Monday, January 30, 2012

Is Christianity a Belief System or a Way of Life?

Our adults Sunday School Class is studying the book "The Other Jesus" by Greg Garrett.  We are taking it chapter by chapter and discussing each chapter together.  It is a bit like the big theological paper I had to write in seminary that had chapters concerning God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the Church, etc.  We called the paper our "Credo" (I Believe) and the class that required the paper was called Systematic Theology.  The class lasted an entire year and the paper was the culminating assignment and was meant to be a major paper meaning many pages.  We are currently reading and discussing Chapter 6 which is called "Spiritual Practice."  In the beginning of the chapter, Mr. Garrett makes the statement, "For far too many Christians, Christianity is largely affirming a belief in God, and it is lived out through church attendance and adherence to some standard of personal piety.  It is not, surveys have told us, necessarily spiritual, and many who attend church may not even have an authentic experience of God."  (page 55) 

We discussed that section a week ago in our class.  Those present agreed that they knew many people for whom Christianity was just something they had "done" earlier in life and now it had little influence in their lives.  They had either been confirmed as a teenager and had "graduated from church" meaning that they rarely attended church OR they had been "saved" at some point so they have locked in salvation for the rest of their lives and do not need to attend church.  Our text quotes Maya Angelou as saying, in response to such an idea, "Christianity is not something we have accomplished, but something we do."  In other words, our Christian experience should have become a way of life, not just something we say we believe in occasionally. 

Christian Century magazine recently had an article entitled, "Christianity by the Numbers" in which they gave a breakdown of what faith tradition, if any, Americans claim in 2012, according to a recent survey taken by the Gallop Poll.  According to the article (1-25-2012), nearly 80 percent of Americans identify themselves as Christians.  That number lumps together all who say they are Prostestant, Catholic, and Mormon.  An interesting number given in the statistics is that now 15 percent of Americans claim none, atheist, or agnostic as their answer to a faith question.  The findings show that there is a trend in America of an increasing number of persons who do not have a religious identity. 

I sometimes wonder if many of those who are in the "none" category today are persons who once were adherents to a faith tradition but they never fully became incorporated into the idea that religion is not a belief system but it is a way of life.  Living out one's faith is something that persons do each day, not by simply believing in or thinking about faith matters but by practicing what their faith informs them that they should do as they interact with others.  We are challenged by others in our world to put our faith into practice as we encounter others.  Will we respond with mercy instead of judgment when someone in need crosses our path?  Will we listen to what others have to say instead of being quick to give our opinions?  Will we consider the feelings of others and act on their behalf instead of ours?  Will we speak up for those who are oppressed or disenfranchised? 

Christianity is something we "do" every day we live.  We meet others on our journies who make demands upon us.  We respond to them based upon the beliefs we have.  Sometimes we make good decisions and sometimes we make bad ones.  Our faith that we possess enables us to respond in a faithful manner and to repent when we have failed to make the mark.  It also encourages us to want to be with others of similar faith ideas so that we can receive strength for the journey and give strength to others who are traveling on the path. 

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