Friday, June 27, 2008

What Is A Christian?

Definitions are important. They help us to communicate, and to speak intelligibly. Good teachers know the importance of definitions. Clear-thinking depends on proper definitions. People need to say what they mean, and mean what they say.

One of the characteristics of our times, however, is sloppy language and, consequently, sloppy thinking. Our society—which is quickly crumbling to dust—has a bent for changing definitions, or using familiar words but giving them new meanings.

Take, for example, the word “marriage.” When you go to a wedding, two people are married. What are their genders? Male and female.

However, “marriage” is now defined in a number of new and novel ways, including “a union of same-sex couples.” If you object that such a union is not a “marriage,” you are immediately labeled as a homophobe, bigot and narrow-minded zealot.

Unbelievably, a court in Europe is debating whether or not a chimpanzee can be considered a “person.” The situation involves a real person who wants to adopt a chimp. Maybe the relationship will morph into a “marriage.”

This fluidity of definitions has also affected the word “Christian.” What is a “Christian”? The definitions given are varied.

Senator Obama was recently interviewed by Chicago Sun-Times religion editor Cathleen Falsani. The Senator said: “I am rooted in the Christian tradition… I believe there are many paths to the same place, and that is a belief that there is a higher power, a belief that we are connected as a people.”

Any intellectually-honest discussion of a “tradition” must be based on original-source documents. If we want to know about “American tradition” we can’t base our discussion on late 20th-century documents. Former President Bill Clinton is certainly not a reliable guide to “American tradition.”

The “Christian tradition” can be found primarily in original-source documents. There are thousands of ancient manuscripts of the New Testament, some complete and some fragmentary, some of the papyrus fragments going back to AD 66.

In addition to original-source documents we can add the writings of the Church Fathers, and leading spokesman for the Christian faith. Any understanding of “Christian tradition” therefore is based on some two thousand years of original-source documents plus documents showing interpretation and application of these original-source documents. Christian tradition does not support the contention that a person who believes “there are many paths to the same place, and that is a belief that there is a higher power” is in any way “rooted in “the Christian tradition.”

Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6) which is at the very root of Christian tradition. The Holy Spirit revealed the same thing through Peter who said, “Neither is there salvation an any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). More data for helping us know what constitutes “Christian tradition.”

John is not silent on the issue either: “He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life” (1 John 5:12).

James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, has made some comments regarding Senator Obama that has been causing quite a stir on our world of sloppy definitions. Methodist pastor Kibrbyjon Caldwell, of Houston—the man who performed the benediction at both of President Bush’s inaugurations-- has launched the website

Caldwell has stated: “One of the beauties of the Christian faith is that we view the presence and power of God differently based on our experience, based on our revelation, based on our reason.”

More verbal fluidity. If anything, “Christian tradition”—two thousand years of teaching and writing based on Scripture and those who interpret and apply Scripture—reveals that Christians don’t primarily base their beliefs on “our experience…our revelation…our reason.”

Experience can be deceptive, and “our revelation” can be nothing more than eating too much before going to bed. Moreover, Christians everywhere—irrespective of their differences on peripheral points-- have a supreme distrust for human reason. It’s human reason that has produced everything from the theory of evolution to the ravings of the “Jesus Seminar.”

And it’s human reason that is directing much of the verbiage that we hear today about the Bible and the Christian faith.

Written by Larry Spargimino in the June 30 issue of The Eagle E-Letter

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