Saturday, 12 June 2010

Christianity and Being Christian

Occasionally some interesting statements appear on Facebook. This one was originally identified as liked by one of my friends: “Going to church doesn't make you a christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car” but I really wonder whether they understand what being Christian really means.

There was a series on the BBC before Christmas called “A History of Christianity.” The presenter acknowledged in the final episode that he was a friend (sympathetic) to Christianity but not a Christian. In the series, the presenter focussed on the church (the institution) and its various incarnations and rituals. What I felt he really missed is that the Christian faith isn't about the institution called the church. It is about about a personal relationship with a living God. This is reflected in the Old Testament in Numbers 11:10-15.

In that Numbers passage, Moses complains about the burden of leadership but at no point does he doubt that God called him into the leadership. The commentator, Riggans (1983) discusses how other prophets and leaders in the Old Testament had shown the same understanding. They saw themselves as failures but they didn't see that they could resign from the relationship with God. God was who had called them and given them their commission. Death seemed like the only way to end the commission and for another to take over. The relationship with God couldn't be ended by a decision to opt out.

The thing is that all of the servants of God failed to see was that God had expected their commission to go as it had. He was already working on the next step. So often, we like Hoses and these other servants of God forget that it is God's plan that is being worked out and not our own. He has the next steps already prepared in his plan. We simply lack the knowledge of where God's plan leads.

Another friend had put a link in Facebook to a short video on validation. It told the story of a car park attendant who made everybody smile. He meet a women photographer who wouldn't smile no matter how hard he tried. He thought he was a failure so he stopped trying to make people smile. Then he was challenged again to make people smile through photography and helped the women's mother to smile. This made the women smile so that she like him began to make people smile.

I see in his story that of a person having been given a commission. He lost sight of it when one person didn't seem to respond. It was only when his commission was restored and he had forgotten about the failure that he discovered that he hadn't failed at all. He simply needed to look at the solution from a different perspective.

Thinking of the “A History of Christianity” series, the presenter talks of the church reinventing itself. I see it more as rediscovering it commission. The church as a body of believers may go through times when the organisation needs to be challenged but God is really working with individuals. The individuals haven't lost their faith or call to purpose. They are simply seeing that God's commission has different ways of being worked out and accepting the decisions that God is making.

God's working with individuals is also reflected in alternative ways of being church (Murray and Wilkinson-Hayes, 2000). If church becomes were people meet with God then does it have to happen in traditional church buildings. Many of the newer forms of church are less focussed on the weekly worship and more focussed on being the church in a local community. Murray and Wilkinson-Hayes describe a diagram by Robert Warren. They say that “the essential nature of church” requires “three elements, of worship, community and mission and only when these three are equally present and fully informing each other does Christian spirituality find true expression” (p 17). They contend that the three elements, worship, community, and mission are the “ways into being church” (p 17).

What the stories in this book reflect is that being the church or an authentic Christian group only really happens when the church moves outside of its buildings and identifies with the community in which it is based. This is without losing sight of the importance of placing God at the centre. The churches mission and its place in the community are equally as important as the strength of its worship.


Riggans, W. (1983). Numbers. Edinburgh: The Saint Andrew Press.

Murray, S., & Wilkinson-Hayes, A. (2000). Hope from the margins: New ways of being church (Vol. Ev 49). Cambridge: Grove Books Limited.

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