What does it mean to “be” a Christian? For a lot of us we self-identify by “going” to church; if I go to Church, I’m a Christian. Makes sense. But then we might get bogged down in the whole “do I have to go to Church to be a Christian” argument. And, frankly, we don’t need any more arguments.
In the almost 20 years I’ve been in “paid, accountable ministry” I’ve noticed two groups in our churches: those who are Cradle Christians meaning that, for the most part, they’ve always gone to church (except for those pesky late teen years). Then there are the New Christians - the ones who have never really ever been to church, but, for whatever reason have found themselves in a pew on a Sunday and something clicked.
So the CCs (Cradle Christians) see much of their faith life as being a part of the Church: and that means things like serving on Committees, feeding hungry neighbours at Suppers, helping to serve Communion - basically doing churchy things. Doing. But a lot of the NCs (New Christians) want to learn how to be a Christian - prayer, giving to charity, spiritual practices, ethical living, understanding the Bible. They have no idea how to do church things because they’ve never been to church. But they see the CCs and they are in awe of their dedication, their spiritual fortitude, their faithfulness. And the CCs see the NCs passion and desire for knowledge and their fresh ideas and are in awe of their excitement. yeah.
But what does it mean to BE a Christian? Is it about the stuff we do? Is it about who we are? What if it has something to do with, well, you know - Christ? Okay, it has everything to do with Jesus. But what if we answered the question “What does it mean to be a Christian” not with “To sit in Church, to read the bible, to recite the Apostle’s Creed, to give our lives to Christ (I know, it sounds like THIS should count)…” What if the answer a relationship with Jesus Christ, who reached out, in love, to bring us (drag us) into that relationship. It always starts with God, right - 1 John 4:19 “We love him, because he first loved us.”
Because if you ask most people in our churches why they are a Christian, they’ll probably turn a little red, stammer a bit, and offer you another tasty sandwich or one of Ian’s fudge bites. They probably don’t really know what it means to be a Christian, but they know it has something to do with Jesus, and with the people they share the pews with, and with their history, and maybe because of something that happened the week before.
Who knows. But if we keep asking the question, and if we pray about it, and search the scriptures, and sing some songs, and wash some dishes. And if we listen to those who have been doing it for a long time - and to those who are new and see it with fresh eyes - maybe we will be able to say those words that St. Paul declared to his friends in the ancient city of Philippi “For to me, to live is Christ.” (Philippians 1:21). Maybe to be a Christian is to live, to fully live? “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)