I’ve long been puzzled about this: Christianity is a group. By calling oneself a Christian, one declares one’s membership to that group. However, when the group takes any particular stance, although some of its individual members do indeed stand by the group, other members distance themselves from the group while maintaining their group identity.
I myself admired the movement called Dada so much that I labeled myself a Dadaist; but when I learned that there was a great amount of Dadaism that I disagreed with, I simply stopped calling myself a Dadaist. Nowadays I say: “I like certain aspects of Dada, namely the manifestos of Tristan Tzara and the work of Max Ernst, but other aspects of Dada I disown.”
Perhaps I’m wrong, but it seems to me that people treat Christianity differently. If I call myself a Christian, and then my church takes a pro-yuck stance, I don’t say: “Well, I guess Christianity is not for me—I like certain aspects of it, but I no longer belong to that group, since they are officially pro-yuck.” …No, instead I say: “I myself am a true Christian; and those other people are false or bad Christians.”
I wonder why the name Christianity is so important to Christians. The church and its believers have committed so many horrible deeds under that official title, I’d think that its members, if only from a public-relations perspective, would want to rechristen their club.
This tenacity for nomenclature is doubly confusing to me; for, from what I understand, the title “Christian” was not even something that the original followers of Jesus employed: if they labeled themselves at all, it was by a vague and generic phrase, like “people of the way.”
It seems attractive to me that the earliest followers of Jesus would not yet have reached forth their hand and partaken of a marketable BRAND NAME. —Back in the good old days, true believers would know each other by their fruits: if their actions corresponded with the teachings of Jesus, then they were obviously members of his way; if not, then not.
I think that I might be approaching the solution to my dilemma as I write. This is unexpected—when I began musing, I assumed that this question was unanswerable; but things start to make sense, when I consider how much of Christianity is about marketing. Perhaps that explains why the title is clutched so dearly:
Christianity can no more afford to ditch its name than Coke or Pepsi: if any one of those three behemoths wanted to distance itself from the injustices it has committed, it would be easy to simply endure a change of name; BUT, that would mean having to gain back all of their customers, or “flock,” by means of a newfangled advertising campaign. And such things are both expensive and laborious.
The leaders of Christianity have done such a poor job of teaching Jesus’s way to their congregations that, if the title “Christian” were to vanish, it would be nearly impossible to tell which souls among the legions were believers. (What percentage of churchgoers heartily act like Jesus?)
Here are some words from the man himself (Matthew 7:21-23):
Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.
Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?
And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
But now that I’ve quoted this section of text, I realize the futility of doing so. For I imagine that everyone assumes their opponents are the ones being told to depart after saying “Lord, Lord.” —No reader ever considers herself to be a wolf in sheep’s clothing (this phrase is used by Jesus earlier, in verse 15).
That’s the rub, when it comes to religion: We all presume that we’re on the winning team. I know that I do: Reading the above words, I take it that Jesus is chastising churchgoers, when he says, “I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” —But those churchgoers doubtlessly think that Jesus, in the very same passage, is chastising me, or people like me: nonbelievers, infidels, skeptics, doubters, pagans, freethinkers, etc.
Notwithstanding this idea, let me attempt to score the match point for my side: Jesus’s trope “wolves in sheep’s clothing” could not possibly refer to me or my teammates, for we admit freely that we are wolves. Recall that the iniquitous ones say:
Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?
These deeds are the deeds of believers, of churchgoers: no skeptic would ever prophesy in the name of the Lord, cast out devils, or dabble in miracles—so Jesus must be chastising Christians.
Since I’ve wandered this far, let me leap forward and drown in a weird passage that appears later in Matthew’s gospel. I mention it only because I cannot tell whether its point (assuming that it has one) contradicts, meshes, or has anything at all to do with the above-quoted verses.
In chapter 12, after hearing that Jesus has healed a man who was “possessed with a devil, blind, and dumb,” the Pharisees remark: “This fellow doth not cast out devils, but by Beelzebub the prince of the devils.” Then Jesus gives this response, which flummoxes me:
Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand: And if Satan cast out Satan, he is divided against himself; how shall then his kingdom stand? And if I by Beelzebub cast out devils, by whom do your children cast them out? therefore they shall be your judges. But if I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you. Or else how can one enter into a strong man’s house, and spoil his goods, except he first bind the strong man? and then he will spoil his house. He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad.If Jesus actually rose from the dead and is currently living at the right hand of God in heaven, then I assume that he can look down and view the modern church’s shenanigans. I wonder what he thinks of his people. I mean, since it’s obvious that the resurrected Christ disapproves of my team by default, I wonder what his opinion is about his own followers. Let me pray and ask him:
Dear Lord Jesus,
- Would you say that the modern Christian church is “divided against itself”?
- By your own reckoning, is the church casting out too many, not enough, or just the right amount of devils?
- Has this “strong man” of which you speak been “bound” yet? Have his “goods” been “spoiled”? —If so: When? And, if not: What seems to be the holdup?
- Lastly, regarding your statement “He that is not with me is against me,” I’d like to know: Who among the members of the modern Christian church do you consider to be “with” you?
(I ask these questions sincerely and without undue sarcasm, O Lord. You are more than welcome to type your response as a comment on this here blog post, if you don’t mind answering.)