What is the point of being a Christian? Silly question perhaps on the surface...but deeper down it’s a question we should all take time to ponder.
The obvious answer is to enter into a personal relationship with God and to accept Jesus as Saviour.
But what good news do we bring the world if that is the sole test of being a Christian?
I’ve had good reason to reflect on these issues this week, both as a result of my talkback show and an article in the Listener magazine.
Callers to the show...on a secular network...sometimes complain about the amount of Christian discussion. These are the same kind of people, by the way, who also complain about Hot Cross Buns being religious symbols and who call for Nativity Scenes to be banned from shopping malls and schools at Christmas.
Yet these same people don’t complain about the massive level of occult material in our popular culture...they don’t complain about sex and violence on television and they don’t complain when others ring up and suggest that all religions are myths made up by weak and stupid people.
In other words, to cut a long example short, they’re offended by Christianity because it jars their own liberal worldview.
And for a long time, people like this have held sway in this country. These people dominate our news media and our culture. They even dominate our political system – Prime Minister Helen Clark for example abolished Grace at state dinners because she thinks New Zealand should be a secular country.
So I repeat my question – what does it mean to be a Christian...what is the point of being a Christian?
Before I answer, let me give you a few more examples. One caller to my show this week said she could tell I was “religious”, and wanted to know what “religion” I was.
I told her I was a Christian.
“Yes, yes,” she said, “but that doesn’t really mean anything - what religion are you?”
When I informed her I’d been baptised an Anglican, she murmured approvingly. “Because there are some very fanatic religions out there.” Then she added, “do you think that sometimes you pay too much attention to Christianity...I mean, it’s easy to take these things too seriously. There are much more important things in the world to talk about.”
What I was dealing with, you see, was a churchgoer, not a Christian. A churchgoer is somebody whose backside occupies space on a pew on Sunday mornings... A churchgoer is someone who sings the hymns, makes the appropriate responses in the rituals, then goes home and forgets all about Christian issues until 10am the following Sunday.
For a churchgoer the ritual of the occasion is important...you are identified primarily by whether you are Anglican, Roman Catholic or Methodist...not by the fact that you are a Christian.
The fact that there are people just like my caller who sit alongside you in churches every week...who appear to have missed the point of Christianity...is testament to the problem that Christianity faces within its own ranks.
SO I gently explained to my caller that being a Christian is first and foremost about accepting Jesus as a personal saviour...and secondly about trying to live as a witness to the Gospel. I said to her...look, I understand that some people think there is sometimes too much discussion about Christian issues. But I’ll be frank: it is the most important thing anybody listening to this radio show will ever hear. It is because I am a Christian that I take seriously my right to speak up on Christian issues...just as much as someone else has the right to speak up on their own beliefs.
As Christians...we are all called to shine the light of the Gospel into our community’s dark corners. We are all called to understand our faith, to stand on the word and to live as Christian a life as we are able...to be an example to others.
Which brings me to the Listener article this week. Back at christmas, some of you may remember that the Listener published a big cover story proclaiming the death of God, and that Jesus was a myth...all courtesy of that icon of religious thinking...Lloyd Geering.
Some of you may also remember that I wrote a letter to the editor of the Listener pointing out that many things Lloyd Geering had got wrong...and thus I provoked even more debate.
Well..a couple of weeks ago the journalist responsible for the Geering article, Philip Matthews, rang and asked if the Listener could do an article on me and my Christian beliefs.
Heidi and I prayed hard...knowing that Philip is a huge fan of Geering and that volunteering to bare all in such circumstances was perhaps a modern equivalent to walking into the Lion’s den.
But we took that step of faith. We trusted that God would have a plan, even if we couldn’t see it, and that we should just step out and share a little Christianity with readers of the Listener.
The end result stunned us: a good, honest portrayal of Christian issues.
This, perhaps, is an illustration of what being a Christian is about – a willingness to share our faith with others, even with hostile and skeptical non-believers.
And sure...I get the chance to do it on the radio and in the Listener...but you get the chance to do it in your own lives every day..
And as Christians we don’t have to be pushy on a one to one basis: all we have to do is live our beliefs...when we’re asked an opinion on something...make sure our opinion doesn’t conflict with Christian teaching...when we’re asked to do something, make sure we do it in a way that brings honour to our faith. We don’t have to do it loud...we just have to do it well.
If we offer our opinions, advice and our help with humility but with the courage of our convictions, people will see the glory of Christ reflected in us...and people respond to that.
The Spirit of our Age deceives us into thinking that we’re not allowed to discuss Christianity any more. That’s not true. We can discuss what we like.
This coming week...let Jesus put a little edge in your own life...don’t be afraid of sticking up for what you believe...Christianity is not just a state of mind...it’s a state of living.