Because I hear a lot of people, celebrities and politicians, neighbors and acquaintances and friends, claiming that they are Christian but admitting that they’re not in a faith community and not really interested in being a part of one.
And I’m interested as to what the benefit is for them to claim a faith without practicing one in community. I want to ask them if it really matters to have that label.
Now, I know people who really long to have a community of faith but can’t find one that resonates with them. I have friends all across the globe with that reality…and that’s rough.
I don’t think that’s typical, though. And this question isn’t pointed toward them. I’m more asking this question with those who claim to be Christian but who don’t make attempts to act on their faith communally in mind.
And this comes with a clear conviction on my part that being Christian means being in a faith community of some sort. Because you can’t be a Christian alone, I think.
I mean, in some ways I can see the confusion over this issue. We’ve turned the term “Christian” into a moral identifier in many ways. It’s a way we privately identify personal beliefs and morals. And we’ve made it into a cultural identifier as well (and what a travesty that reality is).
The Christian community has given the impression that we can be Christian alone.
It’s like a tattoo we get to wear without needing any real connection. It may have a back story…but does it mean something now?
But does that mark have a future impact on our lives? Or is it just a remnant of what was that we still sort of like but don’t know why?
Or it’s kind of like, well, could I consider myself a Republican or Democrat or Green or Libertarian if I never voted?
I don’t want to make too much of a comparison here because it only goes so far, but it’s an interesting one. Would it matter if I claimed a political party if I never voted? Could I call myself by a party name if I never practiced?
Well, I guess I could.
But would it mean anything? Would it do any good?
I want to lean on this a bit…because I think it’s a conversation to have.
In fact, I think churches have it all the time in implicit ways.
And we have it poorly.
We have it every time we baptize a child in a church and then never see that child again (and don’t expect to). We have it when we mark people with ashes at the bus stop on Ash Wednesday, but don’t expect anything else.
And the result is…what? A bus full of people who think that faith connection is a bus stop encounter once a year.
I think the result is that we end up reinforcing a cultural Christianity without any real meaning.
So, I want to ask: does it matter?
And I fully get that there are some who are in faith communities and call themselves Christian who don’t trust any of it. I get that being active in a community of faith does not indicate a Christian faith (however you might define “faith”). Many people in faith communities are really despicable and don’t act or behave like I think the Christ invites us to.
This is true. I think this also a symptom of cultural Christianity.
And there are many people are in faith communities, churches, but wouldn’t call themselves Christian.
This is also true. We have people in my community who struggle with faith, and we encourage that struggle and those questions. I respect and honor that they’ve decided to struggle in community, that we’ve decided to struggle together, and I think that’s better than struggling alone or not struggling at all.
And in many ways I’d consider them more authentic than those who call themselves Christian but don’t engage in a community of faith or show interest trying to practice their faith.
Because I don’t think being a Christian is cultural. And I don’t think it’s an indicator of personal morality. In fact, I’ve more often than not found the moniker “Christian” to be absolutely unhelpful when it comes to determining morality.
I’m a reluctant Christian because I want to call myself Christian, but often times find that it’s hard to do because we’ve reduced that term down to the lowest denominator as either a cultural indicator or personal morality moniker…and it doesn’t seem to mean much anymore.
And so it’s no wonder that people don’t involve themselves in a faith community. Because…does it matter?
I think that it does. The first thing Jesus did was call people around him. You can’t be a Christian alone. Even our desert mothers and fathers were part of a larger community in their solitude.
We can’t be Christian alone. But with the way we use the term “Christian” and the way we have the conversation in churches, I have to ask the question. Because I’m seriously curious.
What is the benefit? Does it matter?