Originally published in the Castlegar News on May 4, 2023 under the title "What it means to be a 'Good Christian'"
The conversation started something like this:
“Hey, you’re a pastor. What do people mean when they tell me they’re good practicing Christians? What are they trying to say? What does that even mean?”
“That,” I said, “is a good question.”
It’s not just a good question, it’s great. But truth be told, I didn’t have a great answer at first.
There are the words themselves, of course. But then there’s what we find behind the words—assumptions, fears, self-justification, perhaps even pride. How do we unpack whatever lies behind the words? What good is it when people throw around religious mumbo jumbo as if it’s supposed to mean something to folks not steeped in the same religious tradition?
What good is it for me, by way of example, to write about verses of the Christian scriptures in a community newspaper, in an area where the majority of people are religiously unaffiliated? One of the mistakes we religious folks often make is assuming that people care about the particularities of what we believe more than how such belief shapes our lives.
Are we good neighbours or are we jerks? Do we act with care and compassion, or with indifference and disdain? When something needs doing, do we offer what we can? When we see injustice, do we stand up for what is right, or go hide behind locked doors? When we witness racism or sexism; when we bear witness to homophobia or transphobia; when we start to understand the many barriers experienced by disabled people, people experiencing poverty, and homelessness; when we see the ways our society pushes certain people to the margins, while centering others, who do we stand with?
How we respond in these moments says more about the kind of god we believe in, and the quality of that faith than than any self-reported goodness.
As I thought more about the question, it struck me that no professing Christian should get to tell another person that they’re good at it. It could be that I’m allergic to religious grandstanding, but it seems to me that the evidence of such things is always in how we live our lives. Do our lives look like the self-giving, authority-questioning, radically-inclusive love of Jesus? Then maybe we’re on the right track.
Am I a good Christian? Is my parish good at “Christianing?” I have some thoughts, of course, but the answer is not mine alone. Part of the answer comes from those outside of my congregation who notice whether or not we are living what we profess to believe.
What I do know is that each and every day we Christians have the chance to practice what kind of people we want to be in response to the God we experience in Jesus.
We have the chance to turn attention to and celebrate the inexplicable reality of divine love in the world. We have the chance to practice being a conduit of that love for the life of our neighbours, our community, and the world. We have the chance to ask what we are willing to give and to risk, so that others may experience the fullness of life.
How do we do these things? By sharing one another’s burdens. By working towards a world infused with care and compassion. By working hand in hand, united as neighbours, to build a thriving community where all experience love, hope, belonging, and enough.
Sometimes we will respond with individual acts of service—bringing a meal, helping with yard work, or offering a shoulder to cry on. Sometimes we will be called upon to rally for a more just world, calling on all levels of government to ensure that everyone has a safe place to live and call home. Sometimes it may mean coming together to address immediate community needs in times of emergency or stress.
All of which is a rather long way of saying that if we Christians are doing what our faith calls us to; if we are indeed “good practicing Christians,” it won’t be any secret, it won’t be limited to our prayer life, or what we do on Sunday. We certainly won’t need to announce it for others to hear.
To paraphrase a hymn popularized twenty years before I was born, “you will know we are Christians by our love.”