Monday, August 8

The Essence of Christianity

I am going to make a rash statement and say that approximately 98% of western Christians either do not resemble Christ or are not striving in their own lives to be as Christ-like as possible. Looking around in my own life it is blindingly obvious that most religious people are fixated with mundane and materialistic matters, and that they do not understand the concept of “giving the other cheek”. However, if this is true, it does not mean that we are all terrible Christians.

It does reveal, however, a very important point about the nature of Christianity today. If we see a Christian acting selfishly we say to ourselves “he is not a very good Christian”, all the while making the assumption that he is actually a Christian. Let us say that we still regard him as a Christian (as he himself says he is), what separates him from “heathen unbelievers” is his beliefs, his theology, and his worldview. So, therefore, this means that becoming a Christian means taking on a set of beliefs or religious maxims, and then after that a change of character is an unnecessary recommendation. So the essence of Christianity becomes the maxims that he holds so dear, it is what separates him from everybody else.

This way of thinking contrasts sharply with Christ and his Jewish followers. I have mentioned this before, but Jesus did not teach any addition to the Judaic religion. He did not come to “over throw the law”. His addition was both an ethical and spiritual one, and accordingly to become a follower of Christ meant one had to live this addition. He did not create disciples of a new religion, a new theology, or a new philosophy; he created disciples of a new existence. He gave them radical discipleship, by making them give up their temporality for life eternal. They were still entirely Jews.

The only verbal ‘addition’ that Christianity makes is this, that Jesus Christ is Lord. Now, this statement was never meant to be rational, intellectual, or something that is comprehended by our head. It is entirely outside the realm of reason. After the disciples changed their existence into this ‘new man’, after they had literally given all in order to follow Christ, only then were they able to exclaim “Jesus Christ is Lord!” This statement is meant to come from the heart, not from the head. It comes from experience, conviction, and existential evidence (being changed from a sinner to a saint, for example). It was never meant to be made into a dogmatic statement or something that was proclaimed as intellectually true. It was especially reserved for those who had died to their self, it was essentially gained existentially.

Therefore, the difference between the rest of the world from Christians is entirely existential. It is not theological or philosophical, as Christianity itself today explains. It is not a change of belief but a change of lifestyle and a spiritual rebirth. The Christians are those who live like Christ, not those who believe on Christ. With that said, it has been pointed out that Jesus says numerous times in the gospel of John that “if you believe on me you will be saved”. But it must be understood that to believe in Christ meant back then to accept all of his teachings and commandments, which were existentially very radical. “Believing on Christ” was never understood to mean an intellectual confession of Jesus Christ as Savior until recently.

The existential Christian can learn from this principle many extremely important truths, and I will point out a brief two right now. Firstly, we must have tolerance for those with different doctrinal, theological, and philosophical beliefs. The Bible not only teaches this, but it is implied by it (since Christianity was existential, beliefs entered nowhere into the Christian/nonChristian equation). We MUST be objective to ourselves but subjective to others.

Secondly, Christianity transcends our beliefs. Jesus expressed this with his parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37). The Godly individual in this story is not the Jewish Priest, but the heathen Samaritan. Nowhere did the Samaritan convert to Judaism after helping the man, and this was Jesus point. The Samaritan existentially expressed Christianity, even if he did not have correct beliefs. Being a Christian is in no way dependent on what theology or philosophy we hold. Please also be aware, I am not advocating religious pluralism here, Jesus Christ is the only true way. But I believe Christ’s way to God is not attained through dogma or theology, but existence itself.


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6:44 PM  
Blogger BruceD said...

I wonder why, if the goal of following Christ is to be like him, He didn't leave us with a "how-to" manual. Clearly what is written about Him is only a tiny glimpse into who He was, and what He did. So little is written about the way He lived, I'm hard-pressed to imagine that His intent was for us to imitate His life. I'm reminded of the fellow who met a famous preacher and proclaimed "I want to be just like you!" The preacher snapped back, "you don't know anything about me!"

John sums it up nicely when he wrote "And there are also many things, whatever Jesus did, which if they were written singly, I suppose the world itself could not contain the books having been written."

Could it be that Christ's mission on earth was to say "you are who I made you to be, and by knowing me, you will be who I made you to be... but with incredible love mixed in."? Is it possible that He came to set us free from who we think we need to be, so that we can instead simply enjoy relationship with the Father free from doubt and fear... free to trust?

10:43 AM  
Blogger Timothy said...

Very interesting comment.

You have to keep in mind that the gospels are filled with existential commands, proverbs, and advice. If you were take all of that as meaningless because Jesus probably said a whole lot more is kindof silly. Perhaps you should only worry about the extra stuff once the commands he did give are fulfilled?

Perhaps im missing your point, but Christ's life was his 'how-to' manual. I also dont really see anything in the synoptic gospels that does not tell us the way he lived and told others to live also.

I think its summed up well when he said (my paraphrase): "if you love God you will not only hear my commandments, but do them also".

5:25 PM  
Blogger BruceD said...

That's the wonderful thing about freedom... we are free to pursue relationship with him however we see fit. I thank God that he showed me that I can trust him no matter what. And that I don't have to strive to be like Christ... becoming like him is just a natural part of being close to him. He "rubs off" on me. His love changes me from the inside out.

9:24 PM  
Blogger Timothy said...

But what if it dosent work out, and that no matter how close to God you are you can not bring yourself to be like Christ?

Some parts of the gospels tell me that it will make you no different from the person who does not believe all-together. "Faith without works is dead", as James remarked. Maybe you could tell me (because i am honestly interested)why Jesus came at all?

7:00 AM  
Blogger BruceD said...

Good question, Timothy. Why did Jesus come? To give us life.

The thing that amazes me is how folks think that there will be no growth, or good works, if we don't do it ourselves. That's exactly what I used to think. But coming to a knowledge of perfect undeniable love, I can rest in the peace, and thrive in the freedom that he brought. I can enjoy God without fear and doubt. I can live life without guilt and shame. What does that boil down to? I can live life fully.

I know that He is changing me from the inside out. I sense it every second of every day. My mind is being renewed into one of love, caring, and compassion. And I am extremely aware of His good works going on all around me. Some, I am a part of, some I am only a joyful spectator to. But, life is genuine and full as I walk with my redeemer. I have nothing to do with it, but I know the powerful change that knowing the Christ will bring. It is very good!

8:17 AM  
Anonymous Joel said...

This post is probably a bit late. I was surfing through some blogging sites and stumbled upon yours.

After reading this post, I thought that in your last line you completely misunderstood the reason for God coming down to us as Christ. The way to God isn't through dogma, theology OR existence. Rather it's summed up in this one verse:
"I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" John 14:6
So therein lies your answer, the essence of Christianity can really be found in the name. It is Christ. If you truly believe in Him and how His death on the cross has paid the price for our sin and confess that you are a sinner - "for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God", and accept His gift of grace and welcome him into your life, then will you truly become a Christian. We are justified when we stop trying to justify ourselves and depend completely on the finished work of Christ.

I'm not a very tactful person but i wish to put forward this point - existential Christianity is flawed for a person can live a life like Christ, be like Christ yet if he never realises that Christ is the one that justifies our sins, he will never be saved. There are many in history who have looked up to Christ as a moral teacher and try to emulate his teaching yet if we never accept that it is He who has justified us, we will never truly understand what Christianity really is all about. For we are saved by faith, not works and existential Christianity borders on having to rely on works in our lives to be saved.

As for Christians who should live like Christians, Yes! The logical step should you accept Christ is that you would want to become like Christ. If you are confused about the purpose of life, I highly recommend the Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren. As for the reason why Christ came into this world, there are many other books out there (which btw i'm very sorry that i cant recall any one book that would be most suited). And this is what i feel really reflects the core of our faith:
"If Christ had not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins" 1 Corinthians 15:17
I pray that you'll read this with an open mind and not take offense at any of my comments. I pretty much look forward to seeing your view regarding this matter.

12:26 AM  
Blogger Timothy said...

So far I have tried to avoid the whole "faith vs works" issue. I think your ignoring the fact that Jesus proposed we come to him through emulation. Faith in Jesus did not mean a prayer. It meant a life, an existence, built in discipleship around Jesus.

I do understand where your coming from, I really do, but my thought comes (well i think) straight from the words of Jesus. Existential Christianity is not about acting with good morals and everything will be ok. Its all about 'how' we come and learn from Jesus, who truly is the way, the truth, and the life.

Salvation is through faith, I just dont think we have the same conception on what it means to have faith in Jesus.

8:02 AM  
Anonymous Joel said...

Yeah. Well I do believe that your faith must be backed by works. But works without faith is futile.

All i wanted to point out is that we shouldn't be so caught up in the 'works' part of Christianity that we lose sight of what our faith is rooted in, in that Jesus has justified our sins.

And the reason why I felt you came very close to expressing that as long as you express existential Christianity, you are saved was your use of the parable of the Good Samaritan as an analogy.

Other than that, I do believe that faith in Jesus starts with a prayer, a change in belief. But continual faith in Jesus should be backed by your works and your character - which is what you have also stressed.

8:42 PM  
Blogger Timothy said...

My point with the good samaritan was that you can not know a persons inner spiritual condition, regardless of whether they are a jewish pharisee or a lowly samaritan. Christianity is found on the inside, in the spirit.

The good samaritan had jesus, and he expressed it existentially in the most purest example. I am sure he (i know he is a fictional character but nonetheless) had different theology and beliefs to my own, but i am not to judge. "you shall know them by their works", not by whichever God they pay lip service to.

In any case, thanks for your comments...

9:18 PM  
Anonymous Tyson said...

I have just begun to read such existential Christian works (both fictional and non0fictional) from such authors as Kierkegaard, Dostoevesky, and Bonhoeffer so with that I realize my knowledge is limited. But with that in mind:

Faith goes beyond the rational and ethical and ultimately leads to a paradox of total faith and total doubt as well as the ethical but seemingly unethical viewed from the universal. To the idea of the “Knight of Faith’s” paradox, Kierkegaard says,

“For faith is just this paradox, that the single individual is higher than the universal, though in such a way, it be noted, that movement is repeated, that is having been in the universal, the single individual now sets himself apart as the particular above the universal.”

The “Knight of Faith” is constantly moving between the world of the absolute, the world above the universal, and the world of the universal. The knight belongs in the universal but belongs to the absolute. In this paradox, ethics of the knight, as defined by the universal, may seem unethical. Hence, the “Knight of Faith” is part of a “Teleological Suspension of Ethical;” or in other words, universal ethics do not apply to the knight because the end result of his set of ethics, which allows seemingly unethical movements, is from the absolute, or God. hence Christian existentialism; one's individual decisions are constantly having to choose faith, constantly having to choose salvation. Through that constant choice comes actions. Kierkegaard uses the Biblical character of Abraham and the sacrifice of Isaac as his model of the “Knight of Faith.” James Collins explains the teleological suspension of ethics for Kierkegaard’s Abraham saying,

“Abraham is a prototype of the exception [to ethics], called to by God to perform a task which is a scandal to the ethical mind… Regardless of the temptation to consider the sacrifice of Isaac as a violation of moral law and paternal feeling, the father is bound to respect the word of God above all else.”

Abraham’s faith is considered a duty that is founded upon God alone and no universal law. His task is one from God even though it goes beyond rationality. Furthermore, as explored in “Problemta III,” Abraham is silent to justify himself, implying that his justification is in God alone or the absolute, not the ethics of the universal.

To me, faith and actions are inseperable. But paradoxically they are independent. Faith does not need actions to justify itself and actions do not need faith to justify themselves. However, to the "Knight of Faith", they work together. Actions are the following of God (the faith) regardless of its rational impossibility (hence all Jesus' action commands) with full expectation for God to provide. Simply doing the actions is hollow because it is not from Christ. And faith with no actions is no faith at all like James says because it is ignoring the other half of the paradox of faith and the nessacary "teleological suspension of the ethical" needed for existential Christianity. Only when both work together, simuletaneously, with out distinction of each other are we similiar to the "knight of Faith." Thus, to me, the whole arguement of faith vs actions is superfluous, not nessacary.

7:46 PM  
Blogger Timothy said...

I totally agree tyson, thanks for that succint explanation of "fear and trembling", its one of my faviourites from Kierkegaard. I believe it was Bonhoeffer that described the "faith vs. works" debate as dead, since they are inseparable, and I think he is right.

7:21 PM  

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