Misconception #2: Jesus is a Christian
One of my greatest frustrations with Christianity is its belief that Jesus is only found in it - that Jesus is somehow limited to revealing Himself only to those of a particular brand of faith. The truth of the matter is God is not a Christian and neither is Jesus. One of the most polarizing words in the world is Jesus, with Christian being a close second. Whether you are a Mormon, Catholic, or Protestant, Jesus is a big deal to your faith. I really find it interesting that Jesus is also a big deal in the Jewish faith, and Islam, too. So what is the problem?
The problem with believing Jesus is a Christian, or more broadly, to follow Jesus one must be a Christian, is that it simply isn't true. I know this is extremely difficult for my Christians readers to process. It was hard for me, too, especially as the pastor of a Christian church. I need you to stick with me a little longer so that our conversation can fully develop. I understand that it would be easier to just stop reading now and write me off as having lost my mind. The truth is, I haven't lost my mind, but I have definitely lost my religion.
My good friend, Josh Felts, says it like this: "Jesus didn't come to start a new club called 'Christianity.' He came to end all religions and reveal one big family." For me, that is gloriously good news! Unfortunately, for many who have been indoctrinated with restrictive religious beliefs, this simple quote is outrageous.
There are few things that divide humanity like the person of Jesus. In fact, there are few things that divide Christians like the person of Jesus. What was once intended to be a public display of an inward reality has now become a litmus test of sorts for faith. What am I referring to? I am talking about the altar call, salvation prayer, and baptism.
Many sincere Christians believe that they were destined for hell until the day they physically walked down the aisle at church, and prayed a particular prayer at the altar. Some believe that you also must be baptized in order to make it into Heaven. As if that weren't complicated enough, there are subgroups that argue over whether or not you must be fully submerged in water to have a legitimate baptism, even going as far as to disqualify you if you weren't baptized specifically in Jesus' name. For them being baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost isn't good enough; it MUST be "Jesus." It's really astonishing how nitpicky some people think God is.
Because of this belief, fear really, they consider anyone who hasn't done what they did in the same way they did it to be a child of the devil - quite literally, in the extreme groups. My friend, Jesus is not confined to meeting you at the altar of a Christian church or at the bottom of a baptismal pool. As the gospel stories share, Jesus will go anywhere to meet you, even if it means meeting you in a different religion or no religion at all. Jesus is not limited to Christianity; He is supposed to be the model for it.
No one has to become a Christian in order to become a follower of Jesus. The simplest definition of Christian is a follower of Christ. In the Bible, it was the name given to the disciples of Jesus, never once named as a new religion. Jesus practiced Judaism. His followers were Christians because they followed Jesus, the Christ. Get it?
It is completely possible to be a Muslim Christian, or a Buddhist Christian, or a Jewish Christian. The label you wear is not what makes you a follower of Jesus. I am not at all saying that the teachings of Jesus are the same as the other "religions." In fact, Jesus lived in such a way that the religious leaders of his own faith killed Him. If you truly live like Jesus don't be surprised when your church members begin to throw stones.
Following Jesus does not mean that you must disown your heritage, necessarily. It also does not mean that you must give up the meaningful rituals of your religion. The cool thing is by following Jesus you are not obligated to perform rituals that mean nothing to you, for example, fasting.
There are many misconceptions that keep people from losing their religion. Just because something is a misconception doesn't mean that it's not extremely real in a person's life. For example, many of my friends who come from the Catholic tradition never made a conscious decision concerning their faith until they were leaving it. They were born into Catholicism. It was the faith of their family and so it was simply a part of who they were.
Participating in mass wasn't always meaningful, but it was a part of being Catholic so they went. When they sinned, they paid God a little extra that month. They confessed to the priest in hopes of being absolved, but never felt completely free. The whole practice seemed a lot more like a corporate transaction than a spiritual experience.
In doing outreach in West Africa, I have introduced hundreds of Muslims to Jesus. Most of those people continue to call themselves Muslim to this day, because it is their culture and a requirement to exist within their society. They believe Jesus is the Son of God, just like I do, but they don't call themselves Christians. Guess what? Jesus is okay with that.
In the African American culture, many times Big Ma was the connection to God for the whole family. If you need a prayer answered, call Big Ma because she can get a prayer through. The rest of the family had been taught not to play with God. In fact, it was a cardinal sin to even question God, so when tough situations came about, you just asked Big Ma to pray and trusted that God was in control.
Most of the family, especially the men, only went to church for weddings, funerals, and Easter. Every now and then they would go on Mother's Day to make Big Ma smile. Going to church was considered going to God's house. The regular attendees were the women, their children, and the older men. These were God's people, everyone else was just lucky God wasn't striking them down. You knew you had to get right with God before you die, but getting right with God didn't mean having a real relationship with Him. It just meant that you did enough to avoid going to hell.
For many people, you are a Catholic, Muslim, Jew, or Christian because of your family's faith. Your connection to God is based on what someone else in your family has done. While this is probably a clear misconception for us in this conversation, we may feel a connection with this idea as truth because of how we were raised, even though we have grown to understand that we were mistaken. Knowing that we were mistaken in that area should give us boldness in understanding that it is also a mistake to believe Jesus is confined to Christianity.
Next up, the misconception that "God needs me to reach others for Him." If you thought suggesting Jesus isn't a Christian was wild, buckle up and enjoy the rest of the ride. We are just getting started.