Guest Post

You Are (Not) a Christian by James Sharpe

You Are Not a Christian

It’s common knowledge, or at least it ought to be, that the word “Christian” was originally a derogatory appellation. It was said with disdain the way republicans say the word “liberal” or the way liberals say the word “republican.” It was a politically charged insult that sprung from the mouth of a career politician. Politics and Christianity have had it out for each other since the beginning, it seems. But anyway…

As it goes with derogatory appellations, the once dirty word, “Christian,” has become a badge of honor. Some still say it as an insult, and some Christians are horrified by the thought of it these days. Although it doesn’t make sense. The messiah never was proud of His reign. That kind of thing is a mistake only Empires make. If I gathered rightly, He didn’t come so everybody could give him his honor due or anything like that. I’m pretty sure he came to serve and to heal. That kind of thing. But so anyway, that sure as hell’s not what Christianity’s after, seems like. Not lately.

For one, it has become so powerfully diluted in the imagination of the general public so as not to mean really anything anymore. Christians go about their everyday lives in essentially the same manner as non-Christians, sustained by the same things and with the same goals in mind. The Son of Man once had no place to lay his head, you know, but we sons and daughters of God in 21st century America have generously furnished and, dare I say it, lavish houses. Oh, but please, am I not allowed certain comforts and luxuries just because I’m a Christian? So they ask me, and my simple answer to that rhetorical question is… well… no. When saved by grace through faith, you were called to a life of suffering service, having the mind of Christ (the messiah), to care for the widow and orphan, the generally disenfranchised, and so on. And yes, yes, I’m sure you do give to charities and so on, and volunteer at the church and so on, but please tell me, how much service have you lately suffered? Because, and forgive me if I’m wrong, but I’ve been given to understand that the idea was that through the loss and sacrifice of the body of Christ, many would be saved—healed, freed, etc. Not through the money or the scheduled volunteer hours… through the loss and sacrifice. And yes, I do think it was meant to be absurd. That’s why they insulted us for it, calling us “Christians” with the sarcasm sour on their tongues. We suffer, and then we suffer the world’s lack of understanding of our suffering. Does that sound familiar at all?

So our “Christianity” is about a life lived to the fullest—which we seem to think means a life of financially stable consumerism with a dash of charity, in the broadest sense—and even when it includes some kind of social activism, it is not Christian social activism, but worldly social activism. It’s about political action and social systems, and policy. It’s about all kinds of things, justice, righteousness, and the like. What it never seems to be about is forgiveness and love. That seems an odd omission to me, considering they was at the heart of every single act Jesus committed. We’ve experimented with many different kinds of social organization and governmental systems throughout history, from colonialism to multiculturalism. And they all seem to have their problems… and I use “seem” there rhetorically. They definitely have problems. What we have not yet seen manifest is a community of people each with intimate relationships with God the Father, sustained by the comfort and conviction of the Holy Spirit, and walking with and in the mind of Christ—together.

Except, perhaps, in the church.

Except, not for a while in the church.

Instead, what the church has offered us is a continual stream of therapeutic -isms and -ologies. It is no wonder then, we being such consumers, that the church has of late become, not only a business, but a business in the entertainment industry. A very charitable one, you know, but we’ve already talked about that. And of course, the entertainment industry isn’t the only industry the Church is involved with. There is also the self-help industry. I don’t think I’ll even dive into that one, honestly. I’ll let you figure that one out.

But if consumerism and politics go out the window, that leaves us with just about nothing left to live on, doesn’t it? Those are the support structure of our contemporary lifestyles. I agree. But I read somewhere (Acts) about the church “walking in the fear of the Lord and the comfort of the Holy Spirit.” And that sounds about right to me. Consumerism will not do, because it supports you when that is a right reserved by God, and it comforts you with money when that is a right reserved by the Holy Spirit. And politics will not do because it is a leveling of judgement and justice that is reserved by Christ in His second coming—the one that’s gonna make all our foolish ministry suddenly make sense to all those who dared to call us “Christians”.

Besides, we were never called to succeed in the world, but to succeed in transforming it. And I believe those two are fundamentally at odds with each other.

Finally, call me old fashioned, but I really believe it is as simple as this. I believe we’ve been basically distracting ourselves by discussing these things so much and so often and at such length as we have. And I believe that the sooner we can realize that we are called, and that our faith without works means nothing, and that these two principles should be understood as they are in the “mind of Christ,” as leading to a life of suffering service—the sooner all that is got and appropriated, the sooner we can get on with it all, outside of the consumerism and politics, presenting ourselves as living sacrifices, as it were, and discovering what love among a community of believers—this now actually meaning something—means.

My hope is that we would become so good at this, that our sacrifice and love would be so great, that the world would not understand it a single bit, and that the resulting transformation would be so powerful that the wisdom of the world would be destroyed, and that it all would glorify Christ, and so on. And perhaps, I dream, “Christian” might become an insult again, as it should be in the mouths of those who choose consumerism and politics over suffering service and love.

James Sharpe