Tuesday, September 15, 2009

What is a Christian?

What is a Christian? Who get to call themselves "Christ-followers?"
What are the absolute essentials, the non-negotiable aspects, beliefs
and behaviors of Christianity?  The story below is one possible answer
to this complicated question.

I recently received an email from
some special friends of mine, Anya and Sergey, who live in in a country
with a predominantly Muslim population and who seek to offer the words
of grace about the good news of Jesus Christ. Anya was telling me about
her passion to serve Muslim women and her decision to learn more about
their faith before asking them to learn about her own religious life.
She wrote to me about a woman who grew up in a Muslim family, strictly
practicing all the requirements of that faith, including the extensive
fast during Ramadan and the wearing of the all-covering robes. As Anya
came to know this woman, she also read a book called Waging Peace on Islam. The author, Christine Mallouhi, is a Christian woman living with her Muslim family in the Middle East. Mallouhi writes:

...our religious traditions are not
the Gospel and may actually have little relationship to the Gospel
message and even be obscuring it. Following Christ does not mean
joining the Christian culture... It does not require leaving one's
family and people. To follow Christ does not require one to take a new
Christian name, or to wear a different style of clothing. Nor does it
require using the symbol of the cross, nor worshiping on a certain day,
nor a certain style of worship... It does not require adopting new
wedding, birth or death traditions. Nor does it require eating
different foods, ... or celebrating certain holidays. ...None of these
cultural expressions are essential to following Christ.

After a recent conversation with her Muslim friend, Anya wrote
this:  "Imagine my surprise when towards the end of our meeting she
told me
that she came to this lesson to tell me that she couldn't call herself
a Christian, because in her culture and her family being a Christian
had a very negative meaning (associated with the Russian culture and
the Russian Orthodox church). She reassured me that she relied on
Jesus, the Son of God in her salvation and that she was very relieved
to know that following Him did not require betraying her family. She
left home hoping to talk to her old grandmother about Jesus and her
eternal hope in Him. Her grandmother is a practicing Muslim who does
all the things that Quoran requires, and does
this all because of the fear of punishment from Allah if she doesn't."

Anya concluded, "If our conversation happened a year ago I would be
considering this friend a Muslim who doesn't want to follow Jesus at all
costs, but now I'm able to see that Jesus accepts every person who
comes to him with repentance and trust and not just those who follow
the set rules that I'm familiar with or used to."

I so much like what Anya wrote here.  She is looking upon the heart,
bypassing the externals which most of us focus on.  Anya newly
discerning eyes saw a repentant heart, trusting in Jesus for
forgiveness and wholeness and she rejoiced--for this young woman has
been found. 

Who is a Christian?  Is it those who look the part, following the
external signs of the faith, sporting Christian symbols, carrying their
Bibles, dressing in certain patterns, following a set of rules that
define it?  Sometimes yes.  And sometimes no.  Ultimately, the question
must go much deeper:  Do we have hearts so transformed by grace that we
willingly follow Jesus where ever that may lead? Do we take up our cross
daily?  Do we love our enemies and go the second mile for them?  Do we
forgive as we wish to be forgiven?  Frankly, it's easier to stick to
the externals.  But it is the internal life that opens the door to the
heavenly places.

No comments: