"How can you call yourself a Christian if you aren't outraged by this?" was the most recent of a long-line of people questioning my self-chosen Christian status. Another time, the pointed challenge was: "Ahmet may be a Muslim, but he is far more of a Christian than you are" (a convoluted concept, to be sure, but my accuser's point was that I had not responded as helpfully to a situation as he thought I should have). Then there was the genuinely earnest person who just "knew" that my inability to pinpoint a time in which I was born again was God's personal call to her to make me the object of her focused compassion and directed prayers. Still another person was dumfounded after an Easter service in which I stated my belief--non-traditional--in resurrection and decided I needed to be set straight. (I sometimes wonder if I have a character trait that, like a magnet, draws so many who want to make me a convertible object).
After acknowledging the element of truth in each accusation, I end up dismissing the full criticism because I find others are really interested in making me conform to their "truths." However, on reflection, their efforts raise the intriguing issue of just what it is that makes a person a Christian. The usual criteria, I find, fits into one of the three B's: birth, belief or behavior.
Birth brings most people in this world to their religion: birth into a particular culture or into a particular family. Being 'born again' becomes a metaphor for the adult decision we call conversion. Jesus' conversation with Nicodemus is the basis for this conviction.
Belief is the primary criteria for others. Early fundamentalists have five: the verbal inerrancy of the Bible, the divinity of Jesus Christ, the Virgin Birth, a substitutionary theory of the atonement, and the physical resurrection. Modern fundamentalists make pro-life, pro-family and anti-gay the criteria. Liberal fundamentalists (not an oxymoron) draw the line in the sand with abortion, their view of separation of church and state, and being pro-gay. To not toe the fundamentalist line-either conservative or liberal--automatically makes one's religious commitment questionable.
Behavior becomes the only criteria for many. Feeding and sheltering the needy are the true marks of whether or not one is a Christian. Doing, not just talking, is the sole and true measure of a person's religious commitment.
All of the above have scriptural warrant. All have a long and honored history of individuals who followed each path. All, I take all seriously.
But, for me? I find being Christian is responding to the
same call that Jesus extended to Peter and Andrew: "Come,
and follow me." I find that call can get expressed in many
ways, often depending on a person's temperament. I find it comforting
that not being the possessor of absolute experience, absolute
truth or absolute purity of action does not disqualify me from
being a Christian. After all, Jesus could call Peter "Satan"
and still not boot him out of camp.
--Robert H. Tucker
26 October 1998