If Christianity is a certain set of theological facts, then whoever agrees with those facts is in, everyone else is out.
If Christianity is a particular set of worship practices done in a particular way, then whoever organizes their worship services with those practices is in, everyone else is out.
If Christianity is a specific set of moral behaviors, then whoever lives by those moral behaviors is in, everyone else is out.
If Christianity is active participation with or financial backing of the programs and ministries and services of a church, then whoever actively participates with or financially backs the programs of a church is in, everyone else is out.
If Christianity is the steadfast practice of a regular quiet time with God, then whoever has a regular quiet time with God is in, everyone else is out.
If Christianity is knowledge of the Bible, then whoever knows the Bible is in, everyone else is out.
If Christianity is the accurate application of Christ’s teachings to your political views and practices, then whoever applies Christ’s teachings to their political views is in, everyone else is out.
If Christianity is the practice of tolerance, then whoever tolerates everything in everyone is in, everyone else is out.
If Christianity is the practice of getting everyone to believe a certain way, then whoever goes around trying to get everyone to do so is in, everyone else is out.
If Christianity is the thoughtful dialogue between those sincerely interested or invested in Christ, then whoever has a sincere interest or investment in Christ and engages is thoughtful dialogue about it is in, everyone else is out.
And if Christianity is the open and honest, skeptical but hopeful, courageous questioning and challenging of religious or theological beliefs, then whoever does that is in, everyone else is out.
But Christianity is not, in my humble opinion, any of that.
Nothing you can simply do is fully Christianity. While you can’t do nothing and truly be “in” as a Christian, it is not the simple doing of something that makes you Christian. Christianity motivates certain actions in one’s life, but those actions can not be called Christianity.
Nothing you can simply admit to believe is fully Christianity, either. Now, believing certainly matters. And one can not be “in” as a Christian without it, and the objects of those beliefs matter as well. But a simple profession of belief in some theological or historical fact, publically or privately admitted to, even if sealed as true with some sacramental religious action of some sort, is not Christianity.
So what, in my opinion, is Christianity, you may ask?
Before I answer, you need to re-read my list above as a confession. I have or do practice everything on that list. My crime, in my estimation of things, is not that I have or do practice any of those things – only that I call any one of them the sum total of Christianity. In fact, a secret to understanding my conviction about what Christianity is, and who is in and who is out, is to understand what I mean when I say that I think all of the above statements contain “some truth.” I won’t belabor the point today – I’ll just leave it at, “he who has an ear, let him hear.”
I believe quite passionately that Christianity is a way of life.
I believe this way of life is best defined by studying and conforming one’s life to the example and teachings of it’s namesake, Jesus Christ.
I believe the best (but not only) way of studying the life and teachings of Jesus Christ is done by diligently spending time in the Gospels of the Bible.
I believe the best (and only) way of conforming your life to that life and teaching is done by dying to (or putting to death) all other ways of living.
Said another way, Christianity is a life of following and being shaped by the heart, mission, character and priorities of Jesus.
Who is in? Well, it seems to me that Christ would admit anyone into discipleship who sincerely desired to follow him.
I know lots of people who believe like I believe, and practice worship the same I practice worship, and adhere to the same moral code that I adhere to, who simultaneously show very little desire to practice Christianity. On the other hand, I know others who believe very differently than me, who have worship practices that I do not, who struggle profoundly to live the moral life that I have come to practice, but are devoted to following Christ and to conforming their lives more and more into Christ’s way of life.
So who’s in? It’s not my call, praise God, it’s His. I admit that in my practice of “fellowshipping” with people, the farther along that I perceive someone to be in their devotion to following Christ, the deeper the fellowship (friendship, partnership, companionship) I invite. But as to the practice of proclaiming definitively and authoritatively to my fellow man who I think I can declare is “in” or “out,” I just can not do it.
Because Christianity is described, above all other words, as love. Every single thing I do has to make sense under the banner of Christianity’s greatest command to love God and love others. The Lord I follow said that everything is summed up by this way of living – “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
Well, I don’t want others to render judgment on me in God’s place, so I will not render judgment on them in God’s place. By doing my best to love everyone, up to and including my enemy, I find myself living in a way that looks more and more like Christ’s way.
God help me.