Forgive the provocative title.
Reading through the Gospels has put a lot of questions in my mind about what it means to be a disciple of Christ. Jesus is quoted as giving some pretty direct statements regarding who would be his true followers and be part of the kingdom of heaven of which he spoke so often. It appears to me that he defined his disciples by those who choose to follow his highest moral teachings. i.e. the Sermon on the Mount and the “New Commandment” to love others as he had loved his disciples.
After the Sermon on the Mount he is quoted in Matthew 7:
15“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.
21“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ 23Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’
24“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”
In John, Jesus gives this definition:
34 A new commandment. I give to you,(that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”John 13 34-35 (NIV)
Again in John, Jesus is quoted as saying that the choice to do the will of God was the path to understanding if Jesus was really of God, as opposed to relying on your interpretation of scripture the Pharisees were doing) :
John 7: (NIV)16Jesus answered, “My teaching is not my own. It comes from him who sent me. 17If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own. 18He who speaks on his own does so to gain honor for himself, but he who works for the honor of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him.
From my point of view the title of “Christian” is something that Jesus would not give out to all those who claim that title today, Mormons and Evangelicals included. It seems rather clear from these two accounts, that There has to be a will to follow God, and to put Jesus’ teachings into practice rather than a simple confession of faith. Indeed, according to the Jesus of Matthew, a correct confession of correct faith in accord with the learned seems to be something quite superfluous if you actually choose to do God’s will, i.e. you will know for yourself without scriptural confirmation.
So according to Him, isn’t it a bit presumptuous for us to call ourselves “Christians” without searching our hearts to find out if we really want to put the very difficult teachings of Jesus into practice. He does not say: ” By this shall men know that you are my disciples, if you have the correct creed and teaching about my true substance” or ” By this shall people know that you are my disciples, if you belong to my one and only true church”.
It seems a bit strange that we so readily defend ourselves as “Christians” because we believe that Christ died for our sins, when this theological fact was not at all the focus of what Jesus had to say to those who believed that he was the Messiah. I, for one, would think that He would look more favorably on those who sought to put his words into practice, whether or not they believed He died for their sins, was resurrected, was God, a God, or part of a triune substance that is the Trinity. He does say that these people, apparently regardless of their particular brand of theology, will be on the solid foundation when they stand before Him. I mean, may of the much maligned “hell-bound” secular humanists seem to fair better on this front than those who call “Lord Lord” quite often. It seems that the focus on our own salvation and doing what it takes to “get saved” really misses the point, doesn’t it?
So, does it make sense to call yourself a “Saint” (latter-day or otherwise) or a “Christian” without the will and inclination to put His teachings into practical application?
Others, inside and outside of purported Christianity seem to have previously picked up on this same thought:
As Gandhi observed. “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” discussed here by an Anglican.
and Joseph Smith (verses 34-46)
Are The Great Commandment and The Great Commission Incompatible?
A new discussion about how Mormons are not christian: