Thursday, 10 May 2018

What is it to be a Christian?

I was asked a question yesterday by commenter NW, about what qualifies a person to be regarded as a Christian - and this led to the following reflections...

I don't like the implications of being 'qualified' to be a Christian! I think that gives the impression we are trying to plead before a judge, or satisfy and examiner. But our God is a loving Father, who wants the best for us - wants us to accept his gift of creation and join with him in the great work.

The way I regard definitions of being a Christian is that we need to 'believe' in Jesus - that is to have faith and trust in him; we need to believe that he was the Son of God and was creator of this world; that his incarnation, deeath and resurrection enabled us to have 'life eternal' which involves our own resurrection.

The above passage contains several key bits of terminology, and I don't think it is crucial to being a Christian that everybody agrees on them all... it is mostly (as usual) a matter of motivation. I think one can be a Christian by accepting that Jesus is 'in some way' personally essential to our salvation - without being sure of exactly how it works, or being sure of exactly what salvation consists in.

As you know, I am reading and re-reading the fourth Gospel ('John') as an eyewittness account by the beloved disciple. What Jesus teaches is very simple, and is mostly about 'belief' - the impression I get is that Jesus will lead us to salvation like a shepherd leads his flock... the flock trusts the shepherd (who will sacrifice his life for the least of the sheep) - and follows him to safety.

In a simple and profound sense, it is by trusting Jesus that we *follow* him through death and into the life eternal. I think that we need to ensure during mortal life that we are ready to do this after death, that we trust Jesus to lead us.

This implies that non-Christians, who have never even heard of Jesus, can also meet him after death and recognise him and trust him, and follow him to eternal life.

Indeed, it is probable that thsoe who have never heard of Jesus are more likely to trust and follow him after death than the typical modern person who has been poisoned-against Jesus.

(This is our particular test in the modern world, and why these times and this place is particularly hazardous to salvation.) 

I think Jesus understood this double-edged aspect of his incarnation, and refers to it several times in the Gospels. In that sense Jesus brought Hell as well as Heaven, and an unavoidable decision - because since the incarnation, many/ most people have *hated* Jesus, when they encountered him. So they actively-reject his gift.

And if we do not trust the Good Shepherd when we encounter him after death, then we will not follow him to life eternal - we will reject Heaven, and prefer the Hell of isolation-from love.


(This choice of Hell may not be irreversible, in principle. For example, I think that the dead may be reached by prayers from those who love them, and may 'change their minds', may revise their choice and accept the gift of Christ. Thus our love of neighbour, love of fellow-men, (when genuine) is potentially an instrument of salvation. But everything suggests that the decision whether or not to believe in Jesus Christ during our mortal life is extremely important - and I think we must assume that in practice such decisions are not easily or often reversed; even though the door to salvation is always kept-open by our loving Father in Heaven.)

7 comments:

Chiu ChunLing said...

I don't look at it so much as the choice to accept or reject Christ being more important during life, but rather arising out of the same fundamental and eternal nature of the individual soul, which will not be changed by death nor resurrection.

I also dislike the idea of "qualified" because it implies not merely being content to say what it means to be a Christian but being authorized to make a binding external judgment.

We cannot escape the responsibility to decide for ourselves whether we think others are Christian, but we must discard the notion that our thoughts on the matter serve any function other than allowing us to practice our own Christian duty. When we think our opinion of others can or should have any effect on their eternal destiny rather than merely our own actions, we part ways with Christ's teachings.

Bruce Charlton said...

"We cannot escape the responsibility to decide for ourselves whether we think others are Christian, but we must discard the notion that our thoughts on the matter serve any function other than allowing us to practice our own Christian duty. When we think our opinion of others can or should have any effect on their eternal destiny rather than merely our own actions, we part ways with Christ's teachings. "

That's very well said!

August said...

There is a distinction to be made, I think, between what Jesus meant by belief versus what is meant by belief today. After all, it seems very important to some people that we believe in climate change and/or whatever other thing they are offering.

This could be a side effect of modern thinking, where they figure if enough people believe it then it would be true, or at least they can control people better if enough people believe it.

But when Jesus talks to Nicodemus, for example, he is basically saying the Jews are refusing to believe his testimony- almost as if it is a court of law. Since Nicodemus was some sort of leader, one could assume a judgement based on the testimony would be made. One expects some significant changes would have been made in the area if that judgement had been made.

But on an individual level, qualification is tough. How much doctrine does anyone really need to know, and then, are the changes made- many of which are spiritual, not necessarily obvious, and can exist quite apart from the current tyranny of niceness.

a probst said...

"...that non-Christians, who have never even heard of Jesus, can also meet him after death and recognise him and trust him, and follow him to eternal life."

That is probably the correct interpretation of "No one can come to the Father except through me."

Bruce Charlton said...

@probst and August - I've pondered "No one can come to the Father except through me." and the meaning of 'belief' - and I think the Good Shepherd extended parable ties them together. The born again discussion is absolutely fascinating, I I don't feel I have plumbed it.

Part of it is that we must personally appropriate belief in Jesus - it should be first hand, not second hand, experience not obedience. And there is probably a resonance with the Cana miracle of water to wine.

But there are many wonderfully interlinked passages in the fourth gospel about terms such as water, birth, life, light, blood, flesh... and I find it hard to summarise what these mean experientially... need to keep re-reading....

TheDoctorofOdoIsland said...

If you are sufficiently offensive that other people accuse you of the crime of being a Christian, then you are a Christian.

- Carter Craft

Bruce Charlton said...

@Carter... unless you are an antichrist!

More seriously, the level and planned deviousness of the mass media/ establishment includes - and to a great extent - the phenomenon of fake opposition. IN so far as JP is allowed a platform in the mass media, that is the role he is serving; and the continuatio nof that platform depends on him staying within tight limits... which is why he is so careful how he says things, and why is is so careful in his evasiveness.

It has been interesting to see the high volume of comments on this theme - and that is an example of the phenomenon at work: to get high comment volume on a blog, one needs to be topical, and what-is-topical topical is defined by the mass media.

I feel confirmed in my view that JP was trying to walk a tightrope, but that this activity cannot be a way of life, after which the situation is corrupting.

I wrote about JP because I felt he was being falsely awarded saviour status - I shall not be continuing after this post.

My own response is partly that I don't find him interesting, since he is merely 'myself 15 years ago; and before Christian conversion'; but also I find something creepy and fake about him, which is a response I often have had to psychotherapists, over the years; and which I have learned to take seriously as a usually-accurate intuition.