Added to the “. . . And Other Stupid Statements” series

I was discussing religion with a gentleman not long ago. It was a very interesting conversation in which he recounted to me how he used to be a Christian in a Baptist church. But he left Christianity for Buddhism not too long ago. He explained that the reason why he left Christianity was because of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. In short, he felt that Christians were on the wrong side of this issue.

This is representative of so many in our cultural Christianity. This gentleman’s argument was simple:

Christianity is determined as valid or invalid upon the character of its adherents.

In other words, if Christians do not act a “good” way, then Christianity itself is discredited. In this man’s mind, Christians were on the wrong side of the conflict, therefore he left Christianity for something more suitable in keeping with the character that he supposed should accompany those who follow the true God.

I am going to make a statement here that I suppose is going to make many of my readers upset. Here it goes:

Christianity is not validated upon the character of its adherents.

Did you get that? Let me repeat.

Christianity is not validated upon the character of its adherents.

So many times I hear people give excuses why they are not Christians. They will refer to Christian so-and-so who did this or that terrible thing. They will look to the character of Christians and judge, based on this character, whether Christianity is true. Not only this, I often hear Christians who affirm such a validation method. I have heard Christians say that Christianity is validated by how we treat one another.

This simply is not true.

Thankfully, God did not confine the validation of his message to the character witness of sinners. If he did, we are all in trouble. Why? Because your character is grossly lacking. The character of the Christian community is weak at best. The character of Christian leaders is shaky and brittle. The history of the church, no matter what tradition, does not always have a pretty track record.

I often tell people not to look to me for confirmation of their Christian belief. This is important. If, for some reason, I was to renounce my faith, leave my wife and family, and take up the banner of atheism, I am certain that many people would be discouraged. Rightly so. My students would ponder how this could be seeing as how I seemed so convinced of the truthfulness of Christianity before. They would be discouraged and many would be disillusioned. But even if I were to renounce the faith, this is no real reason for anyone to give a second thought to whether Christianity is true or not. Christianity is not based upon my character. While the spead of the Gospel is somewhat dependant on Christians (as God has made it so), it’s veracity is not dependent on the faithfulness of its followers.

Many people refer to this passage in support of such a view:

John 13:34-35 “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

The idea would be that so long as we love one another, then Christianity is validated. Therefore, we should not do theology or apologetics, but just set an example and Christianity will be evidence through our character. As much as I appreciate the desire for Christians to act like Christians, this is a dangerous misunderstanding of this passage. It places the validation of Christianity upon our character witness. But the passage does not suppose the truthfulness of Christianity is dependent on our character. It does, however, suppose the truthfulness of our Christian confession is dependent on our character. If we don’t love one another, it does not make Christianity any less true. It only makes our profession to be Christian less true. Likewise, if we do love one another, Christianity is no truer than before.

Christianity is based solely on the historic person and work of Christ.

Let me repeat.

Christianity is based solely on the historic person and work of Christ.

As I told this gentleman, “Christianity is true if Christ rose from the dead. If he did not, it is false. That is it.” It does not matter how Christians respond to the conflict in Palestine, Iraq, or any other place. It does not depend on whether you are nice to your neighbor or a murderer. It does not depend on whether all Christians are unified or divided. It does not hinge on your character or mine. It does not even depend on our perseverance in the faith. Its truthfulness is solely a matter of history. Is Christ who he said he was?

Paul tells the Corinthians,”If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain” (1 Cor. 15:14). Notice he did not say “If you Corinthians don’t promote peace and justice and be nice to one another, then our faith is in vain.” Its about what Christ did, not what you do. It is about the incarnation. While our character might make Christianity more attractive, our character does not have a vote in truth. It is about history first, the rest will follow.

We need to be reminded of this as our country is increasingly becoming  “post-Christian.” If we ever give the impression that Christianity is validated by our character witness, God forgive us for misleading so many. We are poor, weak, and broken, but the foundation of Christianity—the historic God-man Jesus Christ—is forever strong.

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Find him everywhere: Find him everywhere

    57 replies to "“Christianity is Dependant on Your Character Witness” . . . And Other Stupid Statements"

    • […] have spoken about this before, but it is important to realize that Christianity is not dependant on the character witness of its […]

    • Cynthia

      It seems irrelevant to post to say this, but I agree with the Buddhist convert that, at the very least, most Christians are ill-informed of the complexity of the israeli/palestine conflict and often cast support to the wrong side- the side committing the most unjust acts.

      However, I would agree with Michael’s assessment that the validity of Christianity does not rest alone on the character witness of it’s adherents. To be sure there are plenty of examples of exemplary Christians and christian groups in history and today, but the problem for the individual, at least in my life, is the paradox of true freedom in Christ verses the real call to discipleship and all that entails. This is part of what makes Christianity truly unique. God does not ask us to do any good works to receive the gift of salvation. this is in contrast to other cults and religions that do rely on external works for salvation and, therefore, that heavy burden of doing good is placed on the individual. It becomes fear based system of good works rather than simply doing good out of the love in your heart. Humans have a hard time dealing with true freedom and become lazy when this is the motivation from which we are to act (freedom in Christ to loving Him and others fully in daily life). I am guilty of this and I know many others are as well and this does have an appearance to the outside world. But the more I learn about Christianity, the more I realize that it is not about me and my failures or successes for that matter, but it is about the answer to the question “who do you say that I AM”? that matters. While I do understand the validity of the question “how could a Christian/Christians behave that way”, it is deflection from the real question the individual should be asking and answering.

    • jeremy

      I agree that salvation is solely the work of God, and it’s not dependent on anything or anybody else. Nobody gets the glory but God alone. It’s His work. But just to balance this out, it also doesn’t mean that we don’t follow the commands to love one another, etc. sanctification still has to have a place in a christian’s life. Christians too are God’s workmanship

    • richnhe

      sorry if imay ask. Are christians not epistles? who said Israel and palestine is about christianity? what is a christian character? help me let find our stand and that of God.

    • P James

      Great post Michael. Very helpful. The Israel/Palestine thing is by no means a deal breaker, but it might be helpful to post something about it, clearing up the confusion as many people, Christians and non-Christians cannot come to terms with how many evangelical and charismatic Christians are so gung ho for an apparent bully. In my experience I find that many Christians on both sides of the argument often hold their positions for emotional reasons and as a result tend to hold extreme views either way. It’s natural for Christians to champion the underdog. 60 years ago, it was obvious who the underdog was. Today it’s not so clear cut. Christians who express even the mildest sympathy for the Palestinians are often quickly hooted down as ‘anti-Semitic’ and Christians who express any sympathy for Israel are likewise unreasonably criticized by the other camp. I realize you’re probably not about tell us which side to support, but I think some kind of clarification, perspective or explanation would be helpful. Thanks.

    • Donna Boone

      Wow can’t tell ya what a comfort this was. I have many times been reluctant to share Christ because of my times of being a poor follower. If I tell someone Christ changes us and brings joy, then I feel obligated to try to act different and exude joy. Being a nurse I can relate to the fact if I tell someone wrong about a medical/scientific fact then that does not negate that fact.

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