Today I’d like to address the question ” Just who is a Christian and how do you know?”. I suspect I have friends that I’d call Christian that others don’t, and I know people that would consider themselves a Christian that I wouldn’t. This is a big deal in the world today, especially in political and social circles — a kind of “who’s in, who’s out” litmus test — and I am convinced that there are going to be some surprises when Jesus gets to determine who really is in or out. (Jesus said, according to the Bible, “Many will say Lord, Lord…but I will say I never knew you”. Others will say “when did we see you and help you” and Jesus will “welcome them into the kingdom of heaven”, just in case you think I’m making this up). This is good news for my friends, and bad news for some of my enemies, I think.
So, here’s my first category — the group a girl I dated once surprised me about — “Oh, you mean Jesus? I like him, but I don’t like what people have done with him”. This group is people who want to act like Jesus said to act — people who try to live out the Beatitudes and the social ideals that Jesus taught. These people don’t necessarily believe that Jesus was the Son of God, but they think he’s got something right about the way the world should be. So, this form of Christian is “follower of Jesus” or “someone who acts like Jesus would”. Most people I know (or want to know) act like this, even if they wouldn’t claim the title. I’m not sure what to say about that part, but Jesus seems to indicate that he likes them as well, even if they don’t make a big deal about him.
Group 2 are people that are people that believe that Jesus is their “Lord and Savior”. These are people that met Jesus through salvation. These people are people that think of Jesus as the Christ (the savior). These folks have come to Christ because they realized that something was wrong with them and the only thing that could fix them was One who could forgive them. These people have their life changed and start all over again in the sight of God. My problem with these people (some of them, anyway) is that they don’t go back and ask for forgiveness from the people they hurt. 12-Step people, by contrast, do the “amends to others” part. This makes them among the coolest people I know — they’re genuine, humble and non-judgmental and they straighten things out when they can. This is better than many people in society.
Group 3 are people that concentrate on the Jesus is “Lord” part — that is, pastors and other such folks who follow Christ not because they’re good, or holy, but because he’s their “boss”, because he called them and they followed. This, according to Frederick Buechner, is what the disciples were like. At least to start, they’re not great people, not above being petty or jealous. These people try to do what’s right. I distinguish these folks from Group 1 because they’re not so heady and philosophical. They don’t like philosophy in general and like this one best. These folks seem to be more practical, more involved in life, in doing the right thing, rather than being the right thing. As I type this, I am aware that many ministers are good people. They’re nice, polite, know when to hold their tongues and how to talk to the aged woman who can’t hear but wants her tea cups held the right way. They have morals and they’re obviously “good”.
Still, this is the category I grew up to be in. I do not do those things and am not particularly interested in learning, thus the pastorate doesn’t always “fit” for me, nor I for it. I have morals, and ethics, but I’m not always polite. Still, I always try to do what I think God asks of me. I have added, in the past few years, the salvation part (see above) and thus can say “Jesus is my Lord and Savior”, because I don’t want to be connected with the (unfortunately) very public idiots in the faith. If you ask me, I’ll tell you so, without a moment’s hesitation. But the answer to “what’s wrong with your car, John?” is not “Jesus is my personal Lord and Savior” with a scripture quote attached like some kind of code.
Lastly, there are people who are all of those things. They like what Jesus taught, the follow and they are saved. These people are deeply spiritual and you can tell when they walk into the room. In this category, you find people like Gordon Sherman who ran a retreat center in New Hampshire for years; the rev. Todd Farnsworth who just shines when he moves into a new town and attracts people to him; I suspect my own pastor, George, is one of these, but I don’t know his salvation story. Char Corbett is one of these, it seems to me. Jesse Jackson might be one of these, I suspect, and Martin Luther King is the epitome of this, but they don’t make ’em like King anymore. With the exception of, who?, Jimmy Carter, there are no great protestant leaders that everybody knows about and respects in today’s world. Bono might come in a close second.
So, my point here is this: depending on what you believe there are either more Christians than is first apparent, or less. I like all people that are in category one, some in category 2, all in category 3, and wish there were more in category 4. But, again, that’s just me.
I’d love to know what you think.