Claiming Self-Responsibility in My Adult Christian Faith
I could have titled this, “overcoming my addiction to outside authority in defining my relationship to Christ.” As I reflect on the fear I had and that I confessed to in writing and sharing “Am I a Christian,” I notice that the fear was driven by the power I have been giving outside authority in this matter of my Christianity, or lack thereof. This outside authority is melting away as I, now nearly 72, step into my adult Christian faith.
Who constitutes this outside authority for me? Interesting question indeed! I see it can be anyone, especially anyone who may not hold exactly the same view of things as I do.
Being with Non-Christian Authorities
Before my newfound Christian identity last week I remember that when I was with non-Christians I was fearful of being considered a Christian.
Why was this? Because I thought they would think I am a Christian Fundamentalist, and I knew I was not that (nor was I a conservative Lutheran, Catholic, etc.). And until now I have not had a concept of being Christian apart from being a Fundamentalist (or conservative denomination of whatever type), so there was no middle ground. I was either a Fundamentalist Christian or I was a non-Christian. This binary stance seems strange to me now, but I think it was at the root of my fear to tell anyone who was not Christian that I may be a Christian.
In my fear of being a Christian among non-Christians I would judge myself harshly, “What, you are ashamed of the gospel of Christ, the power of God unto salvation? Heretic!” These words of condemnation, adding insult to injury, were driven deeply into me from my youth and throughout my days (57 years!) in the Lutheran Church – see Romans 1:16 and Mark 8:38.
The binary answer – EITHER Fundamentalist Christian OR non-Christian – was also reinforced in me by the Evangelism Explosion program I was in, a program developed by Dr. D. James Kennedy, a Presbyterian pastor. It was also central to the Billy Graham evangelism work I was in as well as many of the teachers I was following in my thirties – Chuck Swindoll, various teachers from the Multnomah School of the Bible, etc. In my thirties (after the sudden death of my parents in a car accident as I was turning thirty) and early forties I had given a lot of weight to these teachers and at the same time honestly resonated deeply with the bible, which I read, studied, and taught for years.
Yet in my forties and beyond I was increasingly uncomfortable with Fundamentalist Christianity, and I was unwilling, heretic or not, to be identified with Christianity. What was I to do, then, with my non-Christian friends? Easy – I would say nothing.
In now considering a new non-Fundamentalist Christianity I notice I am now much more comfortable being a Christian among non-Christians. This new non-Fundamentalist Christian option opens the door to my explaining what I mean by “Christian” with confidence that I can be a Christian without being a Fundamentalist.
Being with Conservative Christians or Christian Fundamentalist Authorities
When, in my forties and beyond, I would come up to a Conservative or Fundamentalist Christian, as with being with non-Christians, I once again gave them authority over me and was filled with fear at the mention of Christianity. I am not a Fundamentalist Christian, but I thought that they assessed that Fundamentalist Christianity was the only kind of Christianity that was REAL Christianity. So the only thing I thought I could be with a Fundamentalist Christian was a non-Christian. Until now I did not have another category – I could choose only between Fundamentalist Christian and non-Christian.
Where am I now when talking with Fundamentalist Christians? As with non-Christians, I again feel the fear drop away. I am very comfortable in my newfound identity of being a non-fundamentalist Christian, but a Christian nonetheless. Again, as with non-Christians, my answer to Fundamentalist Christians opens the door to conversation. If the Fundamentalist Christian wants to know what being a Christian means to me, it would lead to a conversation, not a short “elevator speech” or a “yes or no” answer.
So What Kind of Christian Am I?
Interestingly, I notice I have not discussed liberal Christianity. Am I a liberal? Again labels are misleading, and I would say, no, I am not a liberal Christian. This is an intuitive sense that I have, and I am not sure why I feel this way. Perhaps I feel a deeper, more serious theology, a deeper, more serious relationship with Christ, is warranted than what I associate with liberal Christians. This, of course is not fair, but I think this is my reasoning on some level.
What kind of Christian am I then? If not Fundamentalist or conservative or liberal and yet somehow needing something more definitive than “non-Fundamentalist Christian,” what term would I use? I take a lead from Pat here. She says for herself, “I am a follower of the Christ and a student of the Buddha.” Her statement makes it obvious that “I, Gary, am a follower of the Christ and a student of the Pathwork Guide.”
Adult Christian Faith
So in all of this I see that I have finally stepped into my adult faith, adult in the sense that I have taken self-responsibility for being who I am with Christ and not relied on others to define my Christianity. I do not feel a need to defend how someone else, even someone I agree with, defines Christ or Christianity. Each of us has a unique spiritual life, and if Christian, a unique Christian life, and a unique relationship with and expression of Christ. No two of us are alike, and each of us is a work in progress, that is, each of us is growing, maturing, ripening, evolving, all the while becoming more of who we are – in God, in Christ, or however you are moved to express your life journey.
A Christian’s Prayer
This morning Pat and I morphed again our ending prayer before coffee. We used to say, “We are increasingly open to recognizing the Presence of the Cosmic Christ. We are increasingly open to realizing we are the heart, mind and light of Christ. Amen” Beginning this morning we are saying, “We open to the Presence of Christ. We open to the reality that we are the heart, mind, and light of Christ. Amen.”
Shared in love, Gary