This is the third part of an ongoing series about – well – mistakes that some Christians and some Christian groups make about what Christianity believes or teaches. In other words, “what isn’t Christianity!” In the first two installments, we looked at six wrong notions:
1. Christianity is about keeping the rules.
2. Christians believe in the Bible.
3. There are different “ages” or “dispensations” in the Bible and in “God’s plan of history.”
4. Christians believe that the Bible is the only–or supreme–source of theological truth.
5. Baptism and Communion are just symbols.
6. The “end times” are coming soon….
If you missed any of these, you really ought to go back and read them before continuing, because the temperature here is about to get a little warm. So without further eloquence:
7. Christianity teaches that good people go to heaven and bad people go to, er, the other place.
Oh my, no! What Christianity actually teaches is that hell is for those who choose to go there, and they choose that by (a) rejecting God, or (b) dying in a state of unforgiven mortal sin. What’s “mortal” sin? Well, the word mortal means deadly, but just think of it as serious, grievous, and intentional. Heaven, on the other hand, is where Christians go who die in a state of grace, are martyrs, or who lived a life of heroic virtue. Heaven is also where every soul in Purgatory will finish. For most of us Christians, that means we get to heaven, at least eventually.
There is no such thing as reincarnation, regardless how tempting it is to think of that bully from the eighth grade coming back as a cockroach. There is also no such thing as being made god of your own little planet, or coming back to haunt places or people, all silly pagan concepts.
8. Christians become Christians when they say a prayer and ask God to save them.
Short answer: no. This one is based on some odd misinterpretations of Scripture. It came in not long ago, compared to the length of time Christianity has been around. It has its roots in pietistic movements from the 18th century. The real way Christians become Christians is in Baptism. When we are baptized, we are joined with Christ in his death and born again in his resurrection. So why do Christians baptize babies? Because they need to be Christians! Don’t they have to understand? Really–do you understand? Don’t they have to, well, do something? Nope. All the “doing” in Baptism is done by God. It’s a Grace thing.
9. Christians don’t smoke, drink, play cards, dance….
Please! These are odd little proscriptions that were sneaked in by revivalists of the 19th century American frontiers. Smoking isn’t a sin, drinking (alcohol) isn’t a sin–although getting drunk is a bad idea that was forbidden by St. Paul–you can figure out why, the very idea of losing control of one’s behavior should tell you that. Playing cards isn’t a sin–of course gambling away your paycheck is. Dancing isn’t a sin–at least, I’ve never seen anyone dance so badly that it was a sin, even though when I dance it may come close; I’m not the most graceful person in the world. These activities are things that a frontier society wants to clamp down on, because they interfere with the serious business of taming the land and settling it, but in and of themselves they aren’t sinful, and Christians do all of these things. God isn’t worried about it.
Now we’ve reached the end of our third set of three mistaken notions about Christianity. Maybe this time we’ll see some comments.