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Chapter two of Why am I a Christian?

What is a Christian? Chapter Two

By Dr. Norman Wise

The need of defining what we mean by the word “Christian” when discussing this matter was seen by the man who inspired me to write this book, Bertrand Russel. In his book Why I am Not A Christian, he defined a Christian as:

“Nowadays it is not quite that. We have to be a little more vague in our meaning of Christianity. I think, however, that there are two different items which are quite essential to anybody calling himself a Christian. The first is one of a dogmatic nature -- namely, that you must believe in God and immortality. If you do not believe in those two things, I do not think that you can properly call yourself a Christian. Then, further than that, as the name implies, you must have some kind of belief about Christ. The Mohammedans, for instance, also believe in God and in immortality, and yet they would not call themselves Christians. I think you must have at the very lowest the belief that Christ was, if not divine, at least the best and wisest of men. If you are not going to believe that much about Christ, I do not think you have any right to call yourself a Christian.”

Russell, Bertrand. Why I Am Not a Christian (Kindle Locations 23-29). Lulu.com. Kindle Edition.

Dr. Russell would define a Christian as one who believes in the existence of God, immortality, and has a high view of the person of Christ Jesus. The problem is that he did must not have understood much about the belief of Mohammedans since they do have a high view of Jesus as virgin born, a second Adam, the Messiah and a prophet. With his definition, we would have to define Muslims as Christians which is not the case. [1]

So how should we define the world Christian?

I think it best to see it as a person who accepts and lives by two theologies and has experienced an event in their lives.

 


The first theology a person who says they are a Christian must accept focuses on creation and judgment. This is Theology 101. This perspective accepts the following three ideas.

1. God exists
2. Believes that the God created the universe and all humanity
3. Believes that God will justly judge all human beings by their deeds at their death.

These beliefs are summarized in the writing of an ancient Jewish philosopher when he said:

“The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil." (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14)

A first-century Jewish Rabbi summarized this theology in one of his letters in the following words.

"But do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment on those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who WILL RENDER TO EACH PERSON ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS: to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation. There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek, but glory and honor and peace to everyone who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For there is no partiality with God." (Romans 2:3-11)

Another early first-century Christian writer said:

"And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment," (Hebrews 9:27)

This theology is shared by Islam and orthodox Judaism. The basic idea is found in many of the religions in the world.

Such a day of Judgement is found in The Republic by Plato in the “Myth of Er”[2]. Immanuel Kant also saw this “moral theology” as the truth found in many religions. These beliefs are vital for a Christian to believe but believing them does not make one a Christian.
But one unique belief that Christians hold is that when God does judge each person by their works all of them are radically falling short of their own moral standards and on one can honestly be considered good. All are rightly condemned by God in this judgement day.

The converted Rabbi Paul makes this clear in his conclusion on the matter:

"As it is written, "THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE; THERE IS NONE WHO UNDERSTANDS, THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS FOR GOD; ALL HAVE TURNED ASIDE, TOGETHER THEY HAVE BECOME USELESS; THERE IS NONE WHO DOES GOOD, THERE IS NOT EVEN ONE." "THEIR THROAT IS AN OPEN GRAVE, WITH THEIR TONGUES THEY KEEP DECEIVING," "THE POISON OF ASPS IS UNDER THEIR LIPS"; "WHOSE MOUTH IS FULL OF CURSING AND BITTERNESS"; "THEIR FEET ARE SWIFT TO SHED BLOOD, DESTRUCTION AND MISERY ARE IN THEIR PATHS, AND THE PATH OF PEACE THEY HAVE NOT KNOWN." "THERE IS NO FEAR OF GOD BEFORE THEIR EYES."

Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God; because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified (declared righteous) in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin." (Romans 3:10-20)

So, Christianity is very critical of humanities moral performance. In fact, it is only because of this radical moral failure that Christianity is needed at all to solve this problem. If one does not think they are a moral failure and will justly condemned on the day of judgment, then they have no need of Christ Jesus or Christianity.

To be a Christian one must believe that their best righteous deeds fall short of God’s standards of love and unselfishness. They fear that judgment day will lead to their just condemnation because of their moral failure. Only when one comes to this conclusion, can a person have any reason to want to consider Christianity as an option.

In the next chapter, we will continue our definition of what it means to be a Christian.


Digging Deeper

Journaling on what has been written so far:


How would you define being a Christian?

 

What do you believe most people in our society think a Christian believes?


Have you studies the writing of the early Christians in the New Testament to gain a first-hand understanding of what Christianity originally meant to the founders?

If not, why do you not take time to read the first-hand sources?


If you have, what did this reading lead you to conclude about the beliefs of the first generation of Christians?

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