When I was a young kid in the 1980s, my favourite summer activity was going to camp at the local Lutheran church. It was on a lake, so we could swim and play on a floating ‘island.’ We would hike, canoe and do crafts during the day, but the best part was at night when we would gather around a campfire and sing songs. There was one song that I loved the most. I would belt it out as loud as I could. I still sing the refrain to this day: “and they will know we are Christians by our love.”
That line has always rung true to me. The Christians who influenced me most made an impact on me because of how generous and kind they were to me and other people I knew. They were committed to helping me and being there for me. It was much more about who they were than what they thought about or what they believed.
When I look at Christianity in the 20th century, the people who have spoken to me the most are people who have lived their lives of compassion in difficult circumstances: Mother Teresa, Dorothy Day, Maximilian Kolbe, Desmond Tutu, Pope John XXIII, Pope Francis, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The song I sang at camp is old now and people no longer sing it as much. But it has stuck with me all these years as a reminder that Christianity first and foremost has to be a life of love: love of God and love of neighbour.
There are many things that are unclear about the future of the church. In fact, there may only be one thing that is clear: we are going to have to emphasize the fact that Christianity is a way of life. We could say that Christianity is a life well lived because it is oriented around the love of God and the love of neighbour.
Discipleship and Love: Imitating the Teacher
The word for this way of life is DISCIPLESHIP. It seems like a funny word to us today. But we have to remember that the root meaning of DISCIPLE is being student. In Jesus’s day, it meant sitting at the feet of a teacher and learning. But this learning wasn’t just about knowledge, it was about wisdom and how to live deeply and well. Learning meant not just processing what the teacher said and taught, but also by watching the teacher and trying to be like him.
Over the next several articles, I want to explore this question of discipleship. Discipleship is what happens when you put your Rule of Life together with your new identity in Christ. It has to be expressed in your life: how you live, the decisions you make, what is important to you, and so on. Christianity is a life of faith lived out in love of God and love of neighbour. I will start with the context of discipleship: living in light of the kingdom of God. Then I will work down to daily practices that we can adopt to enhance our Christian walk.
Where Do Beliefs Fit In?
Note: I keep saying Christianity is a way of life. Isn’t it rather about beliefs, especially believing the right things? Good question. That is a common misunderstanding. Christianity certainly has beliefs, but it is not a system of beliefs.
Beliefs are not the most important things about being a Christian; love is. In 1 Corinthians 13, the apostle Paul tells us that if we understand all mysteries and have perfect faith but we don’t have love, then we have nothing. In the first letter of John, we are told that whoever does not know love does not know God, for God is love.
This is not to say that Christianity has no content. It does. It tells a particular story. But what is important is the next step: how it plays out in your life!