In many ways we have been led to believe that being a Christian is measured by the methodology by which one takes on that identity and the subsequent way one embraces and practices doctrinal purity. This understanding of what it means to be a real Christian stresses the need to be an expounder of the Bible and thereby places great importance on those who devote their lives to Bible study and teaching. It is, of course, the perfect way to promote a professional clergy and the trappings of the institutional church.
Trying to define Christianity in terms of who has been saved correctly and who is doctrinally pure is not the only possible definition. Many see the term “Christian” as applicable to those who demonstrate a commitment to the essential message of Christ. That message is largely captured in the most powerful and controversial of Christ’s lessons, that of the Sermon on the Mount. In this mostly counter intuitive message, Christ reveals a reality that seemed impossible back then and remains so today even to the average church member. Jesus stated that men are to love each other, even their enemies, that meekness and lowliness of estate are virtues, and that my anger and your murder make us both equally sinful, forever eliminating my ability to condemn you as worse than me.
None of these teachings are embraced to any real extent by most churches today; and, in fact, those who might propose that practicing these tenets is the real test of Christianity are generally denounced as misguided, unrealistic, or even heretical. Instead the church rails against those outside its walls, claiming an exalted status before God and a mandate to criticize, discriminate, and oppose. In place of Jesus’ message of brotherly love, which was to extend to even one’s enemies, traditional “Christianity” seeks to identify more and more outside enemies which can then be the focus of “righteous indignation” and thinly disguised hatefulness.
Interestingly, if one were to accept the operational definition of a Christian as opposed to the academic definition proposed by the institutional church, then the Church loses its claim as the only group acceptable to God. Under the operational definition, the Hindu or Muslim who practices the Golden Rule and seeks peace and reconciliation with his fellowman is as much a follower of Christ (Christian) as anyone else in the world. Such a diminishment of the role of the institutional church is a serious threat to its very existence and therefore not popular among its adherents. The exclusiveness proposed by the “Christian” church is inherently divisive and feeds the ego. Jesus came to expose the ego, not send us off on another religious ego trip.