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?

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25 thoughts on “The Meaning of Christianity

  1. I don’t agree that he’s a Christian, but I don’t have a problem with the church admitting him. Church is a place to find Christ, not just a place for those who have already found Him. I don’t see someone who has yet to find their faith as any different than someone who is having a crisis of faith.

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  2. Pascal challenges non-believers to live one year as if they believed, going through all the motions and participating in all the activities of the Church. He knew that many people would find God and become true believers.

    Pray that he puts aside the pride that compels him to proclaim his disbelief, so that he can hear the stll, small voice calling him home.

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  3. Yes to Jo.

    But if Mr. atheist “joins” St. Andrew’s and by that I mean join as in communion with this church, then acceptance of the basic fundamentals of the faith must a-priori be accepted. That’s what the sacrements of adult baptism and the eucharist require, an acknowledgement of doctrinal acceptance.

    If you mean join as in attend the services for social reasons – then great, no problem, come on into the building, and take it all in.

    I note that the leader of the church was not interviewed, but the article is written from some muddle headed person who is espousing some liberal current feelings-de-jour. I also note that the use of quotations is absent, and I suspect that somewhere Mr. Atheist stops speaking and the reporter takes over with his blend of psuedo feel good humanism.

    I cannot imagine joining my church with those attitudes attributed to Mr. Atheist. If one was truthful about holding these feelings, then you would be denied, because the act of joining a faith means something.

    Which brings up an interesting set of points.

    1. Who decides what Christianity is? Can we all “feel” our way to defining the basic tenents?

    2. Is there definitive instruction in scripture?

    3 If (1) and (2) are possible, then why do so many denominations disagree on particulars of doctrine or even basic doctrine?

    4. Are these disagreements important?

    5. What did those Christians early in the history of the Church believe? I am referring to those who lived during the persecutions. Most of their teaching was verbal, except the Old Testament of course. Paul tells Timothy to instruct with verse (had to be OT) and what he has heard from Paul. This faith was one to die for, as many did.

    Study the history of the early Church, and go to the roots, for there you will find clarity.

    Just ignore this article as MSM platitudes to appeal to the fuzzy headed.

    Cheers.

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  4. Oh my goodness…Sean and I agree on something!!

    My original response wasn’t clear – I agree that by “join” I didn’t mean accepting the sacrements, but join the fellowship.

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  5. I came back after realizing that I did not answer the questions, as I had intended, and found my point made for me!

    Yes, the church should have admitted him, but he should not be baptized or otherwise participate in the sacramental life of the church unless, and until, he is able to make a sincere profession of faith.

    No, he is not a Christian. The first thing accepted by all Christians is “I believe in one God…”. While that is not the whole story, without it nothing else makes sense.

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  6. No, I do not believe he is a Christian. And as a person who has attended church regularly and not believed in the teachings, I really can not comprehend his intentions. I felt like a fraud, like I was pretending to believe in something that I did not. I have found other venues for spiritual, moral, and political discussions.

    But hey, who am I to judge? If he’s happy with it, why not let him attend? However, I do not believe he should be allowed to take part in communion or baptism as that would make a mockery of believers.

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  7. Matthew 7:15
    Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.

    Now the wolves don’t even have to dress up like sheep to confound the believers. How very sad. In your prayers please ask God to open this atheist’s ears and eyes to the truth of Jesus Christ.

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  8. I think a church as defined in the bible is the combined members of Christ’s body. A church has an obligation to make sure the members really are just that.

    That’s not to say that he should be made unwelcome, far from it. Let him come every week, attend bible classes, and so on. Hearing the Word of God every week can only do good. But to become a member of a church, one must understand that one is desiring to join the body of Christ. Otherwise, he just wants to be a do-gooder and hang around other do-gooders.

    If it turns out I agree with both Sean and Jo at the same time, I’m going to scratch this date onto the screen of my Palm Pilot and make it permanent.

    I would think the definition of Christianity can only be found in the bible. If not there, then where? One can argue all day about the nuances of Christianity, but a basic tenet of believing Christ is the Son of God must be a starting point.

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  9. Uh, there was no NT Bible for several hundred years….. Were the early Christians “not” since they had no Bible other than the Jewish OT? Even Paul would have heartburn with that I think. Where would Timothy have gotten Christianity except from Paul, and from mouth to mouth down through the generations, until the various doctrinal heresies had to be worked out and codified. The collections of even the Gospels were not written at the time when history was being made. So there must have been Christianity before the Bible. 🙂

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  10. Me too. But don’t everybody change their mind at the same time.

    Sean, you’re disagreeing with something I didn’t say. I only said that the bible’s definitions of the church assume Christ as the head of the church, and we are the members (1 Colossians 17-8, Romans 12:4-8, etc). So like it or not, we still agree. :mrgreen:

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  11. “I would think the definition of Christianity can only be found in the bible”

    I guess I was putting too fine a point on the quote above. Obviously, there was once a definition of Christianity outside of the Bible. 😕

    Sorry to hear about your Palm.

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  12. OK, I concede that’s what I said. 😛

    I only meant that when you’re looking for text that defines what a Christian is, and the Christian bible provides such a definition, is there any text that could possibly overrule it? I would think not.

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  13. Very interesting. I believe we should thank Christ that the church doors were open enough for this person to attend services. The Holy Spirit’s mission is to speak to each individual in the congregation, in their own unique way. If the message in Anointed by God, he will open his heart sooner or later!

    Thank Christ!

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  14. Yeah, I don’t think anybody is advocating closing the doors to him; certain he should be made welcome. Actually joining the church and calling himself a Christian, though, is something different.

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  15. Somehow this seems a bit like me joining a vegetarian meetup group for making friends, despite my love of all things meaty. I would bring my famous Cajun meatloaf to the potluck and expect them to accept me – after all they should be open minded about my wanting to socialize with them – even though the whole basis of their fellowship is counter to what I loudly and boldy proclaim is my belief.

    Or perhaps a liberal Democrat going to Republican rallies because they throw better parties?

    You can only be a Christian, as I see it, if you believe in the divinity of Christ. I am not – yet I wholeheartedly support the idea of religion – and I am not going to join a church. To me that would be sacrilegious and disrespectful.

    But what do I know?

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  16. As a former atheist I found the idea of an atheist attending church to be somewhat familar as I attended for a year before I was saved. However if you go to the website of the St.Andrews you will note that they have abandoned the criteria of being a Christian as needful for membership. The *church* is PCUSA /liberal presbyterian and even at that .. more openly liberal than their denomination as the *pastor* On St Andrews website the *pastor* defends himself in another matter:
    “The complaint against me asserts that I have acted in “willful and deliberate” violation of my ordination vows and that I participated in the ordination of an “unrepentant homosexual.”
    “When we accepted scripture as God’s word to “the church universal”, we made a vow to multiculturalism”
    So its not the question of an avowed atheist becoming a member of a church, but rather one of an atheist believing he did so , as that *church* had long ago ceased to bear any semblance of being a Christian church. St Andrews simply provided building with a cross on top but devoid of the gospel. Of course that atheist felt at home there, he was in his element.
    Sadly there are many unsaved filling the pews of many churches..and some will never hear the gospel from those pulpits because the *pastor* is not a Christian.
    I am grateful that where I was attending that was not the case & that God opened my heart and I heard the gospel. Please pray that God might have mercy upon all the leadership & membership of St Andrews & that they would be drawn to somewhere that the bible in its fullness might be preached.
    St Andrews defines itself as “Center for Progressive Christianity and Spirituality” That progress sadly is to have removed itself from historic Christianity.That progress is a rejection of Christ.

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  17. Vox, good analogy. Would it be too far of a stretch to compare an atheist calling himself a Christian because he belongs to a church and gay couple calling their relationship a marriage?

    Nina, I bet you have an incredible story, and thanks for sharing that background. You’ve reinforced my feelings about the church that the atheist joined. If you accept any and all beliefs, why bother going to church? A christian church should be preaching what Christ preached.

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  18. “…there was no NT Bible for several hundred years…”

    The NT is not a collection of books [though that is what we call it], it is a collection [for the most part] of letters written to the various churches of the day, written through the inspiration of God. The early church didn’t have a book– and to be fair, the early church didn’t have a “book” of the OT; the word “book” is a modern convention –like the OT, but they did have letters. And who’s to say the church at Philippi didn’t have copies of letters written to the church in Rome or Colosse? And vis a vis? The early church knew EXACTLY what defined a Christian. The letters of Paul, and other Apostles, were, and are merely instuctions for Christian living and Christian duty, with a heavy dose of prophecy mixed in.

    A Christian doesn’t need a physical Bible in his/her hand to become a Christian… only “ears to hear” the Gospel. Nor does a Christian need a physical Bible to grow in his/her faith… only a good and faithful pastor/teacher-of-the-word.

    The real question here should be; “Does St. Andrews have the the men and women who know and practice the truth?” That is how the Athiest in question will come to Christ. If he hears the word, and the word brings conviction, followed by repentance, followed by acceptance of Christ. But if St. Andrews is not up to the task, think of all those congregants with Mr. Athiest’s blood on their hands when he finds himself in a literal burning Hell.

    The following links will lead you to a place that clearly and simply lays out what we as Christians should be doing with what time we have left.

    http://www.wayofthemaster.com/
    http://www.wotmradio.com/

    It’s time to get busy.

    Enjoyed the site, and the debate,

    Peace

    Eric

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