Can This Be Christian? (Chapter 5)
Can this approach be Christian? . . . That depends. What does it mean to be Christian?
Does being Christian mean “believing” certain things about the Bible and God and Jesus? Does it mean we have to believe that the Bible is all literally true, and that God causes suffering? Does it mean we have to believe in the Trinity and the Virgin birth?
If so, then my approach to being Christian cannot work. But does being Christian mean “believing” those things? Or does it mean something else?
We must answer this question by looking to what Jesus said, not by looking to tradition, or theologians, or the church, or even to St. Paul. Because the question is not, “What does it mean to follow Paul or Luther or church dogma,” but rather, “What does it mean to follow Jesus Christ?”
What Did Jesus Say?
So – what did Jesus about this? Just look at these well-known passages:
* The Great Commandment: We are to love God and love our neighbor. (Mt. 22:35-40, Mk. 12:28-34, Lk. 10:25-28.)
* The Sermon on the Mount: He tells us how to treat each other, to be reconciled, to love even our enemies. And those who will enter the kingdom of heaven are those who do God’s will — not those who call Jesus “Lord.” (Mt. 5-7; see also Lk. 6:17-49.)
* The Great Judgment: Those who are going to heaven are those who fed the hungry, welcomed a stranger, and visited the sick and imprisoned. “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.” (Mt. 25:35-40.)
Jesus taught us how to live our lives, not what to believe. To accept God’s messenger, meant to try to live this way.
What Must Christians Believe?
The First Rule of Christian Belief: A belief is appropriate for Christians if it is consistent with the Great Commandment taught by Jesus, and with Jesus’ central role in our faith. (We will see later how this common sense approach fits this test.)
The Second Rule of Christian Belief: Many people would add to this. They want to require that, in order to be Christians, we must believe certain things about Jesus. However, it should be clear that any particular belief about Jesus can only be required for Christians, if this belief is necessary to be a disciple of Jesus, to follow his teachings, with Jesus (not creeds) as our guide or focus.
This means that you don’t have to believe what other people say about Jesus. Within limits, of course. To be Christian, we do need to make Jesus central to our faith understanding. But we have the same freedom that is evident in the New Testament itself, to explain his centrality in a way that works for us.