I have mentioned before that I often agree with my atheist friends. Their criticisms of Christianity often leave me cheering. I agree wholeheartedly...well not quite. Even as I am cheering there is a small part of me that wants to say, “you do know there are people out there who believe in Jesus and are not like that, right?” There is another part of me that is saddened by such conversations because I know there are good hearted people out there who struggle with some of the beliefs being criticized. Yet they think they have to believe that way in order to be “Christian”. So, for the sake of that small part of me that wants to defend myself (I think it is called pride) and for the sake of those who want to believe differently but think they can’t: here are a few things that I don’t think you have to believe in order to follow Jesus. Whether you can still be called Christian or not depends on the speaker and frankly I don’t know why we should care. The point is following Jesus.
- You don’t have to believe in a place or state of eternal torment otherwise known as Hell.
- You don’t have to believe atheists, muslims, hindus, buddhists, agnostics etc. are going to hell.
- You don’t have to believe homosexuality is a sin or that homosexuals are going to hell. (Wow, there is that hell thing again.)
- You don’t have to believe women should be submissive to their husbands.
- You don’t have to believe science is the enemy.
- You don’t have to believe evolution is a farce.
- You don’t have to believe prayer in school is a good idea.
- You don’t have to be a Republican. (or a Democrat for that matter.)
- You don’t have to believe that Heaven is up in the sky somewhere.
- You don’t have to believe in substitutionary atonement: the idea that Jesus died as a sacrifice instead of us as our sin had earned us God’s wrath to a capital punishment sort of level.
Certainly belief in these things is possible as a follower of Jesus but not necessary. There are many well respected theologians who do not believe these things. (If you would like to do some reading about any of the above topics let me know and I will post some links.) Some would argue “clear words of scripture” demand such beliefs. But realistically what that means is the “clear words of the particular scriptures to which I am paying attention.” We all emphasize some scriptures over others. For example, paying attention to 1 Corinthians 14:34 for women to be silent in church requires ignoring or fancily interpreting 1 Corinthians 11:5 which urges women to cover their heads when prophesying. Difficult to prophesy while being silent. "Clear words of scripture" often aren't so clear after all.
Those who follow Jesus don’t agree on everything. The above ten are only a few of the areas where there can be disagreement. Jesus sets us free to be who we are, not force ourselves into a particular package labeled Christian, not fret about whether we believe the right things. Jesus sets us free from toeing the line someone else has drawn and free to get busy following him by loving our neighbors.