The Meaning of Christianity

The Houston Chronicle ran an article on Sunday, of all things, about an atheist who does not believe in God but belives Christians are good. He’s joined his local church and claims to be a Christian, all the while denying the existance of God.

I myself think this of a corruption of Christianity from the left; that he’s no more a Christian than I am a turnip. The church has done him a disservice by not requiring a basic acceptance of what Christianity is before admitting him as a member. He may well be a very good person, but that’s not the definition of Christianity. Christianity begins and ends with the acceptance of Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior. From that point on, the Holy Spirit begins the process of sanctification, a process that the author will never experience.

The pastor and most of the congregation at St. Andrew’s understand my reasons for joining, realizing that I didn’t convert in a theological sense but joined a moral and political community. There’s nothing special about me in this regard — many St. Andrew’s members I’ve talked to are seeking community and a place for spiritual, moral and political engagement. The church is expansive in defining faith; the degree to which members of the congregation believe in God and Christ in traditional terms varies widely. Many do, some don’t, and a whole lot of folks seem to be searching. St. Andrew’s offers a safe space and an exciting atmosphere for that search, in collaboration with others.

Such expansiveness raises questions about the definition of Christian. Many no doubt would reject the idea that such a church is truly Christian and would argue that a belief in the existence of God and the divinity of Christ are minimal requirements for claiming to be a person of Christian faith.

Such a claim implies that an interpretation of the Bible can be cordoned off as truth-beyond-challenge. But what if the Bible is more realistically read symbolically and not literally? What if that’s the case even to the point of seeing Christ’s claim to being the son of God as simply a way of conveying fundamental moral principles? What if the resurrection is metaphor? What if “God” is just the name we give to the mystery that is beyond our ability to comprehend through reason?

In such a conception of faith, an atheist can be a Christian. A Hindu can be a Christian. Anyone can be a Christian, and a Christian can find a connection to other perspectives and be part of other faiths. With such a conception of faith, a real ecumenical spirit and practice is possible. Identification with a religious tradition can become a way to lower barriers between people, not raise them ever higher.

Do you think the church should have admitted him? Do you agree with his claim that he is a Christian?