There always seems to be a lot of controversy about what Christians believe and how we manifest those beliefs in the world, especially in today's world, where fewer and fewer are Christians and many claim no religious belief at all. Christians, of course, come in many types, but the main belief of all who call themselves followers of Christ is that Jesus, the son of God, died on the cross for our sins and was raised from the dead, giving us the promise of eternal life. People interpret this in many ways, but this is the core, unique claim of the Christian faith.
How do those of us who call ourselves Christians manifest this belief in the world? What do Christians do that points to our assurance in resurrection life, even while we are here on earth? Ten basic practices show our faith:
Every day. All the time. 'Pray without ceasing,' St. Paul tells us. Jesus prayed, at all the major moments in his life and many of the small ones. Daily prayer keeps us connected to God, listening to God in our lives, witnessing God's power. It also keeps us connected to Scripture as we use it to aid our prayer, and to others as we pray for their needs.
No one can be a Christian alone. Jesus revealed himself and his ministry not to just himself, or his close friends and family, but to a diverse group of disciples, strangers, and even enemies. Christianity is not just about my life and God, it is about my life, God, and the lives of everyone else in the world. Gathering for communal worship reminds us that we are not alone - we praise God together, our salvation depends upon one another as it does on God. We worship in joy, and also to be formed regularly in the faith that we profess.
Jesus himself was baptized, and his last supper is the basis of our gathering around tables to share bread and wine in remembrance of him. All Christians are compelled to share our faith - its traditions, its stories, and especially its two basic sacraments, baptism and communion. In this way we bring others into the Christian family, and as Jesus himself has told us, we recognize his presence when we gather.
The first thing the disciples did when they discovered Jesus' empty tomb was run and tell others, to the point that they converted thousands to Christianity in a very short period of time. Jesus himself had to work hard (and unsuccessfully) to keep people from talking about the wonders of his presence and ministry. Many Christians find this difficult today because it can be done intrusively, but joyfully sharing the good news of our faith is a basic component of it, and if our lives are truly changed by our beliefs, it is hard to keep it to ourselves.
After Jesus' resurrection and ascension, the first disciples spontaneously shared all their resources in common. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus speaks many times about sharing our wealth, giving what we have to the poor, and the difficulty of serving wealth and God simultaneously. Sharing a portion of our income within our community to be used for the needs of the community is a standard practice. So is giving of resources whenever they are needed.
Throughout the Gospels, Jesus and his disciples receive much more hospitality than they offer - they eat and stay in houses of friends and strangers all throughout their ministry. Christians today are also called away from an attitude of independence and into the understanding that we all live by the grace of God and the gifts of others. We are reminded of this when we allow ourselves to receive gifts, meals, and kindness from neighbors, friends and strangers.
Jesus' forgiveness of sins causes the Pharisees to marvel that he has the authority of God. Jesus gives us this authority, too, when he says, 'whoever's sins you forgive are forgiven.' Forgiveness is a basic act of belief that shows that as we are loved and forgiven by God, so we also forgive those who harm us. This is easy to assent to and hard to put into practice, but it is an act of radical love when we do.
We are all sinners. We all fall short of the commandment to love God and one another, and Jesus reminds us he came to save not those who are righteous, but those who sin. Why? In order to remind us that nothing can separate us from the love of God. Confessing our sins helps us understand that no matter what unloving thing we have done, if we are open to God's mercy, we receive it and are restored.
Sabbath - it's not just a good idea, it's the Law. The 4th commandment (or the 3rd, depending on how you count): Remember the sabbath and keep it holy. A day of rest is perhaps the most counter-cultural thing that Christians do, and it is a huge gift to the world. Jesus may have challenged some sabbath laws, but he absolutely retreated from the world and his work for rest and refreshment, to be alone with God.
Who is my neighbor? This is a rhetorical question asked by Jesus throughout the Gospels, and the answer implied is 'everyone.' We are all brothers and sisters in Christ, and Christians are compelled by our faith to recognize this, no matter how difficult.