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Friday, July 30, 2010

Anne Rice: Clinging to Christ but leaving Christianity

Is it possible to follow Christ but not to claim to be a Christian?

Some of us have pondered and discussed that question at great length. If you're one of my Facebook friends, you've probably noticed that I describe myself to be an "Irreligious follower of Christ" in my religious affiliation. And that's just what it means: my identity is found in Christ. He and He alone establishes and defines my spiritual nature.

Do I enjoy worshiping our Lord with other followers of Christ? Absolutely. And I enjoy that regardless of what kind of "denomination" they might happen to be. Christ is magnificently bigger than our feeble and flawed perceptions. Where we invariably fail, He does succeed.

That is how I can fellowship with many different manner of those who follow Him, be they Baptist or Methodist or Presbyterian, or non-denominational, or whatever. Does that mean I agree with or understand everything that other Christians hold to? No, it does not. But those things don't really matter anyway. We don't have to agree with each other 100% on issues that in the end have nothing to do with our faith in Christ. When He is truly our focus, He will overcome our foibles and errors. As much as I have faith in Him, I have faith in that as well.

That said, I can understand where author Anne Rice is coming from. Unfortunately, the message she is conveying is going to get lost in the rush to proclaim that she is "abandoning Christianity".

You might have heard already that Rice has announced on her Facebook page that she is giving up being a Christian. And as this sort of thing is apt to do, it has generated a whole heap of interest and controversy.

Here's Rice's post that started it all...

For those who care, and I understand if you don't: Today I quit being a Christian. I'm out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being "Christian" or to being part of Christianity. It's simply impossible for me to "belong" to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten ...years, I've tried. I've failed. I'm an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else.
That was on Wednesday. Yesterday afternoon, Rice made a follow-up comment on her Facebook page...
"1If I speak in the tongues[a] of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing." (1 Corinthians. St. Paul).
Between that one and her initial post, Rice made a few other posts. And in them she expressed what can only be deemed dire frustration with the expectation that as a Christian, she and anyone else with that label must be "anti-gay... anti-feminist... anti-Democrat... anti-science", etc.

Is she right? Let's ask ourselves, and let's be honest in answering this: Could it be that we as Christians define ourselves more by what we are NOT than by Christ who we claim to have?

If you read this blog on a regular basis, you know about a certain cult in my area. This is a group of self-professed "Christians" who claim to be "the church that you read about in the Bible". And these people do nothing else but apparently spend every waking moment hurting others, harassing others, slandering others... all in the name of God. These "Christians" have nearly 10 hours of live television a week. What do they do with that airtime? Preach about how everyone else (especially Baptists, who according to them are without exception all damned to Hell) is wrong. These "Christians" are so overwhelmed with their hatred that they can't see that they don't have Christ at all. To them it is about "this is who we aren't", and not "this is Christ within us who has overcome us".

That is what Christianity does become, when it ceases to be about Christ. It will turn into a fixation on our own meager understanding: something that scripture warns us not to lean on or place our faith in. For without God, man inevitably places his trust in his own fallen nature.

And then, all too often, we actually excuse that away... in the name of God. In the name of Christ who came to love us and redeem us.

Reading Anne Rice's words of the past few days, I cannot BUT hear her frustration. And not with Christ, but with what is being done by some who proclaim Christ's name.

I don't see Anne Rice giving up Christ at all. And anyone who thinks otherwise should read the post that she made later yesterday afternoon...

My faith in Christ is central to my life. My conversion from a pessimistic atheist lost in a world I didn't understand, to an optimistic believer in a universe created and sustained by a loving God is crucial to me. But following Christ does not mean following His followers. Christ is infinitely more important than Christianity and always will be, no matter what Christianity is, has been, or might become.
Very beautifully put. And if I dare say so, Miss Rice has better articulated what it means to follow Christ than most anyone else that I have seen of late.

Read her words again: she has been led to be "an optimistic believer in... a loving God", from previously being "a pessimistic atheist".

Hey, I've been there too. Lots of us have. It's not something we're particularly proud of. But then, God never intended any of us to be whatever we might have once been. It's by His grace that we can grow from that.

So is Anne Rice abandoning Christianity? Apparently so... but I can't blame her. And that's no reason to condemn her either (as many will no doubt rush to do). Rice is asserting that her faith is in Christ, and that her faith is not in Christianity.

Anne Rice has perhaps grown more in ten years as a follower of Christ, than very many who spend their entire lifetimes boasting His name. We should consider what she is saying.


Anonymous said...

The love of many will grow cold as this type of lawlessness continues. Expect to see more of this not less unfortunately!.

Chris Knight said...

"Lawlessness"? "Unfortunately"? What the heck are you TALKING about?!

Anne Rice is fleeing from mere religion and emphasizing that her faith and hope is in CHRIST alone. That doesn't sound like a cold love to me. Neither does it sound like lawlessness.

To be a Christian is *supposed* to mean to follow Christ. It is NOT supposed to mean following "Christianity".

In that respect, Anne Rice is more of a Christian than, well... lots of people.

Anonymous said...

As someone who in the past had been judged as not measuring up to the standards of a certain branch of the Christian church, I can certainly see the point of Anne Rice. As long as one continues to pursue their relationship with God and his Son, via prayer and daily Bible study, I do not see any problem with what she has done. It is not lawlessness IMHO - I challenge anonymous to show me where in the Bible it says that we must belong to an organized church to insure our salvation.

Thanks Chris for posting up this story.

James S. Hodges said...

This reminds me of what I try to tell people...Christianity is not about the absence of the negatives, but the PRESENCE of the positive (Christ). With that in mind, I do see Rice's point of view. I challenge anyone to read the book "So You Don't Want to Go to Church Anymore" by Wayne Jacobsen. This book is a must read especially among today's focus of a packaged, institutionalized form of Christianity.