I have some tentative suggestions as to whether or not a claimed assertion to be following the Christian faith appears authentic. Since we all have to start somewhere, I want to emphasize that my current thinking is that the authentic Christian doesn’t need to accept that everything associated with Christianity as understood by mainstream theologians must be correct and be present at the outset, but rather that the aspiring Christian should be seen as attempting to be travelling in more or less the right direction. The fact there are so many denominations and shades of belief within most denominations should remind us that whatever seems certain to any particular locally initiated in-group will not necessarily gain a widespread following from those across a variety of Church members calling themselves Christian.
While it may infuriate some readers, I want to insist that simply believing a typical list of common claims of truth with Christianity eg the Bible being the word of God, Jesus being born of a Virgin and dying for our sins etc etc may be far less important than choosing which teachings of Jesus we are trying to follow, or for that matter deciding how we show will respect for creation and how we behave towards our fellows (even the ones we don’t like!). Truth by itself is not sufficient. For example a driver may believe that the Road Code states that 100 km/hour is the speed limit for the open road. This is not to say that he or she will try to modify their behaviour at the wheel to keep to that limit. We may accept as a proposition that Jesus may be the King, yet if we have no wish to accept his “lordship” or for that matter clear guidance he offers in the Sermon on the Mount, he is not our King.
The word translated as ‘faith’ in the New Testament is the Greek word ‘πίστις’ (Pistis) which can also be translated ‘belief’ or ‘trust’. Here I want to suggest if we want our faith to be recognized as authentic we could do worse than follow what a professional scientist does when he or she tests an accepted theory. In other words trust enough to test in practice. Like the scientist, I suggest to be authentic Christians, when we find the theory doesn’t work out in practice we adjust or reshape our faith. The non-authentic alternative is to pretend things are true when the evidence says otherwise. Chalking a cross on the door and praying for the plague sufferer may once have been an initial or even the only known available choice for showing compassion. When we are shown evidence that flea carrying rats are spreading the plague, if we are serious in our wish to remove the threat of plague, eradicating the rats and fleas must become part of our response.
For the authentic Christian faith within Christianity is hopefully based on the actions and teachings of Jesus Christ. The one following Christianity declares oneself not simply to be distinguished by faith, but by a faith that fits what Jesus stood for. Here again we could do worse than start with Jesus’ teaching that Love is central. Those who start with the notion of intentionally showing love for God and love for neighbour would presumably be characterized by a profound respect shown by action for the works of creation, and a genuine compassion for one’s fellows again expressed in action as well as thought.
With many possible interpretations of obscure passages of the Bible, history teaches the Bible can be used as an excuse for all manner of unkind behaviour. History shows faith has been claimed to justify (among other acts) torture, genocide, terrorism, slavery, crusades, murder of witches, property theft, rape, driving out family members for supposed heresy, execution of those belonging to unrecognised denominations and even execution for translating the Bible into any language except Latin. I suspect that for most modern mainstream Christians authentic Christianity on the other hand would be recognized for the way it improved family, community and interfaith relationships. It seems plausible that following Jesus teaching would focus on peace-making, the fair distribution of resources, a caring compassionate approach to the poor and doing something positive about the plight of the refugees. It seems to me that being authentic as a Christian would not mean using one’s faith to justify difference of race, religion and social position. If Jesus is correctly recorded as taking issue with those who used religious position, wealth or political power to advance their own position, we might also insist that such behaviour is not the mark of those seeking to be authentic followers of Jesus.
Well those are some initial thoughts. The readers are invited to put their viewpoint.