‘Christian’ in all sorts, colors, and practices

I’ve been thinking lately about what it means to be a christian and maybe even more so what it means to see the world as Christian. And while this blog isn’t about to be an exhaustive, i hope it stirs up some conversation about the diversity in what it might look like to be a christian in the world, or maybe even, how we can see people and activity in the world as Christian.
I must admit, I far too often hear people say, ‘to be a christian, you need x” and yet, when i look around the sorts and colors and practices of Christ in the world, they seems to be made incarnate in all kinds of people and activities. And isn’t it the spirit of God working in and through people for the redemption of all things that defines ‘Christian in the world’ and/or even the world as Christ’s cosmos?
Three (potential) ways of seeing ‘Christian’ in the world as I’ve been thinking:
1. Sacremental- Those communities or persons or activities who would say they practice and participate in regular community that is shaped by the distinct practice of ritual and sacrement springing from the tradition of the church throughout history. These kinds of christians or christian activity mayb e ‘high’ church (catholic, orthodox, anglican, episcopal) or ‘low’ church (baptist, methodists, vineyard, etc) but the disticntiveness lay in the practice of sacrement at the center of the community.
2. Sociological- These are newer forms and practioners of the church who would by and large say their primary desire is to be christian in the world ‘relevantly’. Many of the shapes that these forms of christian in the world might take will be very different. Theologically and philosophically they may be quite varied on the place of sacrements in community or even the place and appearance of worship in community. However, the activites and beliefs of these people and activites still have the proverbial ‘christian flag’ waving about them. And while they may not say it, these activites still struggle with how God is working to ‘redeem all things’? Is it enough to give bread in Christ’s name? Or should we not also make sure they get Jesus too? Or is the even a false dichotomy?
3. Ethical- These would be people who for the most part would not want to be affilitated with Christianity, or are not affiliated with it, and yet find themselves living out the Good News of the Kingdom of God in their culture and context. The Spirit of God in the world compels them forward working for issues of justice, goodness, and change. They practice a different-but-similar value set with those things at the heart of christian goodness; however, this message of hope, justice and peace for all mankind is rooted firmly in the heart of their lives.
It was interesting for me to think about this topic and then read one of Ryan Dueck’s posts on ‘The Ethical Imagination’. Similiar kinds of processing here in some ways; not to mention he was one of my Seriously Good Conversations from two weeks ago.
What do you think? Does this kind of seeing the world as ‘Christian’ make sense? Or is it rather about seeing who in the world is not ‘Christian’?

8 thoughts on “‘Christian’ in all sorts, colors, and practices

  1. would you consider “missional” to be another option? Good thoughts, I am going to borrow a few of them for our discussion of “Generous Orthodoxy” on Sundays.

  2. You said….”I’ve been thinking lately about what it means to be a christian.”
    I think it means……….
    A Christian has been redeemed from the grip and power of sin by the atonement of Jesus Christ. This grace enables him (her) to become a disciple of Christ, who are given the charge of spreading the good news of eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ and him alone. Grace justifies and grace sanctifies.

  3. I fall into the third category. I am an atheist so I do not believe my ethical standards come from a higher power but rather from my respect for life.
    I do understand how you as a Christian would believe that I am still doing God’s work even though I don’t believe in Him. I feel that your way of looking at it is much more productive than saying no person can do good if they don’t actively believe in God.
    Personally I have no problem with someone who believes in God thinking that God is still working through me because that means they are seeing the good that I am doing and are “looking past” my outright belief system.
    Hopefully your view is shared by many more people because I feel that is the only way for all people to live in harmony and still be allowed to believe what they want in peace.
    PS: I found your site via Mike C. over at Emerging Pensees with whom I’ve enjoyed many good conversations on the topic of our different beliefs.

  4. I thought about the first part of this post. . . while reading some Spong. I was thinking at the very beginning of my Christian upbringing if I were to meet someone who claimed, like Sponge, that miracles didn’t happen, I would have immediately called them a pagan and had nothing to do with them, even though this person considers himself to be in the Christian community.
    Now my definitions have changed. Christian seems hard to define, and sometime an aweful adjective. I wonder if using some of the potential ways of seeing christian in the world aren’t just types of communities.
    The christian community was previously a group that agreed on a certain set of statements, maybe the christian community in the future is a group of people who see the world and their purpose in the world in a similar way.

  5. Another nice post Joshua. I like the way you are thinking. I have been reminded lately that this hard approach of “to be a christian, you need x” drives so many people away. Christianity presents faith as an either/or choice. Either take it at face value or reject it completely.

    For example: I really understand what Jazzy Cat said above;

    “I fall into the third category. I am an atheist so I do not believe my ethical standards come from a higher power but rather from my respect for life.”

    I think that is a result of the misconception that a “higher power” must be a theistic being. Instead, how about seeing those ethical standards as the actual higher power. Or seeing God as life itself? By “higher” could we just mean bigger than ourself? Why do we have to assume that “higher” means “supernatural”? Anything bigger than our own will that collectively influences society is obviously a “higher power”. I would say that compassion is the Holy Spirit or spirit of Christ and it takes on many forms as it is fleshed out, lived out, or “incarnated”.

    I think we can find common ground in all cutures if we focus on the spirit of Christ in all its different manifestations, but instead of using words like manifestations, incarnation, trinity, etc., we should just talk about having a compassionate life (spirit) that transforms us and the world around us?

  6. thanks josh, are they different windows, to view the same thing? Viewpoints perhaps? Can you not have an ethical christian who is also sacramaental or sociological – or any other combo?
    Perhaps each has their own distinctiveness at different times, places?
    Maybe people exhibit ethical behaviour because they are created in God’s image and can therefore do good? Christians don’t have a monopoly on ethical behaviour, indeed thinking less idealistically often our behaviour is flawed and destructive, it is those very impulses that reveal to us our need to have our broken humanity restored.
    Maybe then that becomes the lense through which to look at these 3 streams – sacramental focuses on the work of Christ as 2nd Adam and our example of cruciform love? Sociological christians look at how humanity can be redeemed, how we can be incarnate like Christ in every tribe, tongue and nation? Finally those more ethically orientated look at what actions need to be done, how to live out of respect for the wonder and preciousness of it?

  7. Dear all- thanks for your comments!
    semple- yeah, i think missional is a good term although i am not sure if you are thining about all these terms coming under the term missional. I think most people are missional, particularly if they are participating in the things of goodness.
    jazzy cat-thanks for the thoughts from your perspective. My question would be: can one through grace be participating in the way of jesus without following Jesus as a ‘disciple’?
    dan- thanks for your thoughts. although i am thankful you see these thoughts as hopeful. i think there are lots of others who might see them as threatening. also, i wouldn’t want to come across as projecting my worldview on someone else because i need them to fit into my labels. That is not what i am going for and I hope that isn’t lost in translation.
    nicholas- i like it, I like it a lot!

  8. paul-
    lots of great questions here! good reflection too. I think you have taken the terms and moved to application of terms to stages and people. Good stuff.
    and yes, i think you could have people who are across all spectrums; however, I also want it to be ok for people to exist in one without feeling the pressure to move to or through the others. As Hillary might say, “it takes a village” and i like the idea of mobilizing the global village for good.

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