I’m a Christian. And the fact that you’re reading this blog probably means that you’re a Christian, too. In this country, more than 75 percent of people say that they are Christians too. But when we say that, what exactly do we mean? Do we mean that we subscribe to a particular set of beliefs? Do we mean that there are places we avoid in favor or other places? Do we vote a particular way or spend our money a certain way?
Christianity, to be honest, does have a set of established core beliefs, values and behaviors – at least it does if it’s really going to be real Christianity. Tinker with the whole deity of Jesus issue or the authority of the Bible and you may have some sort of religion, but it won’t be real Christianity.
I’ve written lots about this in other books and will elaborate on this some for you later. But, above and beyond all the beliefs and all the values and all the activities, being a Christian comes down to one underlying practice: imitating Jesus. Simple, right?
Well, not so much.
Imitating Jesus is really hard to do, and lots of well-meaning folks have tried different approaches. There have been some crazy examples throughout history, like those who have actively sought their own deaths. They would look for people who were aggressively hostile toward the Christian faith and do things to bait those people into killing them. Jesus did something like that, so they figured that’s what imitating Jesus was.
But that’s not it, is it?
There are others who see how damaged and broken society has become, and they’ve chosen to retreat. They move to monastaries or Christian communes. Back in 2006 there was a group of folks encouraging Christians to move to South Carolina. That way they could elect Christian officials and pass Christian laws. They’d outlaw abortion and restrict gay rights. You’d pretty much have to be a Christian to live there. That’s one way to keep the Baptists from going door-to-door! From the sound of it, you’d think they believed they could legislate the kingdom of God into existence.
But here’s my real beef with that whole strategy of isolation and withdrawal: It doesn’t seem very much like what Jesus did at all. In fact, it seems exactly the opposite of what Jesus did. You know: that whole Incarnation thing.
Spoiling for a fight – avoiding other folks – marching in the streets – huddling up with others who believe exactly like us. Are any of these what it means to be a Christian? What does it really look like when someone imitates Jesus well? None of these things, right?