Who are the “true believers”?


I try not to employ the “No True Scotsman” fallacy very often – it’s not up to me to see into people’s hearts and determine who is a legitimate Christian, and who is not.

At the same time, a person born in a Jewish family who later believes in Jesus is, by definition, no longer Jewish – at least not in any spiritual sense. I accepted this some time ago. Judaism doesn’t really have a strict set of non-negotiable doctrines except one: there is one God, and he cannot be both man and divine (okay, so maybe that’s technically two).

Words mean things, don’t they? At what point do your beliefs – or lack thereof – remove you from one box, and place you in another?

These thoughts have been swirling in my head ever since the following Twitter discussion:

It didn’t take long for someone to chime in that anyone who doesn’t believe in a literal resurrection isn’t a Real Christian. Not too long ago, I would have agreed whole-heartedly. I believed in rigid absolutes, and anyone who didn’t walk the same narrow path got shoved off of it.

That was before experiencing “dark night of the soul” during (and years after) seminary. I now know what it’s like to muster the courage to come forward with your questions, only to be faith-shamed for it. It’s traumatizing. The best thing that helped me get through it was people who were willing to listen without judgment – even when they didn’t always agree, even if my questions were ones that never crossed their minds before.

The people who told me that my faith was invalid drove me into a spiral of depression. Maybe they went well, but they only made things worse.

So I don’t make a habit of saying So-and-So isn’t a “real Christian.”

But, as I told Cindy, I have questions.

And it’s true that, regarding the resurrection (and the virgin birth and the other miracles), I believe in a “Lord, help my unbelief” kind of way, since it’s the only way I really know how. I don’t want my faith to just be some kind of self-confidence regimen; something I turn to for damage control when life goes awry. I want it to be true. If I can’t fully believe that 100%, then I choose to live like it is.

I think of all the Jewish teachers through the ages, particularly those who wrote the Talmud, who believe different things about whether musical instruments are permitted during Shabbat and whether it’s okay to order a cup of coffee in a non-kosher restaurant. The debates never really get solved, yet they are bound by a mutual love for Torah, and the God depicted within it.

Why can’t Christianity be the same way?

Because it’s hard to narrow down the list of things that make one a Christian. If I had to summarize the non-negotiables, I’d point to the Nicene Creed – but not everyone agrees. Some people will want to add requirements; others will want to take some away. “People who love Jesus” means different things to different people. Even “love” has definitions and nuances that mean different things to different denominations.

What do we do, then?

The best advice I can offer is Philippians 2:12: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (emphasis mine).


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6 thoughts on “Who are the “true believers”?”

  1. I dithered for a long time over what made someone a “real” Christian and whether or not I still qualified. As you point out, there are the creeds, but then there are also Christian groups that are specifically non-creedal, like Quakers. Finally I decided that nobody got to decide who the “real” Christians were and that whether or not I “should” identify with the term was a question I could frame in terms of utility, and eventually I decided it was not useful.

    The question of why Christianity can’t be like Judaism in its framing of debate and dissension is a very interesting one…I think it goes way back at least to the framing of the Nicene Creed and the furious debates that gave rise to the formulation of those creeds. I’m not exactly sure what the historical/social/cultural reasons for it were, but the Christian leaders at that time seem to have believed very strongly in the idea of there being clearly defined orthodoxy and everything else being heresy. I am guessing it had something to do with a need for unity in the Roman imperial system. And then there’s the fact that Christian-ness seems to be at least somewhat based on adherence to belief whereas Jewishness is based on being part of a people.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. How does believing in Jesus invalidate your Jewishness?

    1. Since Judeo-Christian faith was transmitted in the Bible by Jewish writers–in the Tenach
    as well as the New Covenant– what point does belief in Jesus erase your Jewish ethnic and spiritual heritage?

    2. Genes, chromosomes and your ethnocultural/sociocultural identity and history
    were not blotted out because you believed in Jesus.

    3. Although you may not be a practitioner of modern Talmudic Judaism or subscribe to a
    particular expression of traditional Judaism, how are you not spiritually Jewish?

    I see absolutely no contradiction between your current belief system–a system transmitted
    by Jews to both Jews and goyim–and your Jewish identity, ethnocultural and/or spiritual.


  3. (A) One of Humanity’s blights has been the persistence of people telling other people their worships of God is not the right way.
    (B) And in this day and age a strident minority in the Atheist community who revel in all religious short comings.
    My response to (A) is ‘So you know better than God?’
    My response to (B) is to bore them to tears with shortcomings of secular institutions and the conclusion ‘It’s Humanity, silly’


  4. I would not even attempt such a definition. It occurs to me that the problem is not unique to Christians. Clearly Muslims have currently a really bad case of it, and so, in another sphere, do both of our American political parties. I think it best to leave the Litmus Tests to the chemists and their little strips of special paper.


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