Christmas and Easter Christians

red letter bibleYou’ve probably heard about “Christmas and Easter Christians”—those Christians who only show up to church for the big, important services of Christmas Eve and Easter Sunday. Sometimes they are called (somewhat pejoratively if not self-righteously) “chreasters” or CEO Christians(Christmas/Easter Only). For the most part it’s a myth; most people who don’t see the point in attending worship throughout the rest of the year don’t see the point in attending just these two services either.

Having said that, “Christmas and Easter Christians” still speaks to a reality. Simply stated, most of us are “Christmas and Easter Christians” in that we believe that the only thing necessary for salvation is believing that Jesus was born of a virgin, that he was crucified for our sins, and raised on the third day.

I guess that technically makes us “Christmas, Good Friday, and Easter Christians,” but you get my point. All the stuff he said and did in between is good and important but not necessary for salvation. What’s necessary is that Jesus, being God, was born as a sinless human—hence the Virgin Birth—so that he could become a perfect sacrifice in order that we could be forgiven of our sins—the Crucifixion—and was raised from the dead to demonstrate that the above really is true and leads to eternal life after death.

We believe this because this is what we have been taught. I used to think that this was just part of the evangelical theology in which I have lived my entire life, but it’s not just evangelical theology.

A couple of years ago I preached through the Apostle’s Creed, taking each phrase, showing its Scriptural basis, and making current application. I figured that was a good way of covering the basics of Christianity. The creed dates to about 390, so it is a good summary of Christian belief from very early in the life of the church. I realized, however, that it is a Christmas and Easter statement; it skips from the birth of Jesus to his suffering and death, leaving out all the good stuff in between. Take a look:

I believe in God the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth. And in Jesus Christ, his only son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell, on the third day rose again from the dead, ascended to heaven, sits at the right hand of God the Father almighty, thence he will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. Amen.

There is nothing wrong with any of this, but when you are summarizing the necessary teachings of Christianity it’s a mistake to leave out the teachings of Jesus. He is, after all, the one who most clearly reveals the nature of God, and he does so not only through his miraculous birth, sacrificial death, and glorious resurrection, but through what he taught us about living a life that leads to life versus one that leads to death.

He was born to teach us this life, he died both because this life was threatening to the powers that embodied death but also because a sacrificial death is the only one befitting a sacrificial life, and he was raised in vindication of both his life and death.

I ran across a baptismal ritual that was published in a wonderful blog, Red Letter Christians which includes something of an adaptation of the Apostle’s Creed. The pastors, husband and wife, ask the person being baptized:

Do you give your life to God’s Messiah Jesus, our Lord, who reveals the Mystery of God to be Love; was born of the Virgin Mary, proclaimed God’s Kingdom had started; by eating with sinners, tax collectors and prostitutes, driving out evil and liberating captives, healing on the Sabbath and forgiving sins, boldly including those that were excluded, teaching us to love God with everything we are and to love our neighbour as we love ourselves, insisted that our enemies our neighbours (sic), and at Calvary loved us even though we have been enemies of God’s good purposes by overcome (sic) all evil with good. Was crucified under Pontius Pilate, died forgiving our sins, was buried, harrowed hell trampling down death through death, was Resurrected on the third day conquering all sin, evil, injustice, violence and oppression and is reigning now at the heart of reality till that Day when all of creation will be filled with the Love he revealed, as the waters cover the seas?

And the person being baptized replies, I give my life as a living sacrifice.

Committing to this would make us “Christmas, Red-Letters, Good Friday and Easter Christians.”

Or just simply “Followers of Jesus.”

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