Thursday, August 12, 2010

A Christian Without Christianity?!

Anne Rice, the famous author of Complete Vampire Chronicles (1993) and The Witching Hour (1993), has claimed to have made a personal faith turnaround more recently. Her profession of Christian faith is recorded in Called Out of Darkness: A Spiritual Confession (2010). She even rejoined the Catholic Church. So far, so good. 

In July 2010, however, she formally announced her departure from "Christianity" because it is "quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious and deservedly infamous." (See her Facebook postings, and The WiredWord, August 8, 2010 edition) She claims to have Christ as central to her life but eschews the Church (capital "C"). She says that "following Christ does not mean following his followers." She claims to be "an optimistic believer in a universe created and sustained by a loving God." 

So, can a person be a Christian while denying Christianity? Obviously, people have already weighed in either with sympathy (Brian McLaren, A New Kind of Christianity) or scorn (Timothy Merrill, pastor, member of WiredWord editorial team). This blog seeks to expand the discussion.

First, Anne Rice is not alone. There are a growing number of "Christians" who have forsaken the Church as an institution. This has been shown by The Barna Group in recent surveys ( People are tired of the hypocrisy, in-fighting, legalism, sillyness, structural denseness, apathy and so forth of many churches. As a church health consultant, I must say that I have seen my share of such things, and I am both embarrassed and ashamed of my fellow believers. Consequently, a growing number of both self-proclaimed and church-baptized "Christians" have forsaken churches, opting for a more personal expression of faith. So, her actions are not new.

Second, a person can be a Christian without the institutional trappings of Christianity. You can be a true believer even if you have never been baptized in a church, never celebrated Communion (The Lord's Supper) or participated in a regular worship service. You can be angry at a local church, a local pastor, local church politics and antics and still be a Christian. You can live alone on a mountaintop isolated from other Christians and still be a Christian. 

IF, however, what we mean by the term "Christian" is one who personally, with his or her whole being, believes in the risen Lord Jesus Christ, has repented and confessed his or her sins, and is seeking to live as a Christ-follower according to the biblical mandate, then problems arise, don't they? If a Christian is not merely an emotional, subjectivistic person who "feels" close to Jesus, and he or she actually READS the Bible, one cannot get away from those passages that command Christians not to "give up meeting together" (namely "church") (Hebrews 10:25; cf. Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2). And, it doesn't help remonstrating that the modern church is corrupt, full of hypocrisy, has moral problems, argues with one another, and so forth, since all of these qualities were plainly evident in the early church and the early Christians. Thus, the New Testament letters of admonishment, rebuke, encouragement and censure.

Third, SAYING I am a Christian does not mean I REALLY AM a Christ-follower. Even Jesus Himself warned us of people who SAY they are Christians and will end up being rejected by Him at final judgment and accounting (Matthew 7:21ff). Plenty of so-called "Christians" are so in name only without the reality in life and walk. Obedience to the Lord and His commands still marks out the true follower of Jesus, the true disciple. We are so very careful of "judging" people who "say" they are Christians that we never confront them. I do not know Anne Rice, and even if I spoke with her and knew a bit about her journey I would not still know the reality and truthfulness of her faith except by her life and whether it evidenced obedience, submission, and reliance on the Scriptures.

Fourth, Anne Rice and others who take her stance miss or neglect or are ignorant of the ravages of sinfulness we humans, even Christian humans, carry around with us at all times. The old saying, 'Except for the grace of God, there go I" can be attested to by every single Christian who has ever lived on this earth. I sin daily in thought, word and deed, and my fellow believers daily sin likewise. What I and they need to do is daily turn from these sins, confess them, and seek by the grace of God and love of Jesus and power of the Holy Spirit to live more consistently, more godly and more closely aligned with the example of Jesus Christ. That doesn't come automatically or easily to sin-permeated beings.

Fifth, true Christians WANT a Christianity that is true. That's why I am a churchgoer, a pastor and a church consultant. I WANT churches to practice the love, grace, and power of Jesus. I want churches full of people with genuine love for one another and their world. I want local assemblies where faith is practiced, loved and kept pure and noble. 

If Anne Rice really follows Jesus, so would she.