More importantly, Christians believe our baptism is not just a set of beliefs. One could come up with some new way to follow Abraham Lincoln or Ayn Rand and give it a brand new title. But Christianity joins us to a body of other believers. This biblical description of the “body” is so basic to the faith it’s almost not a metaphor: a new member is healthy tissue grafted onto a wound. The loss of a member is like the tearing away of flesh. Christ himself is our head, and we belong to one another. The very word “religion” has the same root as the word “ligament.” We are quite physically bound to one another.
This is especially important to reassert when we are tempted to say we’re with the head, but not the other parts of the body. We are all tempted to pick and choose our fellows, buffet-style. “I’m with Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela, and Mother Teresa, but not the Southern Baptists.” No! We’re part of this body, with all its dazzling glory and all its tragic flaws, and cannot claim the former without the latter. Further, we are responsible for those parts presently misbehaving, and for its misdeeds through time—if we want credit for its virtues.
This is the part that really irks me the most on eschewing “Christian.” It’s as though we get off scot-free for historical Christian sins (the crusades, racism, you name it) by just calling ourselves something else. Christians believe there is a way to forgiveness and purity—but it passes through confession, restoration, and repaired relationship. The much more costly way to disassociate from those who have done ill in Christ’s name is to set about loving as fanatically as they hated.