What is Christian? It’s whatever you want to make of it. “Christian” supports both sides of politics. “Christian” supports both sides of hot-button issues. “Christian” wages war. “Christian” demands peace.
“Christian” is obnoxious, cynical, deceitful, hateful, judgmental, compassionate, generous, friendly, honestly, forgiving. It’s anything that the person using the label needs it to be.
But Jesus called us to be more than this. He called us to be disciples. He didn’t refer to those following him as “Christians”. He also didn’t define them by any of those terms.
In June 2010, author Anne Rice dealt with this very issue in public. She was a well-known Atheist who, through historical research, realized the Jesus she grew up knowing about was real. However, after about 10 years back in the Roman Catholic Church, Anne was ready to give up on being a Christian.
“I remain committed to Christ as always,” she wrote, “but not to being ‘Christian’ or to being part of Christianity. It’s simply impossible for me to ‘belong’ to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious and deservedly infamous group. For 10 years, I’ve tried. I’ve failed. I’m an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else.”
Anne had discovered the ugly side of “Christian” and wanted nothing to do with that part. She was done being part of a “quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group.”
“My commitment to Christ remains at the heart and center of my life. Transformation in Him is radical and ongoing. That I feel now that I am called to be an outsider for Him, to step away from the words, “Christian” and “Christianity” is something that my conscience demands of me. I feel that my faith in Him demands this of me. I know of no other way to express how I must remove myself from those things which seek to separate me from Him.”
Jesus made it clear what was required of those who were going to be his disciples:
By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
John 13:35 HCSB
The apostle John further clarified this late in life in one of his letters:
Dear friends, let us love one another, because love is from God, and everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, because God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent His One and Only Son into the world so that we might live through Him. Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Dear friends, if God loved us in this way, we also must love one another.
1 John 4:7-11 HCSB
Anne is right. The label of “Christian” gets in the way of what “faith in Him demands.” We’re too focused on defending our label and not spending enough time loving others.
We should all consider living life as an outsider to Christianity. Organized religion is not the problem, but it does cause problems. But we don’t have to live that way.