Blogtext: ”Christian”? What is that?

During my days of being a pastor and bible teacher in Sweden I was sent on a mission to the Muslim and Arabic republic of Yemen in order to support and encourage our Swedish missionaries working in a land that allowed none such. They ran trade-schools, worked in hospitals, worked where they were needed and shared the gospel as best they could. They were Christians in a world that wanted nothing to do with the West. They lived among people who had only a few decades before left the middle ages and entered into the bewildering world of motor cars, plastic carrier bags and cigarettes.

I mention cigarettes because they pinpointed the problem with the term ”christian”. Anything Western was identified as being ”christian”. The consumption of alcohol, nicotine and all other forms of indulgence in the Western life style were firmly identified by the yemeni as being typically ”christian”. I saw gigantic adds for a brand of cigarettes, Peter Stuyvesandt and Marlboro and was astonished to hear the reasoning behind the campaign: many many yemeni men spent a sizeable proportion of each afternoon chewing ’kat’, a mild narcotic found in the leves of the bush by that name. The higher up in the mountains it grew the better the quality, read: the amount of drug in the leaves. With a bulging cheek, green spittle running down the beards and glazed over  eyes they would sit for best part of three hours each day and just ”chew the cud”. While doing that they were of course useless as a labour force.

A sad corollary to this habit was the almost monthly repainting of hospital walls. The chewing of kat increased the rate of cancer of the aesophagus astronomically. The sufferers spat their mucus on the walls. The walls needed repainting ever so often.  The cigarette companies cynically concluded that the sum of man’s needed stimulants is constant, but if they could switch the yemenis over from ”kat to fags” they would not be blotto half a day nor would they get cancer of the throat and stomach. Of the cancer in the lungs not one word was spoken by the campaigners. 

And the yemenis thought that cigarettes and whisky was typical of being a ’christian’, and of course they were entirely correct in thinking that it would hardly improve anything but the bank accounts of the tobacco companies and the Inland Revenue. The gospel of Jesus Christ had nothing to do with the term ”christian”. In fact, the Western culture vaccinated the yemenis against anything truly christian. Which is begging the issue.

What and who has any right to call themselves christian? Is the term up for grabs for anyone who needs a name defining their worldview?

There has always been a very common understanding that if you want to hide something good out of sight then you hide it among lookalikes that are nothing like the real thing, but look deceptively like it. In Nature we have the mimicry of certain insects looking like dangerous wasps but being harmless flies. Or the likes of banded snakes looking venomous when they are not. The amount of counterfeit notes or passports that are afloat are made possible, if but for a time, because they look like the real thing. It is almost as if someone of great power has invested an enormous amount of ingenuity and energy in creating as many look-alike wannabees as possible all claiming to be christian in order  to hide the one and only thing that rightly is identified by that term.

What on earth is a christian nation? What is a christian church? What is a christian world view? And pray tell me: has the term ”Christmas” any meaning at all? It is as true to call that event ’christian’ as it is likely to find a bacon stall in Mecka during the Ramadan.

What has a protestant chaplain on a battle field blessing his troops, about to meet another army with a catholic christian chaplain blessing those troups, to do with Christ? What has the pageantry of the Church, its golden altars, well filled treasure troves and pyramidal power-structure to do with the Saviour from Nazareth? What has the sanctimonious thing called preaching to do with the living word of God?’

Anything that is called ”christian” ought reasonably have its origins in that which is ”chrio”, that is: something that has been anointed.  That is the root of the word Christ, christian and christianity, and unless the root is understood there is no way to understand what the branches could be expected to bear in the way of fruit. It is by their fruits you know the trees. Not by the rustling in their leaves. Or by the incisions on the bark of the tree.

The anointing was that specific act of designating a man to service which was carried out by the action of putting a consecrated oil on his head and proclaiming this person to be a king, a priest or a prophet. It generally signified that this person was also in some way gifted with a portion of God’s spirit and special blessing for the carrying out of the task given. The three offices thus manifested were throughout the times of the Old Testament prophetic in the sense that they were all significantly limited in themselves, but pointed forward to the coming of One who would truly be all Three in One. This One came and the summary of His ministry is that he is the ’Anointed One’.

He is not only the preacher but also the Word. He is not only the Priest but also the final Sacrifice. He is not just a King but the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

So anything that is going to carry on calling itself ”christian” had better be able to show how it is derived from that anointing which in the Son of Man and the Son of God was summarized and completed. It is the legacy of the Christ that gives any credence to the claim that anything is truly christian. Cigarettes and whisky are not. And it is highly doubtful wether a whole list of other such terms have any right to the title. No, I recant: they have absolutely no right to call themselves that.

The fact is that many many people of a christian persuasion no longer feel at ease when they have to explain what they are. Any conversation that starts with the statement ”I am a christian” begs to start by explaining what that means, because the misconceptions, the poisonous weeds among which the real thing is hidden, are so deeply imbedded in the normal thinking of the ordinary people.  You would be forgiven if perplexed  when people draw themselves back from you if they have learnt to equal ”christian” with any number of evil things such as pedofilia, embezzlement, internecine wars over theological issues and a whole lot of other things that the media are quick to grab and expose. Media exposure nearly always exaggerates the sins of the purportedly ”sinless”. Christians are thought to consider themselves a better sort of people, a do-goodish, self rightous bundle of semi hypocrites etc.

In the beginning, which is a good place to which we ought to retrace our steps, the word ’christian’ was not one the believing made up for themselves. It was used by their opposition as a’ cat call’. It was derogatory in meaning and referred to the fact that they singled themselves out from the rest of the roman empire by not doing the one act per year that was required by all: to go to an altar dedicated to the ”genius” of the emperor and there bow the knee and swear obeisance to the political deity invested in the  emperor.

Christians bowed no knee to any man. They bowed their knee to Christ only. They reflected on the ’Anointed’ and his Lordship and never ever genuflected to any other authority.  They were ’Christfollowers’ or ’Christ-in-man’ers. Hooray! But they did not designate themselves that way to begin with. It started to take on a this new meaning in the church in the city of Antioch.

As the apostle Paul is hauled before the authorities he is forcefully defining and defending his faith in Christ so that  Agrippa the ruler shouts out: ”You almost manage to make me a christian!” Yes box alright! But of course it was a derogatory and negative thing for Agrippa as yet. After all the major spokesman for that way of faith-living was  standing before him bound in chains for an offense so great that the man was about to be sent to the court of the emperor in Rome for his defense. 

What was it then about christians that fitted so ill with the romans? It is the same thing which makes the world jitterish still at the thought of it's implications. Christ did not come just to die for the sins of many. He came to redeem the whole world. Because by the account of God, the entire creation, yes the whole world was lost and needed saving if it was not to go to its utter ruin.  The deeds of men are evil in the sight of God. They have all forfeited their lives because of their self-deification.  The soul that sins must die. Sin means that you forfeit your right to life.  Unless a sinless life is given instead of that which we have lost to sin, there is no remedy for our condition. 

Christ, the Anointed One came that the life which we have lost to sin would be restored to righteousness. That the life lived on earth would taste of heaven already here. He did totally blot out that which separates us from God, and lives after his resuurection in and through every man, woman, boy or girl, who bows their knee to Him and welcomes him to be their lifelong Saviour and lord. They will rather be killed by Caesar than deny their Saviour. 

That is the meaning of "christian".

They are born again, their life is no longer of the world but still in it. They have an inkling in their soul that they are destined for another world, so they have little interest in being loved by the world, it is enough for them to live in order to show the love of God for the world, in actions, in the world.

They have passed over from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light. The World hates them because that light shows up the evil deeds of man. And mankind does not want go be shown up as the sinner it is. ”If they have hated me, he said, they will hate you for my name’s sake.”

So it is easy to see how eagerly the world snaps up every morsel of a scandalous nature and majors on where the christians fail. Rather than report what the true christians are. They know themselves to be sinners, saved and on their way home, alas, not without stumbling. You see clearly how important it is to use the term christian as a kind of fertilizer allowing all kinds of things to grow up round the real thing so as to prevent anyone from finding it.

If  I were accused of being a christian, would there be conclusive evidence against me?

The good is the enemy of the best. No, it is not the obvious bad thing that is the enemy of the best. It is the mimicry of ”almost christian” which calls Christ  and christians into doubt. No organisation, no machinery, no marketing trick can ever be a christian, nor can a nation. Christian is a term to be reserved for those who know Christ and Him Who sent Him. And who have traded in their sinful nature for the gift of the new life in the Holy Spirit.

You do not become a car for being born in a garage. Neither do you become a christian by being born in a stable, going to church all your life, or doing your best to please God by being as good as you can. 

You must be born again. That is it. It is by a spritual rebrith that you become a christian, someone in whom Christ lives today.

Teddy Donobauer, Doncaster, 2nd November 2017

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