What SHOULD a Christian Be?

What SHOULD a Christian Be? April 14, 2024

Throughout history, different groups of Christians have defined their faith in different ways. From the earliest versions of the Apostles’ Creed all the way to the monstrosity that is known as the Westminster Confession of Faith, statements about how Christians are to be defined have been offered, countered, reoffered, and re-countered on countless occasions.

But what if we threw out all notions that Christianity should be defined by a set of beliefs about Jesus and God, and instead thought of Christianity as an action verb? In other words, regardless of what we think about the Christ, Christians are those who follow him in word and deed.

In today’s American context, that would likely mean Christianity would become a minority, perhaps even fringe tradition. There’d be no push toward megachurches, no desire to “keep God in the classroom,” no insistence on displaying the 10 Commandments in our state houses, and no such thing as Christian Nationalism.

Why?

Because the Bible is pretty clear that to take Jesus seriously is to follow him.

Follow him where, you ask?

Perhaps we can begin with the end of Matthew 5, which comes from the Sermon on the Mount (one of the most action-verb oriented calls to action Jesus gives). He says to:

Turn the other cheek.
Give your coat away freely, even after you lose your shirt.
Walk two miles when one would do.
Love your enemies.
Pray for those who persecute you.
Be perfect, as God is perfect (in Luke 6, defined as mercy).

How many Christians do this, let alone even care to take it seriously? As a post-Christian myself, I can assure you that while I find this to be a great ideal, I am not even close to being there in any practical sense.

The problem with Christianity, however, is that it doesn’t even seem to give any weight to these words. You won’t see Christian politicians clamoring for these verses to be plastered all over our courthouses and other government buildings. You won’t see a call for the Beatitudes, or anything from the Didache, or the Day of Jubilee (Isaiah 61). You simply won’t see it. Why?

Because over the years, too much of Christianity has become more about what one believes about Jesus than becoming like him. And to some extent, I get it. Jesus’ call to action is very, very difficult. He was a radical in every sense of the word.

Sell all your stuff and give it to the poor?
Bless those who wrong you?
Cut out your eye if it causes you to sin?

Okay, only that last one is rhetorical, but the other two are literal. Jesus really expected his followers to share in everything they had. (I’ve called it “voluntaryist communism.”) He really expected his followers to bless and pray for those who did them dirty. And at least for a hot second, they did! Just read the first couple chapters of Acts.

Again, all of this is action-verb oriented. Jesus never asked anyone to write songs about him, or put together elaborate creedal statements, or string together mechanisms for how we “get saved.” And never–I mean, never–did he ask us to found a religion or, worse yet, use that religion to provide cover for our desire for power (I’m looking at all you Christian Nationalists out there!).

Naturally–or, better yet, unnaturally–many a Christian will stumble onto this page and feel the need to defend either themselves or the faith (or both). “Not all Christians,” will inevitably be echoed from the rafters. Perhaps a bit of mud slinging will come my way (nothing new here!). But just ask yourself: where am I wrong? Where does Jesus emphasize discipleship as an adjective or a noun, rather than an action verb?

I’ll wait…

And look, if you can justify a type of Christianity that is void of following the actual poor Nazarene from Palestine, then go for it. Christians have been doing it for years decades centuries millennia, and a short entry on my semi-successful column is not going to right the ship any time soon. But maybe, just maybe, one self-proclaimed Christian will repent, and if that’s the case, then I think Jesus would be proud. Because though I can no longer affirm any of the creedal statements about him, at least I care enough to take his call to discipleship seriously.


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About Matthew John Distefano
Matthew J. Distefano is an author, blogger, podcaster, and social worker. He lives in Northern California with his wife and daughter You can read more about the author here.
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