Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Who's A Christian?

I had a long conversation with someone a few weeks ago which got me thinking (the best sort). If being a Christian isn't about going to church (which it isn't), and it's not about believing specific doctrines (ditto), and not even about 'living a good life' (whatever that means), then what does make someone a Christian?

I know a middle-aged guy who runs a church, but I see no evidence to suggest that he is in any meaningful way a Christian. I also know a younger man who hardly ever goes to church, and isn't really sure that he believes in any sort of big, 'up-there' God anyway. If I were a betting man I'd reckon that, come the resurrection, the odds are far better on seeing him on the 'new earth' than the self-importantly religious person.

Maybe that's a part of the answer: being a Christian is less about where you are now, than where you will be when the choices are made and the journey reaches its end. We're none of us where we need to be at present, which tells us that a Christian has to be willing to change, and to grow, and to travel in the right direction. Jesus called himself 'the way': you can wander all over the place but if your net direction is going his way, you are on the Christian journey; you can go straight as a die, but if that's in the opposite direction to Jesus then you are stuffed (technical theological term there). That, surely, is the lesson of Jesus' story about the Pharisee and the tax collector.

What about someone who's never heard of Jesus the Christ, could they be a Christian? Or someone who has been brought up on lies about a harsh, authoritarian Christ who condones abuse and/or wants to send everyone to hell? The Bible tells us that Jesus has opened the way to life - now and forever - and that his people will recognise his voice and follow him. If someone hears Jesus' voice and follows him, whether they know him as 'Jesus of Nazareth' or not, that is the important thing.

So why go to church? Or read the Bible? Or listen to preachers? The Christian way can be a long journey, potentially a life-long one - isn't it better to travel in company? To walk with people who cheerfully help one another, and those along the way? Isn't it more fun and more interesting if you know something about the places you travel through, as well as where you are headed, to have a guidebook and/or a knowledgeable and entertaining guide? Following Jesus isn't meant to be a grind of duties and burdens; it's meant to be life lived to the full: joys and sorrows, laughter and tears, shared and carried together, not alone.

One final thing: I don't think the Christian journey is something I could complete on my own; nor even in company with others. I need more drastic help from time to time, and am sure I will be lost without such aid at journey's end. I don't think I am alone in that.

So, in addition to being willing to change and grow, and to recognising and following (roughly) Jesus' voice along the way, I think there must be a third element to being a Christian: being willing to accept Jesus' help when we need it. I'm not sure anything else is as important as those three things to the Christian life; what do you think?

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