Wednesday, July 16, 2014

What is Your Definition of a Christian?

A Facebook friend asked this question in her status. 

It made me think.

Hard.

I mean, at one level, the definition of a Christian would seem to be very simple: one who follows Christ.  But is that the sum and substance of what it means to be a Christian?  I mean, I know of quite a few folks who follow Jesus, but they are not professing Christians.  There are may who profess to be Christians--they say they follow Jesus, but they do not worship or receive the sacraments.

And it goes further. 

In the intramural debates within Christianity, there are many who point fingers accusingly in our culture.  Those on the "right" hand side of the squabble point to those on the "left" hand side and say, "You aren't following Jesus because your morals are out of whack!  You support gay marriage; the ordination of practicing homosexuals; legalized abortion; the legalization of marijuana; banning prayer from schools; the promotion of safe sex; and so on and so forth.  You are not true Christians!!!"

Those on the "left" are just as vociferous toward those on the "right."  "You aren't following Jesus because you don't care about justice.  You care more about your pocket book and supporting the rich and do not want to fight for health care; to ensure those in poverty are not kept there; to end racism, sexism, ageism, and whatever other ism is out there!   You don't care about the environment!  You don't care about the structures that cause poverty!  You are not true Christians!!!"

The truth of the matter is--no one follows Jesus correctly.  No one.  None live up to His standard, and the self-righteous finger pointing that we do only serves as an illustration of this fact.  When we, as Christians, act in such a fashion, are we no different than the disciples who argued about who should sit at Jesus' right and left hand as they walked along the road?  Jesus had a few words of chastisement for such behavior. Yet, we cannot seem to escape it.  We cannot seem to get passed arguing about who follows Jesus "better." 

And so when we try to say a Christian is one who follows Jesus, we inevitably find ourselves in a conundrum.  For who really follows Jesus by Jesus' standards?

But that is just the tip of the proverbial ice berg.  There is even more to this because there are quite a few doctrinal concerns to deal with as well when it comes to defining what it means to be a Christian which are not tied to simply following the commands Jesus offers.

  • Can a person be defined as a follower of Jesus--strictly speaking--who does not believe in the Trinity?
  • Can a person be defined as a follower of Jesus--strictly speaking--who does not believe in Jesus' divinity?
  • Can a person be defined as a follower of Jesus--strictly speaking--who does not believe the Bible is inerrant or infallible?
  • Can a person be defined as a follower of Jesus--strictly speaking--who does not believe in the resurrection?
  • Can a person be defined as a follower of Jesus--strictly speaking--who is not baptized?
  • Can a person be defined as a follower of Jesus--strictly speaking--who rejects the miraculous?
  • Can a person be defined as a follower of Jesus--strictly speaking--who rejects substitutionary atonement?
Oh, and there could be quite a bit more things added to this short list.

As I reflected upon such things, I realized how much emphasis was placed on how WE acted and what WE believed.   The definition of a Christian centered on us, but Christianity isn't about us, is it?  Christianity isn't about our actions and our beliefs.  It's about God's action through Jesus Christ.  It's about God's grace bestowed upon the world through the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

Shouldn't the definition of a Christian center upon God and His work and not our own?

Using this as the starting point, I propose the following:

A Christian is one whom God views as redeemed by what Jesus has done.

I invite your thoughts.

42 comments:

Anonymous said...

"A Christian is one whom God views as redeemed by what Jesus has done."

100% No "ifs, ands, or buts."

Anonymous said...

"A Christian is one whom God views as redeemed by what Jesus has done."

I'm not sure this statement can be separated from your list of 7 points. This list is WHO Jesus is.

Kevin Haug said...

This list is WHO Jesus is.

I agree this list leads us to who Jesus is. But this is not who we are. That, I think is the difference. :-)

Anonymous said...

True.

Anonymous said...

True.

John Flanagan said...

A Christian is a follower of Christ, saved by Grace, and obedient to the word of God. A true believer will acknowledge the word of God, and right and wrong regarding conduct and beliefs, also, a Christian will avoid joining apostate and heretical false churches, ones which are pro-abortion as a matter of choice, and which support deviancy and homosexual marriage as a celebrated and acceptable sinless lifestyle choice.

Kevin Haug said...

I can't help but think that you've watered down the Law to the point that you can achieve it, John. I mean, if a Christian won't attend a church based upon its stance on abortion, gay marriage and ordination, then that's quite easy. But wouldn't a true Christian avoid a church that allows members to be divorced, except in instances of adultery? Would a true Christian join a church that taught it was okay for people to have property? Would a person join a church where people became angry with one another and committed the sin of murder?

You see, John, as I tried to point out in my post defending my definition, when you define a Christian by what they do, then you miss the mark. No Christian lives as Christ. None. No Christian is truly repentant of all they do. None. It's not about what you do, but about what Christ has done for you. You can't make yourself a Christian, only God can through Jesus.

John Flanagan said...

Kevin, you can bring these other issues into the argument and make your case, but we all know there are some things which are in a class by themselves. In my view, if a church holds an officially neutral position on abortion in order to avoid offending those who do not see the willful murder of unborn children in the womb as sin, then it has abdicated a primary fundamental of the faith. In the case of abortion, the statistics remain with 90 percent done for convenience, whereas the unwanted child made in God's image is killed. To be pro-choice is to be for infanticide. Is this a Christian value? Should one who claims to be a Christian attend a church which does not affirm life? And regarding the thousands of years when Christians of all denominations, including Lutherans, believed in the sanctity of marriage as exclusively between one man and one woman.....will one who claims to be a child of God join a church which redefines marriage and actually teaches that two men can enter a married state, or two women? Is this what Christianity has become? Celebrating deviancy means living comfortably with sin, and this is alien to the Gospel. We need not discriminate against gay people, but to teach that wrong is right, as the ELCA does, is to defy the word of God on the subject. Perhaps, you do not want to believe that the actions of a Christian should not be weighed by what they do....but your premise is false....because we are indeed weighed by what we do, what we believe, what we teach others. For you to follow your line of false logic, you must dismiss much of what Jesus taught, most everything in the book of James, and ignore much of Luther's writings. However, if all you need is the theology of the ELCA theologians and contemporary unbiblical doctrines of progressive Christianity, then you can continue to interpret sin and God's word according to your own imagination...but thus you will create a substitute Christianity.....but washed of truth.

Kevin Haug said...

John, I do not dismiss what Jesus taught in the least. In fact, the entirety of what I posed to you in response came directly from what Jesus taught, and if you believe you are weighted by what you do, then you stand condemned. We all stand condemned. None of us has correct actions. None of us has correct beliefs. None of us teach others correctly. We are all still tainted by sin.

So why be a member of a denomination which teaches incorrectly? Show me one that teaches everything correctly. The fact is, this church (the ELCA) needs Jesus just as much as you need Jesus and as much as I need Jesus. We desperately need God's grace because our actions cannot save us or enable us to somehow hold onto our salvation.

Think of it this way--if you are following the commands of Christ to keep your salvation and not lose it, then you are following those commands out of self-interest. You are still trying to save yourself and are acting out of fear. You are not following the commandments out of gratitude and love. This is sinful as pointed out by the good Reverend Luther. (This stands in contrast to those who freely disobey the Law because they want to be independent of the Law and go their own way. Both ways lead to death.) The only remedy for this is the Gospel--realizing Jesus died the death you deserved and lived the life you should have lived. You are already an heir of God. You are already a brother of Jesus. Nothing you do will change that sans telling God you want to be free and independent of Him for eternity. He will grant you this desire not because He wants to, but because you want it. Otherwise, live into the freedom of the Gospel with joyful obedience and get rid of your fear. Follow the Law with joy and without fear of losing what Jesus earned for you.

John Flanagan said...

All the factors you brought up are true, however, you still miss the point, and there is no getting through to you. You are too invested in the ELCA to really look hard at the facts. Of course, no church is perfect, no one can keep the law, and we all need Jesus......but the clear point is that ELCA has taken the position that gay marriage is acceptable, when the word of God declares it is not. Most Christian churches, unlike ELCA, have no trouble understanding that point.....but you and others in your church persist in promoting deviancy.

Kevin Haug said...

Actually, John, I readily admit the ELCA has done exactly what you say it has done. No matter what kind of exegetical gerrymandering is done, one cannot explain away what Scripture says about marriage and the sin of same sex relationships. I agree with you!

But here is the rub, every church does likewise with parts of scripture. Does your church teach it is okay for women to attend church without headdress? Contrary to the clear teaching of God's Word. Does your church tell folks it is okay to own property and have possessions? Contrary to the clear teaching of God's Word.

Despite this, I get the sense that you believe you have some sort of moral high ground to critique the ELCA. Grace does not allow you to do that, plain and simple. Every church is in the same boat. Every person is in the same boat. Our actions and our practices do not save us, and they do not help us hold onto our salvation.

So why stay with a church that openly teaches what God's Word says? (Aside from the fact that NONE do?) Simply put, the Father stays with us even in the midst of our sin. The Father waits patiently for us to "come to our self" and realize our wrong. Then He comes running to greet us even before we can offer words of repentance. Oh, not only that, when we snub His invitation to the party because of our self-righteous indignation because we are better than our brother, He humbles Himself before everyone and seeks us out to remind us that the door is open. Whether or not we choose to enter remains to be seen.

Why stay with the ELCA despite its clear break from Scripture? If I am called by the Gospel to be like God (Ephesians), then there is nothing else I can or should do.

Kevin Haug said...

The first sentence in the fourth paragraph should read, "So why stay with a church that openly teaches contrary to what God's Word says?"

Kathy Suarez said...

By this reasoning, shouldn't Luther have stayed in the Catholic Church? How are you any different from the Saints who stayed within the Catholic Church and struggled to preserve the Gospel -- and the Unity of the Church? There is a larger issue here....

Kevin Haug said...

Yes, Kathy, Luther should have stayed in the Roman Catholic Church--if the Roman Catholic Church hadn't excommunicated him for preaching the Gospel. It is one thing to stay within a church body because it is sinful--Luther would have done that, but it is quite another when that church body decides to keep you from the sacraments because you are teaching the Truth.

Kathy Suarez said...

Many great Saints were excommunicated. With humility and great love, they accepted it as suffering for the Gospel and the Church.

Kevin Haug said...

Yeah, but those "great saints" weren't under the threat of death because of excommunication now were they?

Kathy Suarez said...

Of course they were. St Joan of Arc, for example. Are you saying that Luther feared death more than he loved the Church? Is that the Spirit of a Saint? A Saint will go to his/her death for the Church, as did St Thomas More.

Kevin Haug said...

Still preaching the church over Jesus, I see, Kathy.

Kevin Haug said...

Oh, and might I simply add that if and when the "church" decides to kill someone for heresy, it clearly is not following Jesus Christ. You can never justify violence and killing by what Jesus said. If the church ever does this again, it should be actively resisted by any Christian--not passively accepted until it "gets back in line."

Kathy Suarez said...

Whose Jesus? You and Mr. Flanagan (both Lutherans) have very different views of the Word of God -- and the definition of a Christian, the subject of your post. Whose Jesus? Whose interpretation? Yours or the ELCA's? (I completely reject the notion that I preach the "church" over Jesus. That is not true. Jesus is First for me.) Do you preach your own interpretation over the ELCA's? It appears so. Can you not see the conflict here? Who has the Authority in the Lutheran Church to speak for "the church"? You?

Kathy Suarez said...

As far as I know, the Catholic Church has not killed anyone for heresy for hundreds of years. If you hear of anything, let me know.

Kevin Haug said...

Asking the question "whose Jesus" makes little to no since as I was under the distinct impression that no one owned Jesus--quite the opposite. It is not we who grasp and hold Jesus, but it is He who grasps, holds, and owns us. It is not we who fully understand Him, but He who fully understands us. As such, no one has any authority to define Him, but He defines Himself to us through the Scriptures.

And as to authority...who gave Paul authority to go preach the Gospel for years before finally consulting with the apostles in Jerusalem? Who gave him authority to correct your beloved St. Peter when Peter was absolutely wrong in failing to eat with Gentiles? Who gave James authority to write an epistle? Who gives you authority to question me as women are to have none over a man in the Church? Answer these, and you will see how ridiculous this question is as well.

Kathy Suarez said...

If your basic assumption is flawed, we cannot arrive at the Truth. You say: "He defines Himself to us through the Scriptures." True, but who interprets the Scriptures?

Your Bishop quoted Ezekiel 16:49. "Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy."

http://bishopmike.com/2014/07/15/ezekiel-1649/

Bishop Rinehart is saying that the Sin of Sodom is not what the Church has taught it is for 2000 years. Interpretation. His interpretation. This issue has split the Lutheran Church.

Regarding Peter and Paul -- of course we are to correct one another, but this does not change the fact that Jesus gave authority to Peter. The Scripture is clear. Matthew 16:18. "You are Peter and upon this Rock I will build my church." This could not be more clear. As you say: "He defines Himself to us through the Scriptures."

The real issue is: Who interprets Scripture? -- You? Me? Or the Church?

If the Church does not interpret Scripture, it will split and split and split, with each pastor, each small church, holding its own interpretation. Jesus could see this. Hence Mt 16:18. Follow Jesus.

Kevin Haug said...

Who interprets scripture? It's not an either/or question. We all interpret it. We all get it right. We all get it wrong.

And haven't you figured it out yet? I can't follow Jesus. You can't either. None of us can live the life He calls us to. None of us. It's not about us. It's about Him and what He has done. Until that sinks in, you will continue to ask the wrong questions.

John Flanagan said...

Kevin, all you have succeeded in doing is muddy the waters. It is very clear that biblical Christians are not the same as ELCA Christians, which form a theological position and then work around it...in order to give some weak spiritual rationale. Kevin, your reasoning is faulty.....a little child knows right from wrong...but you, must find a way to defend ELCA's heresies, and in doing so, you lead others astray and into the same muddy non judgmental frame of mind as the post modernists. Then you say no church is perfect....so what does that mean? If you do not let scripture guide you as to right and wrong, on issues like abortion and homosexual marriage, then you become more like a secular humanist with a touch of Christianity....but you cannot call yourself a follower of Jesus, who admonished us to strive for righteousness.

Kathy Suarez said...

There are two issues in play here: Ecclesiology and the Natural Law.

John and I agree on the Natural Law. This is not about Religion. Abortion (the murder of an innocent human) and Homosexuality (gay acts and gay marriage) are against the Natural Law. The Natural Law pre-dates Religion, is universally accepted, and is the real reason the ELCA is collapsing.

I disagree with both of you on Ecclesiology. Kevin has the right idea by being faithful to the "church" and by prayerfully working for reform within the "church." Problem is: wrong church.

Kevin Haug said...

Actually, John, I don't think I've muddied the waters at all. I've simply put the Gospel out there. Jesus, of course said to strive for righteousness, actually, He said, "Be perfect." Now, do it. Really, do it. For one week. Come back here and tell me how you managed as a "biblical Christian." Tell me how you managed to do the right and abstain from the wrong. Do it. Live the life Jesus called you to live. Mind you, if you screw up once, you've failed. You have to be perfect. Accomplish the task, and then, we'll talk.

Kevin Haug said...

Oh, and John, I believe my logic is pretty tight as far as things are concerned.

A. If I leave a church/denomination because it is not following God's Law and is teaching contrary to it,

B. Then I must join a church/denomination that IS following God's Law and command and is teaching EVERYTHING according to said Word, Law, and command.

Using simple logic-if B does not exist, then what becomes of A? Am I not leaving one church/denomination that teaches contrary to God's Law for another church/denomination which teaches contrary to God's Law? Of what benefit is that--if by joining such a church I am saved. However, if I am saved by pure grace, then I do not concern myself with such matters. I gladly eat, drink, and congregate with sinners like myself.

I truly have no interest in reinstating a new purity code. "If He knew what kind of people He was eating with..."

Kathy Suarez said...

Kevin, yes, Jesus ate with sinners but he did NOT tell them their sin was OK. Remaining in our sin and ignoring the difference between good and evil is not the Gospel. No one is asking you to reinstate a "new purity code" -- just uphold the old one -- the one your denomination voted to abolish. You have become very confused in your loyalty to the ELCA, and in trying to defend the indefensible.

Kevin Haug said...

I think, Kathy, you fail to see that Jesus abolished the purity code. If He was all about the old purity code, He would have gotten along swimmingly with the Pharisees. The Gospel says--you are all impure and you will continue to be impure despite all your efforts. Only because of what Jesus did does God see you as pure.

And as for remaining in our sin...I give you the same challenge I gave John. Live for one week without sin, and then come talk to me.

Kathy Suarez said...

Kevin, you are very confused. Jesus did not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it. Jesus came to give us forgiveness of sins -- after repentance. Of course I cannot live for one week without sin. (Usually I cannot live for 5 minutes without sinning!) This is why I repent, confess my sins to God and ask for forgiveness in the Name of Jesus, and I am forgiven and I move forward.

Kevin Haug said...

Kathy, there is no confusion. Jesus came to fulfill the Law--EXACTLY!! And because He fulfilled the Law, it no longer has any bearing on our salvation (Galatians 3:25). We don't even need fall on our knees and beg for forgiveness--Jesus forgave without any word from many caught in sin. Salvation is yours. Period. Forgiveness is yours. Period. You and I have been set free! Period. Now, live into the freedom!!! Seek to live a life pleasing to God, not because your salvation is impacted but because such a life is pleasing to the Father!! Know that it is not your actions that saves, but Jesus'.

Kathy Suarez said...

Kevin, you are totally confused and you are confusing others. At our Baptism we are saved by Grace. When we sin, we must repent and confess our sins to be forgiven. You are confusing Salvation and Sanctification -- again and again. The ELCA has declared that certain serious sins are not sins.

Romans 6:15-23 (NIV)
15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means! 16 Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. 18 You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.
19 I am using an example from everyday life because of your human limitations. Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness. 20 When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. 21 What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in[a] Christ Jesus our Lord.

Kevin Haug said...

No, Kathy. I am not confusing anyone except those who do not understand the reality of God's grace and salvific action. Plainly spoken: you do not understand what Jesus did for you. You don't understand that you are no longer under the Law. "You did not receive salvation to fall back into a spirit of fear!" If you think you still have to work to earn or keep your salvation, you have fallen into a spirit of fear. I cannot help you until your heart is changed by the Gospel.

Kathy Suarez said...

You are badly mistaken.

1 Cor 9:24-27

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26 Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. 27 No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

Kevin Haug said...

You really don't get the Gospel, do you, Kathy? Read the entirety of 1 Corinthians 9 to put these verses into context. Read on into the next few chapters as well:

23 ‘All things are lawful’, but not all things are beneficial. ‘All things are lawful’, but not all things build up. 24Do not seek your own advantage, but that of others. --1 Corinthians 10.

Paul does not argue with the statement "all things are lawful." Because of grace, they are; however, not all things are beneficial. Not all things build up. The Gospel frees us from worrying about what happens if we fail to follow the Law, and it inspires us to work for that which is beneficial and builds up.

Kathy Suarez said...

The Gospel as taught by the Catholic Church is clear. In your efforts to accommodate the doctrines of the ELCA, you have distorted it. You will learn this in time.

1 Corinthians 6:9-11 (NIV)
9 Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men[a] 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.


Romans 1:26-27 (NIV)
26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.

Kevin Haug said...

Funny, the Roman Catholics said the same thing about Martin Luther.

There were those who said the same thing about St. Paul.

There is no distortion on my part. Those who wish to add works to the salvific activity of Jesus are the ones distorting the Gospel--those who believe they have a part in saving themselves. Paul had a few words about what they should do to themselves.

Anonymous said...

Kevin, I think we can all agree that everyone sins and are redeemed by Christ. What you seem to overlook is repentance. The ELCA is not repentant. On the contrary; they are celebrating and advocating for some sins. The church can never give up on preaching good works even if is hypocritical.

Kathy Suarez said...

I agree with "Anonymous." We are not saved by our good works, but we can lose our Salvation because of our sins. We work toward our Sanctification with good works -- including repentance and confession. You must make the distinction between Salvation and Sanctification. You are trying to sell people a "feel good" gospel.

This is the Gospel:

Luke 24:45-47 (NIV)

45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.

Kevin Haug said...

Repentance is a response to the Gospel. It is not the Gospel. If you make repentance a requirement for salvation, then you have removed God's saving action and made it yours. This is what Luther saw clearly.

For you see, repentance isn't simply saying "I'm sorry." It is a complete turn around--a cessation of that which one did which was sinful. If you have stopped sinning, then you are repentant. If you continue in your sin, you have not become repentant. If you want to hinge your salvation upon repentance, be my guest. I'll stick to grace.

Kathy Suarez said...

Wow. Is this ever messed up! Luther really did throw in the monkey wrench!