- Published on Monday, 20 February 2012 07:07
- Written by John Draper
- Hits: 1303
When a Christian murders people (like Norwegian Anders Behring Breivik did) or even when Christians promote hatred against groups like gays, many other Christians will say “But he is not a true Christian” - they are disowning these people. Few of us want to be grouped with people who are evil or even just obviously immoral. They might also say that although a person may believe in Christianity, they are not acting according to its precepts. They are saying that the rogue is not acting as a Christian. But do we all agree what we mean when we call someone a Christian?
There are two questions here: What is a Christian – can such a person be defined? And, is a person still a Christian if they act against its rules or commandments?
Taking the second question first, let’s use an analogy. If I am a “Canadian” I will be expected to obey Canada’s laws. If I disobey the laws of Canada, then I risk being brought to justice but at no point does anyone say: “he’s not a true Canadian” although they might say I’m a bad Canadian. You can think of many other groupings where one has a membership and “belongs” and in every case, misbehaviour does not mean you were never a member. However, if you do not conform, you might risk being ejected - in religions this is called excommunication. The fact is that up to that point, you were still a member. So Christians can misbehave and still be called Christians – in fact many misdeeds are forgiven and they continue to be accepted as Christians. Misbehaviour does not mean you were never a member of the group and in fact many criminals are Christians and remain so even while serving their term in prison. We can also note that few if any of the abusive Catholic priests are excommunicated – they remain Christians even if they re-offend.
So if following the rules does not define a Christian, what does? It can only be a set of beliefs.
Defining Christian beliefs is a bit like nailing jelly to a wall – there are thousands of sects and as discussed many times on this site, many Christians reject parts of what they are supposed to believe so there are literally millions of different “sets of beliefs”. Taken literally, Christians are “Followers of Christ”; they follow the teachings of Jesus. The problem is that he lived 2000 years ago and he did not leave good documentation of what he wanted his followers to believe. The bible is full of contradictions and items open to interpretation. The guardian of the “truth”, his Church, has split many times over the centuries and many of its theologians promote different concepts. Which one should a Christian follow?
But if we leave out things like the resurrection and whether Jesus was God, maybe we can distill the teaching down to some basics.
I think most Christians would agree with the two key teachings:
- Love God
- Love your neighbour
“Love God” is interpreted to mean worshiping an invisible being who is responsible for our existence and welfare.
“Love your neighbour “ is interpreted to mean “do no harm to anyone” plus be supportive of them.
And I bet some readers would even dispute this simple summary.
So “True Christians” would be people who believe everyone should follow these two precepts. I think that this has come to be common usage – people are accused of not being a “true Christian” if they don’t show kindness to others. More than that though and you get an argument.
I can understand people saying that someone is not a true Christian – they don’t want to be associated with criminal behaviour. But saying it does not stop criminals (etc) from being Christians - it’s just wishful thinking. Believing what Jesus taught has not been proved to cause any improvement in behaviour.