UnChristian: Lets Stop Calling Others This

Listen to this Reflection

From time to time something happens. Within us is a need to demarcate. To say, “I am unlike this other.” That we are not them because of that. This is important. Self differentiation is a critical part of cognitive and mental development.

We have always lived in a polarized world. Many people understand themselves more by who they aren’t than by who they are. It is easier to define edges in a high contrast world.

Who is Christian needs to be different. There are three important reasons to stop saying others are not Christian.

The Unlimited Grace of God

It implicitly states there is behavior for which the grace of God is insufficient. This is the opposite of my experience. Every morning, God has fresh grace is waiting for me. I awaken to more mercy than I need or deserve. It is there if I ask for it, or not. Appreciating it or not. Seeing it or not. Sensing it or not.

As I look at Jesus, I see our heavenly Father. One who is overflowing with grace. I cannot see how there wouldn’t be enough grace for someone. That someone has exhausted God’s grace. I remain undeserving, and yet the grace of God continues to find me. It continues to find us all.

We Lack the Power and Authority

Jesus was clear in many conversations with his followers that it was not for us to police the work of God. The following passage lets us see Jesus, expanding who was a follower.

John answered and said, “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name; and we tried to prevent him, because he does not follow along with us.” But Jesus said to him, “Do not hinder him; for the one who is not against you is for you.Luke 9:49-50 NASB

In this next passage, we see Jesus restricting who were followers.

Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; leave Me, you who practice lawlessness.
Matthew 7:21-23 NASB

Intertextually, we can see that there is not a way for us to discern who is a Christian and who is not. In both of these texts, there is even overlap. They both are casting out demons in Jesus name.

The power and authority to decide who is Christian was not given to the church, nor to individuals. Only Jesus has this right.

Respecting the Autonomy of Others

Furthermore, no one has the power or authority to define the experience of another. It is each person’s choice to describe part of their identity with the term Christian. There are few helpful empirical descriptions for people. Nearly every way we describe ourselves is subjective. Even our shared language can point to radically different realities and understandings.

Each person reserves the right to define themselves, and their experience. You have not been invited to oppress others by defining their experience for them.

We are our siblings keepers

We do not get to shed our responsibility. There are Christian groups, movements, and people which grieve my soul. Many atrocities have been done in the name of the Church. They continue to happen in our midst. I understand the impulse to say that a group, like Westboro Baptist Church, is not Christian. We are a part of the same family, and we have some responsibility for one another.

We do not get to define them. We are a part of a tradition spanning nearly two millennia. No matter your tradition, we have a responsibility to one another, to our ancestors, and those yet to come. People will grieve and apologize for the wrongs and harms I will cause in my life. I will do the same for many others.

It helps to humble us. It helps us live from grace and love. It helps Jesus be our Lord.

An Alternative: Point to Jesus

“The Jesus I follow looks/acts different.”

To be Christian means that we are following Jesus. Yet there has always been debate by what this means. It is more formative and helpful to reframe the conversation. It does not dismiss my responsibility. It doesn’t attempt to define their experience. It doesn’t limit the grace of God.

The Jesus I follow looks different from the German State Church during WWII. Or the church of the inquisitions. Or of the crusades. Of modern American Christian Nationalism.

There is at least a possibility for conversation. There is the reminder of what Jesus invited us all to. To pick up our cross and follow Him.

We can Ban Christians from our Local Communities

We cannot allow these realities to be manipulated and abused. Anyone can behave in a way which would disqualify them from participating in a Church. There being fresh grace does not mean that you are welcome back into community. There are predators. The local church does not need to be a hunting ground for their violence or abuse. It is their choice to call themselves Christian or not. Let ecclesial leadership be in communication for safety from predators.

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