SanctiFusion

Life, the Universe, and Everything, from the Outside In

What is a “Christian,” anyway?

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A story is told about a young sailor drinking in the wrong tavern in a certain California city. As people full of their drink tend to do, he either chose his words, or his question, poorly. He asked, “Who are the Hells Angels, anyway?” His fellow patrons decided to answer his question, and minutes later he was unable to lift his battered face off the table. These people obviously took their name quite seriously!

Not that I would ever suggest that kind of response to our question, it does mean something that we live in a culture in which the name, “Christian,” is used in so many ways that we’ve lost track of what it really means. If someone is neither Jew nor Muslim, then the other option is Christian, right? Or is it a white-skinned European, or black-skinned African, or a member of one of the 4,000 plus organisations calling themselves Church? As we travel back in our time machine, the “Credo,” let’s look into some questions.

When Jesus Christ preached to the crowds in Galilee, were the people there Christians? Obviously, no, they were a mixed lot of Jewish farmers, merchants, Pharisees, Zealots, and what-have-you. What about James, John, Peter, and the rest of the lads He called to follow? They did become His disciples, but still not Christians. Without belaboring the point at which they actually became Christians, when we look at the accounts we see that “the disciples were first called Christians at Antioch.”

So what’s the difference? In the Greek, a disciple was a “mathetos,” a learner, literally. A mathetos would follow his rabbi, sage, or philosopher around, learning to imitate his every gesture and memorise his words in order to cause his wisdom to live in his own life, and to be prepared to pass it on to his own future disciples. Antioch, a few years later, encountered a new phenomenon. People who had either followed Jesus (near or far, there had been hundreds.) or had learned from those who had, had been both converted and baptised by the Holy Spirit, and had withstood hardships, holding fast to that holy Name. The Antiochans called them “little Christs” when they first encountered them, crying out that “the people who have turned the world upside down have come here, too!” The people who so reflected their Master in their lives, whose own testimonies had turned the upside-down world right-side-up in terms of lifestyle, priorities, and the basic “excuse for living,” What was the difference between them and their Syrian neighbors? They were partakers of the very nature of Christ, and by living out that Nature in the world around them they soon turned the busy trading city of Antioch into a center for the sending of missionaries, and the site of one of the first theological colleges.

Today we think any church member, any baptised person, any “nice” person or obnoxiously moralistic person is automatically a “Christian.” If we look closer, we find there is no necessary connection there. A disciple was one who was struggling to keep the rules. How many of us do even that? A Christian was someone who had been, and was being, transformed into the very likeness of God in Christ from the inside out. Let us then apply ourselves before God to be so transformed by His grace. Whenever we presume it to mean less, we are truly courting disaster!

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Written by Robert Easter

Sunday, 7 September, 2008 at 20:50

Posted in Uncategorized

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