ordinary language usage and you will have a world-transformation."

The gist seems clear.  Because we're not behaving in ways deemed appropriate, we should refrain from calling ourselves Christian.  Doing so hurts the cause and purpose of Christianity and might instead be cause for pause for those wanting to become Christian themselves.  The conclusion it seems would center on the notion that the spread of Christianity, and more particularly the transformation it brings, is dependent upon the behavior engaged in by the adherents of the faith.  That seems to not only be a complicated thing but quite the burden to put on the faithful.

Thankfully, there are those like C. Michael Patton to clear things up for us:

God did not confine the validation of his message to the character witness of sinners. If he did, we are all in trouble. Why? Because your character is grossly lacking. The character of the Christian community is weak at best. The character of Christian leaders is shaky and brittle. The history of the church, no matter what tradition, does not always have a pretty track record.

I often tell people not to look to me for confirmation of their Christian belief. This is important. If, for some reason, I was to renounce my faith, leave my wife and family, and take up the banner of atheism, I am certain that many people would be discouraged. Rightly so. My students would ponder how this could be seeing as how I seemed so convinced of the truthfulness of Christianity before. They would be discouraged and many would be disillusioned. But even if I were to renounce the faith, this is no real reason for anyone to give a second thought to whether Christianity is true or not. Christianity is not based upon my character. While the spread of the Gospel is somewhat dependant on Christians (as God has made it so), it's veracity is not dependent on the faithfulness of its followers.

Many people refer to this passage in support of such a view:

John 13:34-35 "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another."

The idea would be that so long as we love one another, then Christianity is validated. Therefore, we should not do theology or apologetics, but just set an example and Christianity will be evidence through our character. As much as I appreciate the desire for Christians to act like Christians, this is a dangerous misunderstanding of this passage. It places the validation of Christianity upon our character witness. But the passage does not suppose the truthfulness of Christianity is dependent on our character. It does, however, suppose the truthfulness of our Christian confession is dependent on our character. If we don't love one another, it does not make Christianity any less true. It only makes our profession to be Christian less true. Likewise, if we do love one another, Christianity is no truer than before.

Christianity is based solely on the historic person and work of Christ.

That last statement seems to me to be the essence of grace, the definition of gospel, the central message Christians should be promoting.

We as believers are bombarded, more obviously by those on the conservative end of the spectrum but as often only more subtly by progressives, with messages defining for us how we're to live and how we're to behave and how all of it will define who we are as Christians.  Those messages are usually then followed with calls to behave in particular ways and to understand how that behavior will bring a better society.

Makes Christianity rather narcissistic I think.  Makes us all believe with confidence that it's all about us.  That we're the ones we've been waiting for.  That only by our behavior can we bring hope and change.

It's religious bovine fecal matter.  Actually... I think it's worse than that.  It's a false gospel.

Let's finish with more of Mr. Patton's thoughts:

"Christianity is true if Christ rose from the dead. If he did not, it is false. That is it." It does not matter how Christians respond to the conflict in Palestine, Iraq, or any other place. It does not depend on whether you are nice to your neighbor or a murderer. It does not depend on whether all Christians are unified or divided. It does not hinge on your character or mine. It does not even depend on our perseverance in the faith. Its truthfulness is solely a matter of history. Is Christ who he said he was?

Paul tells the Corinthians,"If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain" (1 Cor. 15:14). Notice he did not say "If you Corinthians don't promote peace and justice and be nice to one another, then our faith is in vain." Its about what Christ did, not what you do. It is about the incarnation. While our character might make Christianity more attractive, our character does not have a vote in truth. It is about history first, the rest will follow.

We need to be reminded of this as our country is increasingly becoming  "post-Christian." If we ever give the impression that Christianity is validated by our character witness, God forgive us for misleading so many. We are poor, weak, and broken, but the foundation of Christianity--the historic God-man Jesus Christ--is forever strong.

Can I get an amen?

Crossposted at Brutally Honest.


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Comments (28)

I'll pass Rick. Mom said n... (Below threshold)

I'll pass Rick. Mom said never to discuss religion, politics or finance at the table. Easy to see why. More have been killed under the banner of religion than ever tasted the same from the banner holders of gold or politics (well politics is a close second thanks to Uncle Joe and Mao) - which is why it scares the crap out of me when our 'intellectual elite' want to "be like China for a day".

I hesitated initially in po... (Below threshold)

I hesitated initially in posting this here... then decided, what the heck...

Passing on commenting is an obvious choice, and apparently one being chosen by most given the silence thus far...

It's fascinating how these things shut people down...

It is written Satan has dec... (Below threshold)

It is written Satan has deceived the whole world until the heel of time when a woman shall bruise him by exposing his lies Gen 3:15 check out the bruising of Satan and the true love of God for all at
Read all the posts to see the whole picture, val

"It's fascinating how these... (Below threshold)

"It's fascinating how these things shut people down..."

Rick, I think it's the venue. Talking one on one, when one is asked probably isn't a issue with most folks.

But even that has limits. Ever have the Mormons or Jehovah Witnesses at your door?

Nice folks, but I don't engage.

This seems a convenient way... (Below threshold)
Bruce Henry:

This seems a convenient way to look at it, Mr Rick.

Reminds me of the bumper sticker, "Christians aren't perfect - just forgiven!"

In other words, "Don't hold me to a higher standard just because I loudly proclaim my adherence to a specific set of rules for living my life. I don't have to act on these principles, but I get to look down on you for not proclaiming them."

C'mon, fess up. Doesn't it piss you off just a little bit more when the jerk who cuts you off in traffic has one of those sign-of-the-fish thingies on his car? When the rival salesman who snakes your client away is a Holy Joe type? When a priest, as opposed to a janitor or a lawyer, gets caught molesting a child?

I thought Christians were supposed to set an example. Thought it was a commandment or something. I heard it quite a few times in my churchgoing days. Seems to me you're making excuses proactively.

Mike writes: Th... (Below threshold)
Mac Lorry:
Mike writes: These days when you actually follow some of what Jesus said you are called an activist. Seriously. A few months ago I shared with someone how I'm struggling and crawling my way into a movement of following Jesus. The person looked at me and said, "It is so good to have activists around". This statement disturbed me deeply. It presumes that there are followers of Jesus who are active and some who are not active.

It seems Mike presumes that there are only active followers of Jesus, but what does "active" mean? Rick already identified one of the keys to knowing that a person is a Christian, which is to have "love for one another". It's hard for people to see the works of love particularly when people follow Christ's admonition to keep their good works secret least they lose their reward for those good works.

So what should Mike look for when searching for active Christians? Paul tells use in 1 Thessalonians 4:9-10. "Now as to the love of the brethren, you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another; for indeed you do practice it toward all the brethren who are in all Macedonia. But we urge you, brethren, to excel still more,"

So how do you excel in love still more than to practice love for all the brethren in your life? Paul tells us how in the next two verses. "and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you, so that you will behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need."

I submit that Christens who "excel still more" in following Christ may not be on Mike's radar and many of those the world calls activists have strayed from the flock. If you are not called by God to be an "activist" then you should make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands.

If you call a dog's tail a ... (Below threshold)

If you call a dog's tail a leg, how many legs does a dog have?

Nice article, but I think I... (Below threshold)

Nice article, but I think I'll pass on discussing religion.

I guess then that "moderate... (Below threshold)

I guess then that "moderate" Muslims shouldn't be called Muslim or Islamic?

Bruce... I'm thinking you'r... (Below threshold)

Bruce... I'm thinking you're missing the point of my posting on this...

Let me see if I can summarize it.

I'm of the belief that Christianity isn't about following a set of rules... it's about following a Savior...

It isn't about living a particular way so that you might be accepted by God... it's about being accepted by God through Christ, period...

Yes, it's true, that far too many Christians look down on people for sins committed, great or small... all the while ignoring their own... it's called hypocrisy and in fact is something Christ particularly spoke against... those people are in deep doo doo doctrinally in my less than humble view...

I'm of the view that the New Testament raised the bar on the Old Testament's definition of holiness... so high that no one can reach it... and defining plainly our need for a Savior.


Are you a Democrat or Repub... (Below threshold)

Are you a Democrat or Republican because of how you register, vote or is it what you believe in? Do you have to believe 100% like all others in your party?

Are you a basketball fan because that is what you like to play, watch, or because it is a game you understand?

That is the problem when you try to define a term in very specific one definition term while excluding any other definition and the term has multiple meanings.

Religion is a very personal and beliefs in it are very personal. What one believes can and often does vary greatly. It shows intolerance when people bash other people's beliefs. I am not much for "my religious belief is this and you are wrong if you don't believe the same way". It is fine for you to believe that way but it is not fine to get into other peoples' faces with it.

As for being a Christian, I am one that believes your action is the most important part. Does that mean if someone pulls some passage out of the bible you must follow it 100% of the time? No. Passages can be warped, twisted and misrepresented in all sorts of way. The general message of the bible is harder to twist. My advice is to trust your gut and heart on matters. It has been more reliable for me than trying to apply 100% of the words of some passages in every case that comes up in life.

Who is more Christian, a person who has never heard of Jesus but lives his life in a very "Christian" way or a person that goes to church and believe in Jesus but lives in a very unchristian way? Which one would you prefer to be?

I'll give you an "amen," Ri... (Below threshold)

I'll give you an "amen," Rick. You have it right.

Yes, Rick. I can heartily s... (Below threshold)

Yes, Rick. I can heartily say Amen.

If we could weed out the nominal Christians (those who only use the name)from those who are disciples and attempt from the heart to follow Christ, Christianity would have a much better reputation. There is so much "water in the wine", that nobody can get drunk on it.
Christianity is about loving God and loving our fellow man. Without it, anything that passes for Christianity is at best only an empty shell full of pride and good intentions.

I wouldn't <a href="http://... (Below threshold)

I wouldn't know how to judge whether another person lives in a very unchristian way, especially if I myself am not above reproach on that very same question. If there's one thing all flavors of Christianity seem to agree on, it's that we're all sinners no matter how hard we may try.

I feel fairly confident judging whether someone's visible conduct is contrary to his public rhetoric, and of course Christ would disapprove of hypocrisy -- but then there's that little matter of the mote in his eye vs. the plank in mine. I often forget that admonition, which makes me a hypocrite too.

So in general I should try not to drag God and Jesus into discussions of how other people live their lives. YMMV.

#7, Is that a trick questio... (Below threshold)
Geoffrey Britain:

#7, Is that a trick question? ;-)

FWIW, I'll offer the following;

As most know, Christ enjoined all that would emulate him, to pick up their 'cross' and follow him.

I take that to mean pick up the 'cross' of our character flaws and in doing so, honestly face them. I also think that the instant we judge ourselves, we replace God's judgment with our own.

So in this aspect, I think Buddha got it right, part of the trick is to merely observe ourselves. Fully, completely and in depth but not to stop ourselves from being ourselves, in other words, just observe ourself, being ourself. To do that without judging ourselves (bad or good) is very hard.

I don't think however, that alone, to be enough.

I think what we also have to do is to regularly and deeply, pray to God and surrender our will to his and, by surrender I mean pray that he should guide our growth until his desire is our desire.

I think that can happen instantly but because God gave us free will, he won't 'storm the castle' and take from us one iota of our personality or character which we do not willingly release for healing and cleansing.

And we are all hanging on to a lot of shit. And that is why the transformation ain't happenin.

I think the trick is to just observe ourself while asking God to mold us to his will and that, to the extent to which we can 'get out of his way' by releasing it all up to God for his cleansing, to that degree shall we be made whole...

And, to that degree are we taking up our 'cross', (our character flaws, our original sin) which is what is keeping us from reconnection with God...

Certainly Christianity is n... (Below threshold)
Jim Addison:

Certainly Christianity is not "invalidated" nor its adherents less faithful because we fail to live up to the ideal. Christianity acknowledges ALL men are sinners. If it were possible for humans to live sin-free, Christ's sacrifice would not have been necessary. It's a goal to strive for. Anyone who claims to be free of sin is fooling only himself.

Why is it we never hear about "Jews not living up to their religious ideals" or "Muslims not living up to their religious ideals" or "Hari Krishnas not living up to their religious ideals" or anyone else, but Christians? And it always comes from the same two sources: the atheist Left and the holier-than-thou-you-wretched-sinner wing of Christianity. It's for different purposes, though - the atheists was to justify their own lack of faith and spiritual emptiness, while the tut-tutters need to validate themselves by accusing others.

Judging isn't for lay people or human clergy.

GarandFan said ~<bloc... (Below threshold)
Jim Addison:

GarandFan said ~

More have been killed under the banner of religion than ever tasted the same from the banner holders of gold or politics

Surprising to see you repeating an old myth. Not only is it not true, it isn't even close to true.

If we could weed out ... (Below threshold)

If we could weed out the nominal Christians (those who only use the name)from those who are disciples and attempt from the heart to follow Christ, Christianity would have a much better reputation.

Well then Myronhalo, we'd have to weed me out.

"As for being a Christian, ... (Below threshold)

"As for being a Christian, I am one that believes your action is the most important part." - Wayne

That isn't the most important part and is directly in conflict with God's grace of salvation. You can't earn it. Actions do follow the heart so that generally provides a good indicator of their heart and values.

Amen. Christ risen from th... (Below threshold)
gary gulrud:

Amen. Christ risen from the dead is the kerygma of Christianity. In gratitude we leave the life of planning and serving 'sin', foolishness, life as though God is dead, or merely impersonal.

James and 1 John complicate the "faith not works" dilemma but the simplified version is God judges the heart, prepares the heart, cleanses the heart and draws it to Himself. Christ accomplished this and we need only believe.

Amen. You hit it. When I ... (Below threshold)

Amen. You hit it. When I go to church to worship, I want to worship God and find His calling in my life. IF that entails the justice HE requires me to parcel out (NOT the government's idea of justice), I'm all in. It's not about what the humans tell me, it's what HE tells me. This is what many people don't get. The behavior and response should be dictated by my heart and soul WHICH HAVE BEEN DIRECTED BY GOD, not by some federal mandates or human manufactured guilt.

The progressive arm of Christianity WANTS me to feel guilty. It WANTS me to feel guilty if I support illegal immigration laws, if I oppose the mandating of my choice of light bulbs, if I oppose universal health care. It's statism masquerading as a religious movement, and many folks have been fooled by these progressive Christians. It's not about the social scripts I'm supposed to follow, it's about Christ and my response to Him.

All men will hate ... (Below threshold)
All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved Matt 10:22

I don't suppose it occurs to anyone that being a Christian will never be socially acceptable. We are, after all, a group of undeserving prodigals who claim a salvation surpassing in every way.

But in more direct rebuttal:

C'mon, fess up. Doesn't it piss you off just a little bit more when the jerk who cuts you off in traffic has one of those sign-of-the-fish thingies on his car? When the rival salesman who snakes your client away is a Holy Joe type? When a priest, as opposed to a janitor or a lawyer, gets caught molesting a child?

Yes. But if my heart is in the right place, and if I really am affected by the Holy Spirit, I will repent that judgmental attitude: If I have truly been so completely forgiven, who am I to judge another of my brothers, who is under grace. If I judge him, I am just as bad. If he puts a fish sticker on his car, or joins the priesthood, he is declaring his faith, and when he sins, he is demonstrating his weakness, and when I judge his sin, I am declaring my weakness, but where is my faith? Indeed, if I judge him, I have no faith. So I say, "Better for him to leave his statement of faith for those who ask, and be prepared to answer, but for him to leave it off of his car, and to live privately until his faith will sufficiently guard his actions so that he might not lead others astray."

Joining the priesthood is another matter; but if the discipline of your faith is inadequate, leave, take a sabbatical, go on a mission, fast, pray, remove you hand if it causes you to sin: better you should enter eternity misshapen -- and when a Christian you know sins publicly, censure him publicly, but leave the non-believer alone!

Intrinsically, people want to distinguish themselves for their holiness: they join the peace corps, volunteer at soup kitchens, start political movements, they give up animal-based products: they show that they are better. Most people today would probably tell you that they're 'basically good', if asked. They tout community service or charity giving or involvement. They cite particular instances of good works they're recently done -- and I'm not saying that anything that they've done is bad. The fact is that Christians do the same thing and it is neither surprising, nor productive, nor good. If you think about it: it means that those people who fundamentally recognize that they don't deserve an acquittal go free. Imagine if our justice system truly worked like that: "an apology is your get-out-of-jail-free card?"

Instead, shouldn't we be focused on an internal heart-change? Decreasing, so that he can increase. Becoming less distinguishable so that he can be seen in us?

People are fundamentally motivated by trying to justify themselves, but as Christians, no such effort is necessary, and we should recognize that we had no part in it. We're not basically good, we've already admitted that -- lets not act like we're the experts in being good: I think we've proved that we're not.

Indeed what makes us Christians think we have the right to tell anyone how to believe, how to act. I mean, people have enough guilt that they carry around with them without some holy-roller telling them that they're still "doin' it wrong." We wouldn't elect a murder or a rapist to the supreme court, to the district court, to the municipal court: they're an unfit judge: who elected Christians to a social judgeship? judge not, lest ye be judged.

The fact is, true Christianity more closely resembles a penal colony, than a religious order, and anybody who tells you different is selling something. The fact that there's nothing exclusive is part of what makes it ideologically, a hard sell. Certainly, Christianity is hardly an exclusive club, and opting out, outwardly, is always an option.

RickYes your actions... (Below threshold)

Yes your actions simply shouldn't be done in hopes of a payout but as the rest of my post stated coming from your heart. In the end it is who you are in your heart and soul and your actions do have consequences.

You didn't answer my question so I will rephrase it. Who would be more in the grace of god? Someone who has never heard of the name of Jesus but leads a Christian lifestyle and has a heart of gold or someone who goes to church weekly and pray to Jesus for salvation but has a dark heart and lives a unsavory life.

Wayne... it's not for me (o... (Below threshold)

Wayne... it's not for me (or you) to answer that question bro... it just isn't...

Here is a statement from a ... (Below threshold)
Dodo David:

Here is a statement from a book that I'm writing: "Thankfully, the Christian faith is not based on the behavior of Christians, but rather is based on sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus. . . Yes, the behavior of Christians should mirror the faith that they profess, but as long as Christians remain creatures of flesh, their carnal nature will continue to trip them up. Thankfully, nothing that a Christian may do can nullify what Jesus has done."

For what it's worth, there is a fact about Christianity that plenty of preachers avoid talking about. Jesus said, "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him." [John 6:44] That is why a person can become a Christian in spite of the misbehavior of others claiming to be Christians. God the Father can draw a person to Christ no matter how Christians behave.

Sorry, it all sounds like p... (Below threshold)
Bruce Henry:

Sorry, it all sounds like proactive excuse making to me. "Why should I be held to a different standard than others, just because I'm a Christian?"

Well, because you profess adherence to a set of principles and then fail to live up to them, not just some of the time, but damn near all of it.

How is it that I, a crusty old reprobate ex-hippie agnostic, can refrain from cheating, stealing from, bullying, or taking advantage of others, but so many folks who call themselves Christians can't?

Look, Rick, I get that your point was that it's the Crucifixion story, not the behavior of so-called Christians, that "validates" your faith. But I've heard variations of this over and over all my life, whenever some Pharisee displays his or her blatant hypocrisy. "Christians aren't perfect, just forgiven!" As if that makes it OK.

Bruce,So, for Chri... (Below threshold)
Sheik Yur Bouty:


So, for Christians, it's all just 'excuse making' to you.

Care to point out where you attack Muslims, Hindus, or Buddhists for failing to live up to their standards? Doesn't that make you a hypocrite?

Is a runner who fails to reach their goal of finishing a marathon in under 4 hours a hypocrite or NOT a runner in your book? Is a quarterback who fails to reach his goal of being a starter a hypocrite or NOT a quarterback?

NO ONE but Christ has EVER fully lived up to the principles he espoused. Does that mean Christianity is impossible or that there are no Christians? Hardly.

Are you telling us that you have never failed to reach a goal? Never failed to live up to any standard you had for yourself? Really??

Yes, this is what I am talk... (Below threshold)

Yes, this is what I am talking about. My salvation is free and the voracity of the gospil is not dependant upon me. In fact you have said it so much more thoroughly, and I appreciate that so much.






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