Notes on a definition of Christianity

John W. Burgeson, JWBurgeson@Juno.com February, 1995

1. No reason to believe that this is unique, or that it will be generally agreed-to by other people. It is just my view of things. What Christianity, properly understood, is all about. Or should be all about. Comments welcomed, of course.

Some definitions from the AHD, 1985:

Authoritarian: Characterized by or favoring absolute obedience to authority.

Libertarian: One who believes in freedom of action and thought.

Democracy: The principles of social equality and respect for the individual within a community. (5th definition)

At least one author (Munroe, 1956) sees Democracy as the opposite of Authoritarianism. But the AHD does not support this well. Libertarianism, of course, is addressing the philosophical case for free will (vs determinism). Yet, if one uses the term in a political sense, it seems to "fit better" as the opposite of Authoritarianism. I shall, therefore, use it, at least for now.

2. There exist two competing world ideologies, each of which come in a variety of flavors.

a. Libertarianism:

Motive is the freedom and the full self-realization, of persons.

Each person is of infinite worth. Institutions are secondary. They exist to serve individuals.

The public nature of truth. Any "accepted truth" may be challenged.

b. Authoritarianism:

Motive is security of persons.

Persons are of worth only as they relate to others. Institutions are primary. They are ends in themselves.

Truth begins in a priori assumptions, which may not be challenged.

3. Either of these two ideologies may assume God. Either may do the opposite. This paper deals only with the first of these.

4. Fundamental source documents relating to why the libertarian ideology is superior include:

5. The principles of Libertarianism -- based on the concept that the individual has worth because he/she is a child of God. It may be argued that Libertarianism cannot be realized, justified or kept alive on any other basis. Likewise, democracy.

6. Christianity, properly understood, is libertarian, not authoritarian. This is a fundamental assertion. Examples to the contrary abound. These are movements joined in by people who have quite misunderstood Christ's teachings, either through malice (some) or ignorance (many). The Spanish Inquisition; certain American Televangelists; the current drive for authority-led school prayer, etc. Slavery before the Civil War and segregation afterwards both had their "Christian" supporters.

7. Christianity is not a "religion," but something much more profound.

8. Christianity is faith (trust) in Jesus the Christ, a real person of history. Such a faith demands a willingness to risk one's entire life on the conviction that Jesus was right about God. Such a faith has nothing to do with "intellectual assent" to a set of facts or to a human-constructed creed, although both have their place in the understanding process.

9. The starting point is to base our lives on the assumption that Jesus was right about love. Agape love. Love as the basis for the moral order of the universe. Love as a special reverence for personality. When this is not present, I assert that what remains is not Christianity at all.

10. Doctrine. Derivative from the above.

a. Justification by faith. By relationship to God.
b. Every Christian his own priest.
c. Absolute right of private judgement. No institutional monopolies.
d. Authority of Christ "mediated through" the Bible.

11. The question is never "What do I believe?" It is always "Whom do I believe?" And this word "believe" is the Greek word "trust."

12. Human reason will not "find God," except (possibly) by accident. We are in a God-constructed "box," the universe, and cannot see out. The person who disbelieves in God "on rational grounds" is quite justified in so doing, as long as he also asserts that "rational grounds" are the only ones he will accept. The Christian will assert that irrationality is not the only alternative; there is also a-rationality.

 I Cor 3:18  Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seems
             to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, 
             that he may be wise.
       3:19  For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.
13. Yet a person may apprehend God. One way this may be done is to follow the Christ as best one can; to trust what one cannot (yet) see. There is a promise about such people which indicates that such a person will be apprehended by God, and thus "know."
 John 14:21  He that has my commandments, and keeps them, 
             he it is that loves me: 
             and he that loves me shall be loved by my Father, 
             and I will love him, 
             and will manifest myself to him.
The most noble person who ever walked this earth is reported to have said these words. He was either a fake, a madman, badly reported, or really God incarnate.

The first two possibilities appear unreasonable; his moral teachings don't fit those patterns. "Badly reported" seems to be a scant possibility, as does "God incarnate" to the typical non-Christian. The very least a rational person can do, therefore, is to investigate with an open mind. Be "willing to believe/trust," even though not believing or trusting. Challenge God, if you will, to give you direction.

I think it will work.

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