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Tuesday, 14 February 2012

What is a Christian?

I never thought that I would see the day when I would be in agreement with Richard Dawkins!  However, I have to admit that he is quite correct in his conclusion, aired in this morning's Today programme (BBC Radio 4), that not everyone who claimed to be "Christian" in last year's Census is, in fact, a believer!

The item was based on some new figures produced by Dr Dawkins’s think tank, the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science (a typical Dawkins touch: not just any old Foundation for Reason and Science, but the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science.) The statistics, based on a poll of 1,000 people, apparently show that most people who identify themselves as Christian turn out, when questioned on what they actually think, to be “overwhelmingly secular in their attitudes on issues ranging from gay rights to religion in public life”. Dawkins’ conclusion is that these self-identified Christians are “not really Christian at all”.  He is probably correct.  Certainly, for many, the term is a negative one.  "I am not a Jew, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Buddhist, etc., and I was born in this country.  Therefore, I must be that other one - oh yes, I'm a Christian"!!!

So, what is a Christian - in a positive sense?  That's a question with which I have dealt in a previous post but, since it was three or four years ago, I'll share those thoughts again!

There are many passages in the New Testament that give us good definitions/descriptions of what a Christian is, one of them being Philippians 4:4-7 - "Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus." (NKJV)

So, a Christian is someone who enjoys a presence - even the presence of the Lord, Jesus the Christ. He is, Paul says, "at hand" or "very near". One translation says "The Lord is at your elbow"! Our company makes such a difference to our lives. "Show me your company, and I'll tell you your character" is the old adage - and how true it is. The Christian is blessed in having company that is perfect: the company of Jesus. And He is One Who is always there for us. Family, friends, colleagues, however fine, are often elsewhere. But Jesus said "I am with you - always"! (Matt.28:20)

A Christian is someone who also forms a practice. Paul encourages us to "Rejoice". He is writing from prison, in Rome but, in spite of all that he has gone through as a disciple of Jesus; in spite of his present situation as a disciple of Jesus; despite what he knew would be his earthly future (death by beheading); and despite the persecution he knew would be experienced by his fellow disciples; he repeats his exhortation: "Rejoice in the Lord always; and again I say, 'Rejoice." Such joy comes from two activities - prayer, and praise. "Don't worry", says Paul, "Pray!" Nothing is too small; nothing is too great, to bring before Father God in prayer. And we may do so in a spirit of praise and thanksgiving. (see also I Thess.5:18)

The last thing that Paul says in this little passage is that a Christian is someone who trusts a promise. That promise is that "...the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus." Here is a promise of adequacy provided by Jesus. He, alone. In Him we have the assurance of sins forgiven, and the power to resist the temptations that the devil keeps placing before us. He also stills the anxieties that crowd into our 21st century "sophisticated" minds.

Being a true Christian, in a living relationship with Jesus is wonderful, and those of us who claim to be such need to show the real thing to those with whom we come in contact, day by day.

My favourite bit from the Today discussion, to which I listened with great enjoyment, was when R D was challenged - having previously used, as evidence of his thesis, the point that there were those in his polled sample, who had claimed, in the 2011 Census, to be "Christian", and who didn't know the name of the first book in the New Testament - to give the full title of Darwin's "On the Origin of Species".  He was unable to meet the challenge (!) and said: "On the Origin of Species…Uh…With, oh, God, On the Origin of Species. .. ..."

The 'leader' of the modern anti-God, pro-evolution, movement appealing to such a "non-existent entity" when in trouble!!!

Perhaps there is, indeed, truth in the statement of Augustine: "Thou hast made us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee"; and in the more contemporary equivalent: "There's a God-shaped blank in every heart, that only God can fill."!!!  I wonder what RD would say to that?

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