Some Thinking Friends responded to my postings of Aug. 20 and Aug. 25 by raising the question about who, really, can be legitimately designed as a Christian. Let’s think some more now about that important matter.
From a sociological, as opposed to a specifically religious, viewpoint, it seems to me that if a person (a) is a member of a Christian church, (b) self-identifies as being a Christian, and/or (c) publically makes a statement of faith in Jesus Christ, it seems to me that it is legitimate to designate that person as a Christian.
But then there is the matter of religious evaluation. Some would classify others as Christians only if they belonged to a “true” Christian church or “really” followed the teachings of Jesus. TF Craig Dempsey’s comments about the 8/25 posting expresses that position well. According to the latter test, what one does determines whether that person is a Christian or not. Thus, Craig wrote, “The person carrying the cross may well be a Christian. The person driving the nails certainly is not.”
Along the same line, but much more provocatively, a (relatively) young Canadian TF writes, “Hitler and Bush were both ‘Christian’ (according to themselves), but their lying, thieving, murdering ways clearly exposes their hypocrisy. The fact that Obama had the gall to justify American . . . warmongering in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech marks him as the same. He is therefore neither Muslim nor Christian, if you ask me.”
A related comment, in another e-mail received after my previous posting, says: “My cynicism would lead me to ask if any President can be a practicing Christian based on what he knows and must do in that position.” Although I had never thought of them as being cynical, that was the position of the sixteenth century Anabaptists: “it is not appropriate for a Christian to serve as a magistrate” (from the Schleitheim Confession, 1527).
From the opposite side of the political spectrum, Glenn Beck claims that liberation theology is at the core of the President’s “belief structure,” and then remarks, “I don’t know what that is, other than it’s not Muslim, it’s not Christian. It’s a perversion of the gospel of Jesus Christ as most Christians know it” (Washington Post, 8/30/10). Ann Coulter goes further. On September 1 she declared that the President is “obviously an atheist,” and then she went on to assert, “All liberals are atheists.”
Concerning Beck’s statement, my own view is that the President’s religious views are far closer to those of Jesus than are Glenn Beck’s. But what about the charges that those who do not faithfully follow the teachings of Jesus, as the Anabaptists sought to do or as my Canadian friend thinks we should, are not Christians?
When we get right down to it, if living like Jesus is what it means to be a Christian, perhaps the Austrian Catholic theologian Adolf Holl (b. 1930) is correct. The English title of his book about Francis of Assisi is The Last Christian (1979, 1980). If being a Christian means living completely like Jesus and putting the teaching of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount into practice literally, perhaps, indeed, Francis was the last Christian.
Note: The Vital Conversations discussion group will be talking about the life of Francis of Assisi at their regular monthly meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 8, beginning at 1:00 p.m. at the Mid-Continent Public Library in Gladstone. Visitors are cordially welcome.