Friday, May 04, 2007

Who is a Christian?

All right Nathan, I'm going to call you out on that one. "Who is a Christian?" is indeed the critical question. What I want to know is ...

- What are the criteria?
- What justifications can you provide for the criteria?
- Which criteria are absolute prerequisites?
- Which criteria are non-essential?

And, further, how exactly does John MacArthur rate higher than Billy Graham, and why? I think the J Mc A school of exclusion is more damaging than Billy Graham's willingness to work with those he disagrees with. Billy Graham draws those who would never enter a church, and provides them with the gospel; MacArthur drives away people who are seeking Christ, for the sake of tradition.

I also want to know, for instance, why Ted Haggard can be a Christian, but Bill Clinton cannot. Both committed similar sins, but both also claim to be members of the church. Does "being a Christian" to evangelicals merely signify membership in the evangelical community? If so, we are in fact much worse than the Catholic zealots of the counter-reformation, who considered those outside the church outside of Christ, because we add hypocrisy to cultural and hierarchical exclusivity.


Jim Swindle said...

You raise an important issue. We need to be biblical, not traditional. Among other things, the Bible says real Christians have been born again, do not continually sin, love their fellow-Christians, have the Holy Spirit, abide in Christ, have faith in Jesus, have repented, confess Jesus as Lord, and show their faith by their works. The Bible does not say we need to fit American evangelical culture.

As for McArthur and Graham, Graham has been gifted as an evangelist. The evangelist's job is to proclaim the message. McArthur has been gifted as a pastor and teacher. The pastor/teacher's job is to grow the saints and to protect them from the wolves.

Each of them (and each person) will stand or fall by the Lord's judgment. We CAN discern real Christians, but not perfectly.

I hope one or two of these thoughts help.

Eric said...

Can we really discern who is Christian? Isn't that God's job?

We are supposed to be discriminating and able to deal with false teachers and people disrupting the body. However, even there I see no call on us to determine a person's eternal destiny.

Ben said...

Hm. To discern the individual's standing with God is not necessarily profitable or possible, but answering the question of "What makes a good Christian?" is probably one that can and should be answered.

It would be pointless to weigh in on the personal standing with God of Billy Graham or John MacArthur, not least because we don't know them personally. But as public figures, they represent ideas, ideals, attitudes, and ideological lines that may require us to make decisions.

Let's take a trivial example. Billy Graham's ecumenism says that "Johnny Cash is a Christian". In his autobiography, Cash says he believes in ghosts. Now, reading that, I am left with two questions: is it ok to believe in ghosts, as a Christian? And second, should I believe in ghosts? By considering a person with those beliefs to be inside the realm of orthodoxy, I must allow that such a belief does not go against any essential feature of Christianity.

Now, give this example a more serious turn. Suppose we extend our definition of Christianity to include churches who appoint homosexual clergy. In extending the realm of Christianity to include them, we are making a value judgment about the issue they support.

Therefore it is critical that we determine where the line between brotherly love and liberal universalism falls. In drawing ourselves too far inside the line of Christian fellowship, we compromise our witness and undermine the body of Christ; but to extend our Christian belief outside of what is acceptable to God could destroy us.