Ditching the Definition
I've been a Christian since I was about five, and was committed all seven days of the week (and that meant twice on Sundays). Christianity put my people-pleasing ways on steroids. I wanted to please God. I wanted to please my parents and I did not want to disappoint anyone by sinning. I grew up in a time when the emphasis was on repentance and confession rather than God's love and grace. We knew we could be forgiven if we fell at Jesus' feet but there were certain steps to be taken first and rules to follow after. While I still believe accepting Jesus' gift is the cornerstone of our faith, I didn't always understand the foundation was love. As a little child I used to lie in bed rolling swear words around in my mouth - words I would never EVER say aloud - and I would panic if the "F word" and the name of Jesus tumbled together in my thoughts. Surely that would be enough to condemn me to hell for all eternity? I tortured myself with guilt regarding an insulting note I tossed onto the floor of my third grade classroom. The note was handed to the teacher and I never owned up to it. Two years later I was still losing sleep wondering whether I ought to go and confess. The note said, "Glen is a dog". I hadn't even used an exclamation mark to communicate the strength of my opinion. I worried that Jesus would give up on me because of a childhood habit I couldn't quite manage to quit. Yes, it's true, I picked my nose when no one was looking... Can you imagine the angst I experienced once I reached my teen years and started to date? OMGoodness!!
"I played the "holy"
role pretty well..."
But I liked being a Christian. It was something that set me apart from my friends in the state school I attended. Other kids tried to get me to swear and to shock me with the rudest stories they could find. I played the "holy" role pretty well and was easily appalled and disapproving. I felt privileged to be "in the fold" and blessed to know Jesus. I felt as though I had something special in my life that most of my friends didn't have. I wasn't a sinner for starters... I just lacked popularity and a big group of friends (Hmmm. I wonder why?) Eventually life got real and I grew up to realise the differences between me and the rest of humanity were pretty minimal: I struggled, they struggled. I loved, they loved. I tried, they tried. I experienced heartbreak and disappointment and so did they! Nothing in life was as neat and orderly as I'd been conditioned to expect. My life was no better, and was sometimes a whole lot worse, because of my religion. Next came the realisation that far too many Christians are overly exclusive and judgmental, guarding their rules and regulations with all of the ferocity of a bulldog with a meaty bone. Gay? You're going to burn in hell. Buddhist? Muslim? Hindu? You're misled and cut off from God for all eternity. Don't speak in tongues? You don't have enough of the Holy Spirit. Can't afford to tithe? You won't receive the fullness of God's blessing. You're a woman? You must submit to male leadership, your husband and reduce your potential so you don't make anyone feel uncomfortable.
"For me, something is badly
wrong with the definition..."
I'm not saying ALL Christians are like this. I'd say the majority are not. Personally, I know many, many people who live only to express God's love for others - they're the "good ones" - and I honour them now.... BUT the word "Christian" often seems synonymous with judgement and condemnation. Ironic, given that Jesus, as the embodiment of God, was and IS the ultimate expression of love and acceptance. For me, something is badly wrong with the definition so I'm ditching it. I don't want to be labelled as a Christian. I am a Jesus-follower, a truth seeker and worshipper of the supreme God of the Universe whose hand I see at work everywhere - and that includes deep within where he guides me to new and deeper understandings of grace. Make no mistake, my faith is real and continues to grow. It simply looks different to the way it used to.
The word "Christian" doesn't even appear in the Bible so I suspect the definition is much less important to Jesus than the state of our hearts; and our love for each other more important than the labels we might use to include or exclude others from that love.
Catherine Joy is a teacher, life coach and single mother of four. She loves trying to keep all of those balls in the air but fails spectacularly at times. Perfectionism and people-pleasing seemed to be written into her DNA but she's slowly releasing expectations imposed by others and settling into a more generous view of a loving God at the same time. Catherine's goal is to experience life in lots of different places and to use every wrong turn as an opportunity for learning. She resides on the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia.
See all previous articles by Catherine Joy