Wednesday, November 12, 2008

is it possible to be a christ-follower and a christian?

I was chatting with my Religion & Society professor yesterday and we were discussing how he got fired from his first (and second and third, I believe) job(s) out of seminary! He's an Episcopal priest and went to work in India first off, where he found himself in a Christian community with very specific expectations for the way a priest should dress, act, and interact. Christianity is sort of another caste in India, so they pretty much keep to themselves. But he was a young, headstrong, just-out-of-seminarian (not like anyone else we know...) and decided he should get a part time job as an apprentice for a Muslim welder. He learned the vernacular, dressed like Gandhi, and ate food with the people he worked with. This made his (Indian) parishioners angry. He was not acting as the kind of symbol of what Christianity was supposed to look like, in their eyes. So they fired him after a year, and he says it was for good reason--the church can't have people acting like that! I asked him how one could be a priest and NOT act like that, and he said, "Yes, well, can one be a Christ-follower and still be a Christian?"

The point is, we as a "Christian" community have made our religion so much about the right ways to act and dress, the right people to spend time with, not breaking any laws (religious or otherwise), etc., that it's actually almost impossible to follow Christ and be a "Christian" as the "church" defines it.

This is, of course, what Quakers tried to break down, and I think they did, but I don't know that we as "Friends" are much better on this issue than anyone else. We have our own form of ideology and tradition, of rules about leadership (basically the rule being no one can lead because we're all equally capable, which isn't the original meaning of equality--equality doesn't mean we're all the same with the same gifts, but that our uniquely personal gifts are of the same value). We have words that are taboo to say, or words that one MUST say to "invoke" the Spirit. All of this is all well and good, but when are we going to get around to following Jesus instead of just making sure our denomination lasts into the next generation?


David Carl said...

Always a good reminder, though I do see Friends, corporately and individually, caring for one another, feeding the hungry, working in prisons, seeking the will of God in decision-making. Certainly not perfectly, though, and particularly in our liberal meetings (which I have the most experience with) we tend to let our heads (and mouths, without a doubt!) outrun our Guide.

Anonymous said...

Cherice, I think you heard me say this before, but Stan Thornburg said in chapel at George Fox one day: "I am not a Christian." I was floored, this coming from a pastor in Northwest Yearly Meeting and someone I very much admired. Then he added: "I am a CHRIST-ian," and went on to show the difference you are discussing--the Christ who said to love our enemies and do good for the poor, as compared with much of Christianity today. I think he was right, as you are.

Gr. Ralph