Voices of Faith offers perspectives from religion columnists. This week’s question: Can a person be a “small-c” Christian without believing in Jesus as resurrected savior, but living his teachings?
What Christians believe
The Rev. Eugene A. Curry, Park Hill Baptist Church: No. At least not any more than one can be called a “small-m” Muslim simply because one disapproves of gambling.
Historic religions and the identities rooted in them are defined by certain beliefs. If you do not think that there’s only one God and that Muhammad is his prophet, then you just aren’t a Muslim and should have enough respect for Islam to admit it rather than dishonestly co-opt a Muslim identity.
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Similarly, if rejecting the idea that God was uniquely present in the person and work of Jesus, that God offers us forgiveness in connection with his death and that subsequently Jesus rose from the dead, well, a person is simply not a Christian.
And she should likewise have the integrity and the respect for Christians to admit it.
But I would appeal to any would-be lowercase “christians” to reconsider: Jesus thought that he was the embodiment of God (John 8:56-59, Exodus 3:13-14); the apostles thought that they saw Jesus physically alive from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:3-8).
If these supernatural beliefs were in error, then that’s quite a puzzle. For on such a view, Jesus was just a deluded megalomaniac, and his apostles were similarly mentally unwell and given to hallucinations.
Is it likely that a bunch of madmen would have developed a morality that you find so sublime? Having spoken with a number of clinically insane people in the course of my ministry, I’m inclined to think not.
Conversely, if the doctrinal claims of Christianity are true, if Jesus really is somehow the embodiment of God, then it’s no surprise that he propounded ethical teachings of incredible beauty, power and truth.
So if you really do find Jesus’ moral guidance powerfully appealing, perhaps you should reconsider your rejection of Christian doctrine.
Perhaps Jesus really was who he claimed to be; perhaps the apostles really saw what they claimed to see.
‘Help, don’t hurt’
The Rev. Duke Tufty, Unity Temple on the Plaza: The questions that come to mind are: What makes one a good Christian? What makes one a not-so-good Christian?
If you were force-fed doctrines, dogma and lore with the threat of going to hell if you didn’t believe, would that make you a good Christian? If you chose to discard the dogmatic assertions of some Christian churches but patterned your life after the kind of life Jesus lived, would that make you a bad Christian?
As human beings our spiritual call is to be a beneficial presence to the Earth and all of life upon it. This means treating others the way you would like to be treated or, quite simply, “Help, don’t hurt.”
If you live this way and see Jesus as your spiritual brother, teacher and way-shower, you are as bona fide a Christian as anyone else. Believing in Jesus’ virgin birth, the miracles he performed, his resurrection from the dead and him as God doesn’t necessarily make you a good Christian.
If you struggle with these ideas and separate them from your spiritual life, you will do just fine without them.
I like to think of Jesus as the example and not the exception. He repeatedly said, “What I have done you can do also, and more.”
If Jesus returned to this physical realm today, I believe he would say, “Please, take me off the cross and put me in the classroom.”
I also believe he would accept Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and all others as united in spirit who, as him, were one in God.