Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The Minimum

Ordinary Time
James the Apostle

I was chatting over the lunch dishes with friends today, and something occurred to me that I've been thinking about off and on for awhile. Real Christian faith cannot place importance on peculiar doctrines to the exclusion of peculiar practices. Therefore, I think there is a bare minimum that one has to do in order to be a Christian. Not "believe," not "accept," but do.

Lots of critters want to say, "believe this" and "accept that" and tack some generic notions of "good behavior" onto the end. Some will even say that faithful belief and faithful practice (orthodoxy and orthopraxy) are inseperable. Even then, many of those folks don't want to actually say, there are specific things one must do in order to be considered a Christian (by God or anyone else).

So quite obviously, I have a list. Let me know what you think about it. What would you add? What would you take away? Is there one that really shocks you? I'm curious...

Regular celebration of the Eucharist. Well, it was pretty obvious to most of you, so I thought I would get it out of the way. And I do mean "regular." Preferably weekly. Daily is great. Monthly can be cool. Twice a year? Forget it. What do you think you're doing? The point is, this cultic [ritual] practice is at the center of the Christian proclamation: the Kingdom of God is a dinner party. Jesus turns all our betrayals around in the reality of his love and self-giving. This is a rite that knits us together as the Body of Christ in a mysterious and mystical fashion, and further infuses us and the life we share with his own essence. Even if one sees it as a "mere remembrance," it is one that makes present the reality of betrayal and redemption, and forms us in the story of God's redemptive love. It's just not optional.

Be with people with whom you pray. Have a life in which you have friends with whom you pray, work and play. That doesn't necessarily mean praying with them a certain number of times per week, but rather that your prayers are grounded in a real life that you share. Do pray with one another. But don't just pray with one another. Don't be ranking those things in importance to the exclusion of some aspects. Be part of a community, darn it!

Make space in your life for the community. If someone lives a lifetime being ones own boss and answering only to oneself without the possibility of being called to task or corrected by others - and this of one's own free will - one cannot be a Christian. More simply, Christian discipleship means committment to the community that embodies God's reign. Committment to that means obedience in the concrete rather than the abstract, and that requires submitting to one another in humility and honoring one another above ourselves. Sometimes it means jumping on opportunities to choose caring for someone else over against our own preferences. If there's not space in our lives for that to happen, we aren't Christians.

Have a "real" discipline. And by "real" I mean, "something you do regularly because it's good for you and it's an expression of your commitment to Jesus and his community, not merely because you feel like it." That means getting off our butts to worship with the community, reading the Bible, praying the Office together, serving the poor, et al. It means you can and do periodically ask the question, "What am I called to do for my own formation and to serve others that will be an expression of who I/we are called to be in Jesus' restoration of the world that's going to be right no matter what I feel like?" Sure, maybe you'll like most of the good stuff most of the time. You probably won't always feel like it, but it's important that you do it anyway. I remember a bit from King David 1 or 2 Kings in which he says, "God forbid I would offer Yahweh a sacrifice that cost me nothing."

Okay, so I think all of those practices and the attitudes that come with them are so key to being an apprentice of Jesus Christ and a player in his world-restoring drama, that if we don't have them, we are deeply deficient in our religion.


See also

Unity and Exclusion
Excommunication and Redemption


byron smith said...

Does performance of these make you a Christian, or are they simply the good fruit from which it is possible to ascertain whether the tree is good?

Regular celebration of the Eucharist
So Salvation Army members are out?

Would you also have a list of things which if you do you are not a Christian?

Chris said...

a good list, but you forgot "vote Republican"

*ducks and runs*

Anonymous said...

Byron asks very good questions above. I think he is on the right track there. I would not want to exclude Salvation Army folk on the basis of this list.

Although I agree that Christians should do these things that you list, I am loathe to make a list of "things that make you a Christian," even if they are good and necessary (in one sense) things. I am not entirely clear that this was your intention with this list, but it seems like that's what you were doing.

To make such lists to determine who is "in" can begin to be dangerous. It can turn into a "shibboleth." I'm sure you are familiar with the reference.

There is in fact such a list though, a couple of them actually, that are very similar. I do in fact subscribe to them. They are not lists of practices, as you have here, but lists of the mininmum one must believe to rightfully call onesself a Christian. Of course I refer to the Apostle's and Nicene Creeds.

That's the minimum. As far as what someone does or doesn't do making them a Christian or not, I am reticent to go there, as I have already mentioned. I think I'll be generous, and leave such judgements to God alone.

Peace to you, my Eucharist loving brother.

JHearne said...

I, too, am nervous about the idea of a list of required practices or actions.

Of course, I'm not sure that is what you mean. I can agree that these things may be necessary (in some sense) for spiritual growth and maturity, but I'm not sure I want to set down a standard.

Additionally, though I value the Eucharist, I desire some strong argument for why it is so incredibly central. I understand your argument about its formative nature but I guess I want to know if this idea is so important as to dismiss otherwise faithful people.

You probably expected as much from me. I guess I want some scriptural reinforcement on this point.

+ Alan said...

I think we actually need two words here. We're trying to talk about two different things with one word - Christian.

I really think we should work more on popularizing the mystical and metaphysical aspects of what it means to be a Christian. This is crucial to a real understanding of what has and is happening in God's reality, the reality He is trying to make real for us. So, when I say someone is a Christian, I mean that in an interior, metaphysically connected way - basically that they have been "born from above" spiritually - literally, our innermost selves have been merged in Life with the Self of God, the Holy Spirit. One could argue how that initially happens, but when it happens, one IS a Christian.

And easier way to look at it probably is using the familial analogy that God Himself uses so much in Scripture. The word "adoption" is used but I think it's much deeper than that actually. We are born anew as God's Children - so we are God's Child now - much like my son Conor is my son. He is part of me. He comes out of my own essence. He IS a Creech. He's even part of all the Creeches who came before him (extra communion of saints deal there). But Conor can live as less than who he is. He can close his ears and heart to me and not act like me at all. If he does this, he remains my son (genetically, physically) but he does not resemble me or my family and therefore, does not reap the benefits of being a part of that family.

So, we have someone who IS a son of Alan, but who may choose to act like an idiot, but he is still, even more deeply than his actions, my son. I think it's this way with Christians - there is a base existant reality, a metaphysical fact of our union with God's Life essence, and then there is our choosing to live inside that reality and allow it to fully penetrate outward into our whole selves, sacrificing, listening, bending our will, actually being changed. Being born as a Christian is not being fully grown and mature as a Christian. We may well be talking about the theological distinctions of justification vs. sanctification - "vs" is not good - more like how these two things differ and work together, one into the other, one for the sake of the other. OK, I've written too much for a comment already. Hopefully it made a little sense. Good stuff to think about here.

stc said...

You've left out baptism, which surprises me. Since we Protestants tend to think in terms of two sacraments, you probably need to mention both (or neither).

Your emphasis on community makes a lot of sense to me, except that the community hasn't been very accepting of me over the years. What does one do when the community erects barriers against one? To really bring the point home, Jesus was in precisely that situation. We think of him as a good Jew; the Pharisees thought otherwise (according to the Gospels).

I agree that one must do things to be a Christian, but I think we must define those things very generally. Who is a Christian: Those who profess allegiance to Jesus and live their lives accordingly. That's my answer.

Previous comments illustrate the difficulty with getting any more specific than that.

Chris said...

Good Lord, Mr. Hearne, do you have any idea what you're asking for?!?! Never, NEVER get Kyle started on the Eucharist!! It's like waving a red cape at a bull....

JHearne said...

I distracted him elsewhere. it's okay. I took one for the team.

Kyle: Oh Burn!

Jared Cramer said...

I agree with Q, every Christian should be baptized weekly. ;-)

Seriously, though, these practices are that which sustains us as Christians, they are practices that will form us into the image of Christ.

For example, eating food doesn't make you a human. Of course, food is necessary to your survival. However, to debate whether one can be a human without eating food would be a rather strange thing to debate. Though, obviously, one could not be a human for very long without eating at some point.

Our identity as Christians is a gift from God, we are freely adopted as God's own children. But to try to live as a Christian without these regular practices would be as foolish as arguing that you can be a human (for very long) without ever eating.

And Kyle knows I have a strong inclination against making a list of things every Christian must do. I think Kyle's list is different than that. It is broad and open to the diversity of practices which form catholic Christianity.

Sam Charles Norton said...

For J Hearne - scriptural reference? Howzabout John 6.53?

Yellow said...

How about, tell people about Jesus....

Oh and be real with people live out your life in the face of your neighbours...

love the blog I think you've been on a bit of a journey...

Anonymous said...

It is critical to feed on Christ. If we are hungry it is a sign of growth. Looked upon this way it is not a "to do list" but wisdom - it is wise to eat well in order to grow strong. I personally feed on Christ through eucharist, meditating on Scripture, fellowship/community, service to the least, praise and worship, prayer. I am of the opinion that the feeding from scripture and eucharist are critical and community almost as much so. I've learned this by doing without each for extended periods and noting the effects (not a recommended method). I also highly value Henri Nouwen's description (in Life of the Beloved) that we are like eucharist :blessed, broken and given. We feed on Christ not for our own selves alone, we become a life giving source for others.

Garrett said...

them's fightin' words, Kyle :0) this list makes me wonder if you should be getting a JD instead of an Mdiv or whatever wonderful degree you'll have rightfully bestowed upon you.

mr kierkegaard is rolling over in his grave. of course, you might say, "precisely! he should be dancing in heaven!" but forgive me my immature cliche!

Kyle said...

Hey, everybody! Sorry to take so long getting back to this. Thanks for your thoughtful responses.

I think I should start with a general clarification; this is what I'm not interested in:

1. having a list of things to help me determine who is and isn't a "real" Christian, simply for the sake of doing so

2. having a "test" for fellowship that will determine whether I can hang out with somebody

That's what most "lists" are for, but not this one. I track pretty well with Alan and Jared and would like to describe better what I mean...

I think that Jesus had and does have a "kingdom agenda." I think it's fairly clear that at least as much as he told people what to believe about God, he also told folks what to do (or not to do) if they were going to be on board with his program. I don't think that changes. Jesus' overall program is about restoring humanity in his own Image and initiating the new age. I think that in a way like Alan talks about, one can be joined to Christ mystically but refuse to be part of the Kingdom movement. I think that refusal constitutes apostasy, and should be recognized by faith communities (they do it all the time, this shouldn't be so controversial). What God ultimately does with or to those apostates is God's business, and I'm perfectly happy not talking about it, believe it or not.

This is a list of things that I think are absolutely necessary to considering oneself part of Jesus' kingdom agenda and placing oneself in the way of God's redemptive work. I don't really care who calls themselves a Christian or not.

It's not a shibboleth, A, it's about calling out what is and what isn't healthy, and what it looks like and doesn't look like to follow Jesus. Why is it okay to require people to subscribe to the creeds, but not a code of ethical/communal behavior - after all the Scriptures are pretty clear about the latter, but not the former. Indeed, the Creeds are the Church's theological development of the Scriptures, while some of this ethical stuff is right there in the "primary source documents".

So it's not, "do this and it'll make you a Christian," but rather, "do these things to become like Christ."

Further, (still with me, Q?) I think if we refuse to "get specific," we end up releasing people from any kind of behavior requirements altogether. "Love God and do what you wish" is a really nice sentiment, but these practices are about learning to love God because we don't emerge from the baptismal waters already knowing what that means and how to do it well. In the same way that one teaches children how to behave, so must the Church teach people to be apprentices of Jesus.

Back to the Eucharist...!

Byron, I'd have no interest in saying Salvation Army folks are "out," but I would say that Salvationists aren't doing all they could reasonably and easily do in order to participate in God's transformation of their communities. Doesn't make them bad. It does make them wrong, however. :0)

With that said, I'm sorry that I put the Eucharist on the top of the list; I didn't mean to imply anything by that, and I think I have to modify my argument to say that while I think it's absolutely needful, refusing to celebrate it doesn't completely short circuit the formation of the Community. I think refusing the Eucharist is Not Good, but not Horrible, if that makes any sense.

And yes, I think there are some things that, if one does them, one cannot be a Christian in any meaningful sense, i.e., on board with Jesus' kingdom agenda. Churches have lots of lists of those things, but why not a list of things that must be done?

I'll get to the Eucharist a little later on...

stc said...

I don't think you read my comment very closely. "Those who profess allegiance to Jesus and live their lives accordingly" is what I said; not "Love God and do what you wish".

If your concern is a kingdom agenda, then we're on the same page. Anyone who genuinely lives in such a way as to flesh out his or her allegiance to Jesus is going to bear fruit for the kingdom of God. I'm not offering people an easy way out!

byron smith said...

Thanks for the clarifications, Kyle.

Though you still forgot one:
Start a blog.

Kyle said...

Hey, Q, I'm sorry for the mischaracterization. While that kind of laissez-faire attitude to defining anything specific about discipleship is very prevelant, I see that wasn't the point you were making. Sounds like we are on the same page...

Kyle said...

Ooooh, Byron, harsh burn!


+ Alan said...

Yeah, that St. Augustine was pretty laissez-faire - must be a burber thing. :)

I actually think the statement "love God and do what you wish" is very accurate, but NOT as it is often used. One would have to see that someone like Augustine was speaking within a context that certainly wasn't giving leaway to members of the Church going wild and doing whatever was good for "them."

So yes, Love God and do what you wish, but do you know how to Love God?? Where and how does one learn this? I think I good start is within the "list" that you've put up here Kyle. The Christian Community is the school of Love for all of us - where we learn who and what we are. And when we learn and more fully become these things, we will be able to Love God, and doing "what we wish" won't be a problem.

Kyle said...

I like that.

Closed said...


I would say that the list you offered is a place of pedagogy for our desires to be overtime pruned and conformed godwardly in which we are working out our salvation, which is a process and a promise (already sealed in us) at the same time, just to avoid justification versus sanctification, as I'm not very Protestant anyway and don't "buy" into the nature versus grace bit underlying that approach.

I think it key that we be in a community at prayer. As I wrote recently,

In my parish, I know many people by name, often know the troubles and joys of their lives, pray for and with them, partake together and join coffee hour after....

And that loss of the particular is the fabric in which we can understand one another and our similarities and differences and gifts and charisms and faults alike. It is within this matrix, Mater Iesu, that we can see persons of a whole cloth rather than in our reductionistic and modernistic politics of identity that hold us all captive.

Friendship is the heart of “bonds of affection”, and if we do not have this, we have nothing, NOTHING, and no manner of institutional ties, or covenants will save us. If some dismiss us out of contempt, let that be upon their own heads, but in the meantime, let us bear one another up in affection and mutual longing for the things of Heaven.