April 8th Jean Bloomfield:
Did any of you see the Archbishop of Canterbury on the One Show on Tuesday 3rd April. As part of a set of quickfire questions towards the end of the show he was asked ‘What is the least Christian thing you’ve ever done’.
That got me thinking
Would you ask a rabbi what is the least Jewish thing they’ve done?
Or imam what is the least muslim thing they’ve done?
When we describe a behaviour as Christian, what do we mean, and could that behaviour similarly describe the behaviour of a Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, hindu or even Humanist come to that?
So is Christian behaviour the same as Jewish/Muslim/Hindu etc behaviour? Is a ‘good Christian’ no different outwardly to a ‘good Jew’ or ‘good Muslim’? Do Christians have a monopoly on good behaviour or being moral? And what do we mean by morality anyway? I ask this because morality is often used to refer to sexual morality while conveniently forgetting other types of morality. However – that’s another sermon
And if someone exhibits ‘Christian behaviour’, does that make them a Christian?
In all this, and in the question put to ABC, Christian is being used as an adjective, to describe the behaviour expected of someone who professes to being a Christian.
What makes something Christian?
Christian country – what does that mean?
Some people might say England was once a Christian country, but on what basis – that most people went to church, or indeed were obliged to go to church. Surely it describes a religious affiliation.
Consider Charity. What makes Christian Aid christian, as opposed to other aid charities. Is the Trussell Trust that runs so many foodbanks Christian, and again what makes it Christian as opposed to other foodbank charities?
And then, what about ‘Christian work’. If someone works for a church or in a Christian organisation, is that Christian work? If a Christian teaches or nurses abroad, is that Christian missionary work whether or not they are attached to a missionary society.
Oh the problems of using the word ‘Christian’ as an adjective, labelling any number of things for example Christian music [sacred music] art or literature.
Remember Christian was first used as a noun for disciples of Jesus, or ‘the Way’ as they were known, a name adopted at Antioch about ten or so years after Jesus died and rose again.
Christian is a noun – a person, formerly known as a disciple, i.e. a follower of Jesus Christ
So is a Christian a follower of Christ’s teaching? [note the subtle difference]
Depends on what of Christ’s teaching you’re following.
Remember his instruction to the rich young ruler – to go sell everything he had and give it to the poor; to Nicodemus saying that he must be born again; his teaching to deny/forget oneself and take up a cross; his teaching that he and the Father were one and ultimately his teaching that led to charges of blasphemy.
And what of ‘faith’. Again, this depends on what your faith is in.
The Greek term ‘faith’ means ‘trust’ or ‘firm persuasion’. The corresponding verb means ‘to believe’. To have faith is to relinquish trust in oneself and put that trust in another.
Sometimes I feel that people can use faith to refer to some kind of vague spiritual feeling or to a God who is up there somewhere in heaven but involved in this world at all.
While some kind of faith might make one religious, what is the essence of Christianity?
So many questions, and I don’t intend to answer them all – they’re more about challenging our thinking.
As at least one person has said (and I agree) that that Christianity is not a religion but a relationship. If a religion is about trying to work your way to God, then that is not what Christianity is about. Christianity is about God reaching out to us. He did this by sending his son – Jesus Christ. His plan for bringing us back into fellowship with HIM was for Jesus to die for us.
Yes Jesus died for us, but that wasn’t the end was it. In order for us to know God, death itself had to be overcome, and Jesus did that when he rose again.
Christianity is about a relationship with God and is based on the facts of Jesus death and resurrection.
Remember the 15th chapter from the first letter to the Corinthians, the passage that we read when sharing communion that starts in verse 3 3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance[a]: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures (NIV)
He goes on to stress the importance of the resurrection and in verse 14
And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. and again in verse 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. (both from NIV). So our faith is based on the fact of Christ’s death and resurrection. It is available to us because of God’s grace.
As Spurgeon once said ‘If any man be saved, he is saved by Divine grace, and by Divine grace alone; and the reason of his salvation is not to be found in him, but in God. We are not saved as the result of anything that we do or that we will; but we will and do as the result of God’s good pleasure, and the work of his grace in our hearts.
Or as Philip Yancey puts it in his book ‘What’s so amazing about Grace?’
‘There is nothing we can do to make God love us more. There is nothing we can do to make God love us less.’
Paul speaks of his earlier faith ‘ I could, of course, put my trust in such things (i.e. external ceremonies) ’ v4. Here Paul is specifically talking about circumcision, but it could refer to any religious practice. He then says in v6 ‘As far as a person can be righteous by obeying the commands of the Law, I was without fault’ .
But all those things that I might count as profit I now reckon as loss for Christ’s sake. 8 Not only those things; I reckon everything [so not just religious practices] as complete loss for the sake of what is so much more valuable, the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have thrown everything away;
Paul is denying himself
I consider it all as mere rubbish, so that I may gain Christ 9 and be completely united with him. I no longer have a righteousness of my own, the kind that is gained by obeying the Law. I now have the righteousness that is given through faith in Christ, the righteousness that comes from God and is based on faith.
‘Given’ and ‘Comes from God’ remind us of God’s grace
10 All I want, is to know Christ and to experience the power of his resurrection, to share in his sufferings and become like him in his death, 11 in the hope that I myself will be raised from death to life.
Hope – not wishy-washy, but a concrete hope for the future.
In Galatians 2 he puts it like this: [and here I’m using the NIV]
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Paul taking up his cross and following Christ
This is what baptism signifies – dying to self and rising to a new life in Christ.
So faith for a Christian is about trusting in God and his will for our lives
To update something Spurgeon said: ‘If you put one atom of trust in yourself, you have no faith; if you place even a particle of reliance upon anything else but what Christ did, you have no faith. If you do trust in your works, then your works are antichrist, and Christ and antichrist can never go together. Christ will have all or nothing; he must be a whole Savior, or no Savior at all
The term antichrist is strong but I don’t think it is so much about the person we read about in Revelation, rather it is the negative of ‘of Christ’, or what is against Christ
So doing Christian things is not something that we tack onto to our lives.
[Remember what Jesus said
“No one uses a piece of new cloth to patch up an old coat, because the new patch will shrink and tear off some of the old cloth, making an even bigger hole. 22 Nor does anyone pour new wine into used wineskins, because the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the skins will be ruined. Instead, new wine must be poured into fresh wineskins.” (Mark 2)
In other words don’t mix old and new. If we are to be made new, we cannot hanker after the old life.]
We have to be made new, restored to what God wants us to be, changed from within; a change of mindset if you like. Romans 12:2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind
In order to be resurrected, we have to die first.
Galatians 2:20 again. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
And how can we live [On Easter Sunday, our pastor spoke about living as resurrection people]
Remember what Jesus said to his disciples before shortly before he was crucified: in John 14
I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, who will stay with you forever. 17 He is the Spirit, who reveals the truth about God. The world cannot receive him, because it cannot see him or know him. But you know him, because he remains with you and is[e] in you
The disciples had to wait until Jesus had ascended and the Spirit came at Pentecost. [More of that in on Pentecost Sunday, May 20,maybe] If we have become a Christian by inviting him into our hearts, accepting him as Saviour and Lord, surrendering our lives to him, then the Holy Spirit lives in us, given to us to help us live a Christlike life –
Maybe Christlike is a better adjective than Christian
So Christianity is not about being religious, or even necessarily about having ‘a faith’, but is centred on Christ. Christian is a noun – a person who has Christ living in him by the Holy Spirit.
What did the Archbishop of Canterbury say when asked what the least Christian thing he had done was. Maybe mindful of things he has said in the past being jumped on by the press, he declined to answer! However, from what I have heard him say since becoming the Archbishop, he is always keen to point away from ‘the Church’ to Jesus, and rightly so.
Christ is the focus of Christianity, as in the words of the hymn:
In Christ alone my hope is found,
He is my light, my strength, my song
This Cornerstone, this solid Ground
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease
My Comforter, my All in All
Here in the love of Christ I stand.
In Christ alone! – who took on flesh,
Fullness of God in helpless babe.
This gift of love and righteousness,
Scorned by the ones He came to save
Till on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied
For every sin on Him was laid
Here in the death of Christ I live.
There in the ground His body lay,
Light of the world by darkness slain:
Then bursting forth in glorious day
Up from the grave He rose again
And as He stands in victory
Sin’s curse has lost its grip on me,
For I am His and He is mine
Bought with the precious blood of Christ
No guilt in life, no fear in death,
This is the power of Christ in me
From life’s first cry to final breath,
Jesus commands my destiny
No power of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand
Till He returns or calls me home
Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand.
(Stuart Townend © 2001 Thank You Music)