Aren’t all good people Christians?

The Briefing

The Briefing is a leading evangelical magazine published since 1988 by Matthias Media and founded by Phillip Jensen and Tony Payne. Subscribe here.

Originally Published:
Jensen, P 'Aren't all good people Christians?'. The Briefing, issue 41, February 1990, p. 7.

Tagged: forgiveness hypocrisy morality sin

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There is a nasty rumour abroad. People are saying that the church is full of hypocrites!

This rumour must be stopped. It isn't true. The church is not full of hypocrites. There is still plenty of room for more. Anybody can join at any time.

Where did the rumour start? Certainly from the opponents of Christianity, but clearly not from the church-attending opponents. They would have known it wasn't full.

How have the opponents of Christianity made this mistake? By making a bigger blunder: they haven't got the message right. They think they know what they are opposing. But they mistake morality for Christianity.

It all started back with Santa Claus and Moses. From childhood we've been taught about that Great Christian Saint Claus. He rewards good children with materialistic trinkets and disappoints bad children.

This is the Christmas message. And Christmas is Christian. So here is the Christian message: If you believe a myth, then your heavenly father will give you new toys. However, the key to receiving these new toys is ‘being good’. If you are naughty, especially in the month of December, beware! One little boy was naughty and he missed out on his video recorder.

A less materialistic yet similar theme was taught to our childish brains about Moses. Moses (with or without the help of Cecil B.) gave the people 10 Commandments. Now if you keep these, then you are a Christian. But if you don't keep them... well, you are not a nice person.

Don't ask me what is in the commandments. I know they refer to fun things like adultery, stealing or killing. I did not have to remember more than 50% to pass the Sunday School exam and I have forgotten a lot since then.

If I combine Santa Claus and Moses as the cumulative total of my theological education, what have I got? To be a Christian is to ‘be good’, and to ‘be good’ is to be a Christian.

Now here is the crunch. I'm not so good. So what do I do? Say I'm a Christian—that is, be a hypocrite? Or say I'm not good—that is, say I'm not a Christian?

Well, who wants to be a Christian anyway!

Some people do. Church people must. They say they are Christians. Do they really claim to be good? I don't know many, but the church-goers I know aren't particularly good. If they say they're good, then they're hypocrites.

When you come down to it, who has ever kept the 10 commandments (whatever they are)? Nobody, I bet. And if nobody has ever kept them, then the only people who go to church are hypocrites.

This theory all makes sense. It covers the Bible (Moses), Church tradition (Santa Claus), and current practice (hypocritical churches). What could possibly be wrong with it?

Apart from ignorance.

Almost the whole of this view of Christianity is wrong. But it is very widespread, even among some churchgoers. Bertrand Russell knew this definition of Christianity was false. Indeed, it is offensive to all non-Christian people who try to lead good lives. (“Gandhi was a good man—therefore he was a true Christian” is an extremely offensive statement.)

So what is a Christian, if he is not a good person?

Basically, a Christian is a bad person, one who fails the morality of Moses. He declares himself to be a ‘sinner’. In fact, Anglicans, with characteristic Anglo-Saxon reserve, declare themselves to be “miserable sinners”. These days, this could be taken to mean that they were not very good at sinning; however, when it was written it meant they were thoroughly sinful.

Therefore, if you see a Christian doing wrong, he is acting according to his profession. There is no hypocrisy here. This is truly Christian because, of all people, Christians are the self-confessed moral failures.

Then if being bad is the essential pre-requisite for being a Christian, does it follow that we are all Christians? It does mean that we all have the hope of being one. Nobody is disqualified because of their past failures. But no, there is more to being a Christian than being bad.

There is also being forgiven.

A Christian is not a good person, nor just a bad person. A Christian is a forgiven person...