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Friday, 2 December 2016

So - what IS a "Christian"?

It was a headline in an online newspaper that first caught my eye: "A third of French ISIS fighters were born CHRISTIAN and converted to Islam, expert reveals." (emphasis in the original).

My first thought was, of course, that no-one is "born a Christian".  That, as Jesus pointed out very clearly to Nicodemus, requires that one be "born again"! (See John 3).  My second thought, coming from a Christian perspective, was that no-one is "converted" to Islam. If anything, one would be PERverted to that particular ideology.

So, what is a Christian?  Well, I am not the only preacher to have preached on that question - and on more than one occasion!  I could give a list of criteria that would define a Christian, in Biblical terms - and anything else is, at best, suspect!  My idea was to share some of the points that I have made, in the past, in this post.

Then I read today's 'Daily Article' by Dr Jim Denison - whom I have quoted before in this blog. In it, he refers to a couple who appear on American television.  He states that "Their HGTV show, Fixer Upper, is one of the most popular shows on the network. They are smart, funny, and entertaining. And the good they do in helping couples renovate houses into homes is terrific." We are informed, however, that this couple are "Christians" - and when Jim Denison uses the term, he knows exactly what he means!  He tells us that a reporter from a particular publication asked this couple where they stood on the issue of same-gender "marriage" (my quotation marks), and whether or not they would ever feature a same-gender couple on their show.    

The reporter then turned her attention to the Fellowship of which this couple are a part, carefully editing a sermon by the pastor that he preached on the Sunday after the USoA Supreme Court had declared that same-gender "marriage" was to be legal in all fifty States of the Union. (Virginia, Kentucky, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts are all officially Commonwealths, but are counted as States for all administrative purposes!).

Now you may be wondering what has all of this to do with the question "What is a Christian?"? Well, Jim Denison makes the point that "Christians facing persecution is an escalating theme today." and, while he readily concedes that "... it is unfair to compare believers facing execution and/or confiscation of their churches and property with believers being ridiculed for their biblical beliefs regarding marriage.", he also concludes that "What the two kinds of persecution have in common is that both intend to pressure Christians to change their convictions."

That, as I read it, gave me a clue to the answer to my question. What is a Christian? A Christian is one who puts Jesus first - every time, in every situation, in every place. I recalled those young Egyptian Coptic Christians, murdered on a Libyan beach simply because they were faithful followers of Jesus. It was reported that they had the opportunity to deny Jesus, and recite the shahadah (the basic Islamic creed). Each one refused, even although they knew that it might be the means of saving their lives. I think of a Pakistani Christian named Asia, who has now spent about seven years in prison because she had the temerity to offer a cup of water to a fellow-worker in the fields, on a hot day. That fellow-worker was a Muslim - and was so offended by this, that Asia was reported under the "Blasphemy Laws" of Pakistan, and sentenced to death! She has been given many opportunities to become a Muslim, and be set free - but she has steadfastly refused to do so.

I wonder where you, and I, if we claim to be disciples of Jesus, stand in our faithfulness to Him? The anonymous (human) author of the Letter to Hebrew disciples of Jesus writes: "Consider Him Who endured from sinners such hostility against Himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood." (Heb 12:3-4; emphasis added). I wonder if, with the knife-blade of a fanatic already at my throat, I would be as faithful as those young Copts.  I wonder if, after about seven years in prison, in solitary confinement for my own safety, I would still be faithful to the Lord Jesus. I trust that I would - and believe that, if I were to be in any such situation, I would indeed receive the grace that I needed to remember to "... take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand." (Eph 6:13).

Let us never forget those who, on a daily basis, are indeed called upon to show that they are truly His. Let us pray that we, who enjoy so much relative ease in the "west", will be likewise faithful if, and when, real persecution comes to us!

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