Christianity in 2010: Who cares?

Christianity was in the news this month when it was reported that Youth for Christ, an evangelical social-service organization, plans to build a $11-million youth centre at the northwest corner of Main Street and Higgins Avenue.

Winnipeg Centre MP Pat Martin railed against a plan proposing that the City contribute funds to the project, calling it “taxpayer-funded proselytization.”

“These people are evangelical fundamentalists,” Martin said. “Offering much-needed sports opportunities is just their way of luring in young prospects.”

Last week, Rev. Jack Duckworth began an exploration of Christianity by looking at the question, “What is a Christian?” This week, he writes in response to the question, “What is a non-Christian?” The series concludes next week with a look at the question, “What does it mean to no longer be a Christian?”

Each week a different Uniter writer will respond to Duckworth’s article, demonstrating the wide-ranging and passionate opinions that arise when questions of faith are
brought to the table. 

What do you think? Let us know by e-mailing editor@uniter.ca.

What is a non-Christian?

by Jack Duckworth, University of Winnipeg Volunteer Chaplain

Religious worldviews are open to all who want to investigate them. But religious ideals can be ignored. What matters most is how one follows a religious faith and honours that heritage in the here and now.

That is why it is important to ask the question: “What is a non-Christian?” Last week’s article noted a Christian is someone who has made the life choice to follow Jesus Christ, lives in manner that reflects that choice, serves others and resists the contrary influences of culture.

A non-Christian may not be opposed to the Christian worldview, but, in fairness to all religious perspectives, there are distinctions that clarify belief systems.

In this sense, potpourri spirituality increases ambiguity, compromises what determines a religious view and fails to qualify what a Christian or non-Christian stands for.

Living a life of integrity with similar ideals to what might be called Christianity ought not to be confused with the core conditions of real Christianity, any more than aligning one’s personal principles with any other religion.

Christianized ethics and following Jesus Christ can be different. With this in mind, a non-Christian is someone who discards the biblical view of Jesus Christ.

On the other hand, a Christian is someone who lives in a manner that reflects their decision to follow Jesus in the company of all others. To this end, conversations, friendships and relationships with all who have differing views offer the experiences of a heart-held motive of God’s love.

In this sense, a non-Christian may not have heard anything about Jesus Christ. The best source for doing so, however, is from the Bible.

All college or university students owe it to themselves to read through the Bible at least once. The primary source document offers the best information. Like all disciplines, substantiated information gleaned from study, dialogue, argument and debate help clarify one’s religious view.

In another sense, a non-Christian may never have been exposed to a community of Christians. To stand outside and only look in, or to base one’s assessment on hearsay, speculation or first impressions, is incomplete. Finding your way into such a community takes a bit of time, but the experiences will also aid one’s religious view.

A non-Christian may have been part of a church that assumed attendance substantiated one’s faith. Some view commitment to the Christian faith as a personal decision, while others understand that someone responds to the call of God. In either case, mere attendance to any faith community neither confirms nor denies the truth of one’s religious conviction. Clarity of conviction is always a prerequisite of defining one’s faith.

In a broader sense, a non-Christian may be a full participant in another religious faith. To this end, one can then say they follow Buddha, Allah or the Hindu gods.

We owe it to ourselves to understand where we stand as a non-Christian or a Christian.

Naturally, should it not matter to the reader, I can only hope to stimulate your thinking. There is no intent to needlessly press the issue. Attempts to understand how all other religious views are lived is too huge to conceive, but conversations can motivate understanding.

In the end, the intent of this column is to present the simple point that blurring lines between Christian and non-Christian convictions serves little use. Instead, honesty within ourselves allows us to face the truth about our convictions.

As a Christian, I recognize that I speak from the margins and to receive a fair hearing means, in turn, I am to give a fair hearing to others’ views. Ultimately, the defining reality of a Christian is grounded in how one knows Jesus Christ.

Eternally, that relationship bears significant weight.

Rev. Jack Duckworth is the pastor of First Presbyterian Church Winnipeg and is available as volunteer chaplain at the U of W Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. He invites all interested to dialogue sessions in room 3M50 related to the articles: “What is a Christian?” (Wednesday, March 3 at 12:30 p.m.), “What does it mean to be a non-Christian?” (Wednesday, March 10 at 12:30 p.m.) and “What does it mean to no longer be a Christian?” (Wednesday, March 17 at 12:30 p.m.). His final column on Christianity will appear in next week’s Uniter. Follow the debate at www.uniter.ca

What is a Christian supposed to believe?

by Joe Kornelsen, Volunteer

Since a “non-Christian” is defined by what they are not, it is first important to attempt to explain what a Christian is. The ambiguous nature of Christian teachings proves this to be very difficult.

If you believe in an afterlife and you are considering Christianity, the first question you might ask is what makes a Christian, a Christian. This is a difficult distinction to pin down.

The usual explanation for becoming a Christian is that you must believe Jesus Christ and follow a moral code laid out in the Bible.

The Bible is divided into the Old and New Testaments. The Old Testament begins with the laws of Moses, is followed by a history of the Jewish people from the reign of David in the 11th century BCE to the rebuilding of the temple at Jerusalem in the sixth century BCE, and concludes with books of wisdom and prophecy.

The New Testament begins with four different accounts of Jesus’ life, followed by letters written by Paul and concludes with prophecy of the apocalypse.

The biblical account of what a Christian must believe is surprisingly opaque. Jesus essentially says you must love God, love everyone and forgive people for their wrongs against you. If you don’t you will go to where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

But it’s not quite that straightforward.

In the book of Matthew (5:17-20), Jesus explicitly says that followers of him are to follow the laws of Moses or go to hell, but in the book of Luke (10:17-20), he says that loving God and your neighbour are good enough to get you into heaven.

So if you don’t want to gamble on your salvation, it would be best to follow the laws of Moses. However, these laws are infamous for their cruelty, particularly towards women (Deuteronomy 22:13-30).

Although we can all be thankful that Bronze Age laws are behind us, why is it that Christians don’t follow the laws Jesus explicitly said to follow? The answer is Paul.

Paul persecuted Christians until one day on the road to Damascus, Jesus appeared to him and told him to join the Christian cause. Paul believed that Christianity should be brought to the non-Jews and thus did not need the baggage of Jewish customs and laws.

Much of Christian understanding of God and Jesus actually comes from the letters that are accredited to Paul. The Christian opinion on homosexuality is derived from a two-verse passage in Paul’s letter to the Romans (1:26-27).

Christian sects also use Paul’s writings to debate whether salvation is achieved through works or through faith.

Christians must wade through the very different rules of Moses, Jesus and Paul to find the correct understanding of God. Looming over this search is the ever-present fact that to get it wrong means eternal damnation. Given the diversity and contradictory nature of many of these rules, people are forced to turn to people who claim to understand what they mean. This has splintered the church into perhaps hundreds of sects.

The original question was what makes a Christian, a Christian. From this, it has been asked what a non-Christian is. This, I don’t know.

There are Christians who support war and those who don’t, Christians who support dictators and those who don’t, Christians that believe a wife should submit to her husband and those who don’t.

Really, there is only one true unifier among Christians and that is their belief in Jesus Christ.

So if the Christian God exists, either there are a lot of people out there who have the Bible’s morality wrong, or God has decided to rest the fate of our eternal souls on the trivial question of Jesus’ divinity.

To me, both of these outcomes are unjust and that’s why I am not a Christian.

Joe Kornelsen is a former beat reporter for The Uniter, a roofer in southern Manitoba and a student on hiatus.


Read part one of the series.

Published in Volume 64, Number 21 of The Uniter (March 4, 2010)

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