God is not a Christian

Pastoral Messages | October 6, 2016

I led a class on religious pluralism last Sunday in our congregation. In the days that followed, several people came up to ask, “What did you mean when you said, ‘God is not a Christian?’” Here is a more thoughtful reply than I may have provided those friends as we stood chatting casually in the hallway.

The Christian community arrived fairly late on the world scene. Before the Christian church ever got going, there were people like Abraham. This amazing figure of faith, best known for embarking on a journey of unbelievable trust, preceded the Christian community by centuries. Moses, who encountered God in a flaming bush, was key to the rescue and safety of the Israelite people. People like Abraham and Moses, not to mention countless others, enjoyed an authentic religious experience with God.

The profound relationships that these individuals of the ancient world enjoyed with God, were hardly fake or contrived. And yet, their encounters with the divine long preceded Jesus Christ. How peculiar, it would seem, to question the fate of such remarkably faithful people who lived before Jesus was ever born.

If we try to claim God exclusively for the Christian community, we end up making God very small. We domesticate the divine, turning God into something that resembles our favorite pet. Far better to profess, in the words of John 3, that “God so loved the world” – not Christians exclusively, but the whole world. As Jesus would say of his crucifixion and resurrection, “I will draw all people to myself” (John 12). Not simply Christian people, but ALL people.

God must be larger than Christianity, because God has a heart for more than just Christian people. Why would we want to confine God to one religion, especially if our different religious affiliations are often little more than accidents of fate or geography? Had I been born in New Delhi, India, the odds of me being a Lutheran pastor in Davenport, Iowa, would be infinitesimally small, especially when compared with my birth to parents who were Lutheran Christians actively practicing their faith in suburban Chicago.

What I want to resist is the idea of Christians having a proprietary claim on God. Christians have no corner on virtue, much less on the intellectual and aesthetic wisdom that can accompany a really good life of faith.

It’s hard to picture – isn’t it? – God being disappointed that Gandhi was a Hindu, especially given what this gentle soul did with his life on the global scene. In light of this reality, my prayer is not that all Hindus might suddenly convert to my way of life and my understanding of God. My prayer is that I might live so faithfully to my calling in Jesus Christ, that others who meet me and come to know me will be able to say, “God is really good. I want to know this Jesus Christ of whom Peter speaks and lives.”

Peter Marty, senior pastor

4 Comments on “God is not a Christian”

  • Rick Withycombe

    October 6, 2016 at 8:18 pm

    Well said. This morning at HSM we talked Paul telling the Corinthians that talking Christian is meaning less we also
    live Christ.
    Peace Rick W.

  • Bonnie Buss

    October 6, 2016 at 5:21 pm

    Good article. What do you mean by “Cosmic Christ”, which was something you said at the class? Did I miss the explanation in your article?

  • David DeWit

    October 6, 2016 at 3:34 pm

    I was not in your class last Sunday, but I imagine there were several in the audience who were trained from their youth to regard the doctrine of the Trinity as fairly essential to the Christian faith – i.e., the notion that “God” is eternal (note that the term “eternal” a stronger term than the term “everlasting”) and that the being of the one God, present before time, is comprised – as unfathomable as it is – of the tree persons Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. To say that the person of the “Son” did not emerge until later is to throw over passages like John 1:1-3, Colossians 1:16-17, and Hebrews 1:2. It is true of course that the person of the Son (Jesus) assumed human form later, whereupon his followers got labeled as “Christians.” I do agree with you that it is troubling to think that “salvation” is available only to those whose ancestors originated in Europe or the Bible Belt of the U.S.

  • Irene Hanssen

    October 6, 2016 at 1:56 pm

    Very insightful. Makes one think outside the box.

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