Is Christianity about Christian behavior or is it about Christ?

It’s time to juxtapose.

First, let’s go to Mike at Waving Or Drowning:

I’ve just cherry-picked this Kierkegaard quote from my South African brother Tom Smith‘s post In so many ways (literally) I’m not a Christ follower …but. Read Tom’s entire post when you have a moment, but this quote is an absolute killer:

When we see someone holding an axe wrong and chopping in such a way that he hits everything but the block of firewood, we do not say, “What a wrong way for the woodcutter to go about it,” but we say, “That man is not a woodcutter.” Now for the application. When we see thousands and thousands and millions of Christians whose lives do not resemble in the remotest way what – and this is decisive – the New Testament calls a Christian. Is it not tampering with the meaning to talk as one does in no other situation and say: “what a mediocre way, what a thoroughly inexpressive way these Christians have.” In any other situation would one not say, “These people are not Christians.” Now be earnest about it and say: We are not Christians. Let this become ordinary language usage and you will have a world-transformation.”

The gist seems clear.  Because we’re not behaving in ways deemed appropriate, we should refrain from calling ourselves Christian.  Doing so hurts the cause and purpose of Christianity and might instead be cause for pause for those wanting to become Christian themselves.  The conclusion it seems would center on the notion that the spread of Christianity, and more particularly the transformation it brings, is dependent upon the behavior engaged in by the adherents of the faith.  That seems to not only be a complicated thing but quite the burden to put on the faithful.

Thankfully, there are those like C. Michael Patton to clear things up for us:

God did not confine the validation of his message to the character witness of sinners. If he did, we are all in trouble. Why? Because your character is grossly lacking. The character of the Christian community is weak at best. The character of Christian leaders is shaky and brittle. The history of the church, no matter what tradition, does not always have a pretty track record.

I often tell people not to look to me for confirmation of their Christian belief. This is important. If, for some reason, I was to renounce my faith, leave my wife and family, and take up the banner of atheism, I am certain that many people would be discouraged. Rightly so. My students would ponder how this could be seeing as how I seemed so convinced of the truthfulness of Christianity before. They would be discouraged and many would be disillusioned. But even if I were to renounce the faith, this is no real reason for anyone to give a second thought to whether Christianity is true or not. Christianity is not based upon my character. While the spread of the Gospel is somewhat dependant on Christians (as God has made it so), it’s veracity is not dependent on the faithfulness of its followers.

Many people refer to this passage in support of such a view:

John 13:34-35 “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

The idea would be that so long as we love one another, then Christianity is validated. Therefore, we should not do theology or apologetics, but just set an example and Christianity will be evidence through our character. As much as I appreciate the desire for Christians to act like Christians, this is a dangerous misunderstanding of this passage. It places the validation of Christianity upon our character witness. But the passage does not suppose the truthfulness of Christianity is dependent on our character. It does, however, suppose the truthfulness of our Christian confession is dependent on our character. If we don’t love one another, it does not make Christianity any less true. It only makes our profession to be Christian less true. Likewise, if we do love one another, Christianity is no truer than before.

Christianity is based solely on the historic person and work of Christ.

That last statement seems to me to be the essence of grace, the definition of gospel, the central message Christians should be promoting.

We as believers are bombarded, more obviously by those on the conservative end of the spectrum but as often only more subtly by progressives, with messages defining for us how we’re to live and how we’re to behave and how all of it will define who we are as Christians.  Those messages are usually then followed with calls to behave in particular ways and to understand how that behavior will bring a better society.

Makes Christianity rather narcissistic I think.  Makes us all believe with confidence that it’s all about us.  That we’re the ones we’ve been waiting for.  That only by our behavior can we bring hope and change.

It’s religious bovine fecal matter.  Actually… I think it’s worse than that.  It’s a false gospel.

Let’s finish with more of Mr. Patton’s thoughts:

“Christianity is true if Christ rose from the dead. If he did not, it is false. That is it.” It does not matter how Christians respond to the conflict in Palestine, Iraq, or any other place. It does not depend on whether you are nice to your neighbor or a murderer. It does not depend on whether all Christians are unified or divided. It does not hinge on your character or mine. It does not even depend on our perseverance in the faith. Its truthfulness is solely a matter of history. Is Christ who he said he was?

Paul tells the Corinthians,”If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain” (1 Cor. 15:14). Notice he did not say “If you Corinthians don’t promote peace and justice and be nice to one another, then our faith is in vain.” Its about what Christ did, not what you do. It is about the incarnation. While our character might make Christianity more attractive, our character does not have a vote in truth. It is about history first, the rest will follow.

We need to be reminded of this as our country is increasingly becoming  “post-Christian.” If we ever give the impression that Christianity is validated by our character witness, God forgive us for misleading so many. We are poor, weak, and broken, but the foundation of Christianity–the historic God-man Jesus Christ–is forever strong.

Can I get an amen?

Crossposted at Brutally Honest.

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