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    Am I a Christian?

    Thursday, December 13, 2012, 7:13 AM [General]

    Sometimes when I talk to people about spiritual or religious things, they want to cut right to the chase and ask, “Are you a Christian?” That’s a good question, and one that, for me, is not easily answered. Here’s why: who or what determines what constitutes being a Christian? Jesus? The Bible? The church? Religious tradition? Before I can tell you whether or not I am a Christian, I need to know what you mean by the term “Christian.” 

    But let me first share this important truth: Jesus never defined Christianity or what it means to be a Christian. Jesus never gave us any criteria by which to judge who is and who is not a Christian. So if Christianity as a religion has anything to do with what Jesus taught about the subject, arguing about who is and who is not a Christian is sort of mute, isn’t it?

    The Bible only uses the word “Christian” three times and never the word “Christianity.” The disciples were first called Christians in Antioch. But the Bible never defines what a Christian is. More on this in just a bit.

    As for churches and religious traditions, haven’t they have split and formed their own denominations for centuries because they differ on their definition of “Christian?” One denomination doubts that other denominations are “true” Christians. So, at best, they don’t fellowship with one another, or, at worst, they condemn one another to hell. I’m reminded of what Gandhi said when asked what he thought of Christianity, “I like your Jesus, but I don’t very much like your Christians because they are not like your Jesus.”

    Back to the biblical concept of Christians: While Jesus never talked about Christians or Christianity, he did often talk about following him or adopting his way of life. He called people to live as he lived and to follow his teachings as “the Way.” His first followers, before being called Christians, were called “followers of the Way” because they lived as Jesus lived and sought to obey what he taught. In fact, in what Christians call “the Great Comission” at the end of Matthew 28, Jesus tells his disciples, not to make Christians or to start Christianity, but to make other disciples by teaching others what he had taught them. In my opinion, the religion known as Christianity has strayed from the teachings of Jesus to the teachings of the church or the teachings of the totality of the Bible or the teachings of their own religious traditions. So, to be frank, I’m not sure how much institutional Christianity really has to do with Christ himself.

    For Jesus, being a disciple or a follower came down to living out his two commands: love God and love others. I still believe in Jesus and try to incorpate his teachings or his “Way” into my own life. But I don’t like all the baggage that Christianity puts on Jesus, on following him, and on those who might want to follow him.

    So am I a Christian? I think so. I try to follow Jesus. Jesus said his followers would be known, not by their doctrines, creeds, statements of faith, and orthodoxies, but by their love for others. And I want to be as loving of a person as I can. I want to follow the best teachings of Jesus, but, to be honest about it, this sometimes puts me at odds with Christians and Christianity.

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    What is Reasoned Christianity?

    Monday, December 10, 2012, 7:16 AM [General]

    Christianity is one of the world's three great monotheistic, Abrahamic religions (the other two being Islam and Judaism) with about 2.2 billion adherents. Christianity is based upon the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in the canonical gospels and other New Testament writings, but it also considers the Hebrew Bible, which it calls the "Old Testament" to be canon. The mainstream Christian belief is that Jesus is the Son of God, fully divine and fully human and the savior of humanity. Because of this, Christians commonly refer to Jesus as Christ or Messiah. Jesus' ministry, sacrificial death, and resurrection are often referred to as the Gospel, meaning "Good News". This gospel is the news of God the Father's eternal victory over evil and the promise of salvation and eternal life for all people through divine grace.
    Christianity is by no means united in its beliefs or practices. There are three main branches of Christianity - the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, and 38,000 Protestant denominations. So when it comes to questioning what Christians believe and how Christians live, we can get a very wide range of answers. Christianity, as a world religion, is a good religion and does a lot of good - helping people both physically and spiritually. I was raised a Christian and still find value in Christianity as my religion.

    Reason refers to our capacity to make sense of things, our ability to take in information and arrange it so that we can understand ourselves and our world better. We use our reasoning skills to think about cause and effect, truth and falsehood, and what is good or bad. Reason is closely identified with our human freedom to change our beliefs, attitudes, traditions, and institutions as we come into new information. Our capacity to reason allows us to be reflexive creatures, to be "self-correcting" as we grow and to be "self-determining" individuals.

    For many of our ancient philosophers, the cosmos itself was said to have innate Reason. They believed that Nature itself has a definitive purpose and things are arranged toward that purpose. They felt that human reason was linked to the Reason of the cosmos, inextricably intertwined with the divine order of the universe. They therefore believed that humans would be happiest if they lived according to this Reason, this divine logic of the cosmos. The early Christian church, incorporating this philosophy into their religion, felt that God's divine Reason or "logos" had become manifest or even human in the person of Jesus Christ.

    Reason is the basis of critical thinking, our ability to decide what to believe and what to do. Critical thinking helps us to discern what is true, sometimes true, partly true, or false. We use Reason and critical thinking skills every day to help us make sense of ourselves, our world, our lives, and how we should should live. Therefore, Reason is important.

    So what is Reasoned Christianity? As I said, I'm a Christian. I'm a Christian because I believe it makes sense to follow Jesus. But while I consider myself to be a member of the Church and of the Christian faith, I also think that much of what Christianity believes is just plain wrong. Much of what Christianity teaches is unreasonable - it just doesn't make sense - and it prohibits people from considering Jesus and following him. So it's my conviction that Christianity, as a religion, needs to change...or it will die. It needs to change because, basically, it has lost its compass, its sense of direction. For instance, rather than being a Way of life such as Jesus described, it's become a list of doctrines or beliefs that we are supposed to hold to that no longer make sense to many people. Some of these doctrines and beliefs are nonsensical. Some of them are even harmful because they are immoral. Christianity has become an archaic belief system that puts harmful and unnecessary obstructions in front of many honest seekers who might otherwise be interested in considering what Jesus had to say. If we don't update Christianity to be in keeping with our reason, with our common sense, it will become irrelevant to most in our world, except for the superstitious. If it does not adapt to what we now know to be true and to become open to future truth, Christianity will become a "dead religion".

    Of course, there are great truths found in the Christian faith which are timeless, and we'll discuss what those truths are and how to preserve them. But the way in which those truths are expressed must fit the understanding of our particular time and place. We must acknowledge the fact that human understanding has changed over the last 2000 years - our understanding of the world and how it works, our understanding of ourselves, even our understanding of religious things such as the Bible, God, Jesus, the Church, spirituality, etc. And we must be true to our understandings, to our "common sense", to our reason. There are many things that might need be sacrificed in order to be a Christian in our day, but our intellect is not one of them. We don't worship and serve God best by abandoning our intellectual integrity.

    So Reasoned Christianity is about discovering a reasonable faith in God, a faith that makes sense. I believe with all my heart that God is real and that we can and should experience God, especially as Jesus revealed him to be. But many of the traditional doctrines about God that Christianity holds to keep us bound to nonsense, superstition, and even immoral concepts that keep us from knowing the truth so that we can be free, free to be genuine Christians who follow Jesus. What is needed is a Christianity that explains God's presence and workings in our world in ways that are consistent with our reason, with how we know that the world works. If people accept or reject Christianity, it should be because of the central message and challege of Jesus, not because Christianity's doctrines are outdated and superstitious or because its worldview is incomprehensible. I'm convinced that Christianity can be reasonable, that is does ultimately make sense. But we have to separate the chaff from the wheat in order for it to do so. We have to use our God-given reason to be discerning about what we believe and how we live.

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    Welcome to Reasoned Christianity!

    Monday, December 10, 2012, 7:15 AM [General]

    Thanks for stopping by! My name is Bill and the purpose of this blog is to share my personal thoughts about my spiritual journey over the past 52 years, where I've been and where I am now. Just to give a quick overview, I became a Christian at the age of 12, attended a Christian Bible college, and taught Sunday School in a number of churches over the years. I've always been fascinated with the person of Jesus Christ and what it means to follow him. But I found that I had many questions and doubts about the Christian religion which the Christianity of my youth couldn't answer or told me that I shouldn't ask. These questions and doubts have led me to a more eclectic faith that, while affirming the reality of God and the centrality of Jesus' teachings, also relies on reason and experience as guides in my spiritual walk. I'm finding that my faith is becoming more and more about what I do - about loving God, loving others, and loving self, as Jesus taught us - and less about religious rules and belief systems.

    The focus of this blog is to explore what this all means to me in a personal but public way. So I invite you to read along and offer your comments if something piques your interest.

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