What is a Christian?
by Maurice Harvey
(This article was written by the author as an essay 50 years ago, whilst a student at Ashby Grammar School.)
It is a fairly simple task to give an answer to the above question - a person who believes in God, and lives to the best of his ability in the light of what Christ taught and exemplified in His earthly life - but to practise His works is another matter.
In our present age of crisis and uncertainty, it is extremely difficult to present Christianity into the minds of so many thousands, who because of recent events, now no longer accept the Supreme Being. They are led astray by theories and facts put forward by scientists of varying degrees, and accept them. But when evidence is put forward in the Bible, because it is only written there and not shown, they tend to disbelieve.
In order to live life as would be pleasing to Christ, a person should have from his earliest years, made plain to him the reality and character of God, and his own relationship to Him as the Father of mankind. It is essential, as Ruskin said, "Every child must be given the knowledge of God from its youth." The realisation of the Fatherhood of God, and the sonship of man, with all that these fundamental conceptions involve, lies at the root of our Christian faith and ethics. The study of the Bible should be the gradual unfolding of the revelation of God and His dealings with mankind. From early childhood, the teaching of religion should have its centre in the personality of Jesus. A child could begin with the simplest of facts - our Lord's birth and boyhood, His Ministry, Crucifixion, Resurrection and Ascension. These events would surely give a vivid mental picture of Christ, and thus the personality of Jesus would stand out so clearly that the conviction of His Divinity would be a natural consequence.
On the other hand, some people - the less fortunate - do not acquire some knowledge of God from childhood, and thus are not able to live as a Christian should, all their lives. But nevertheless, they can still justly become true members of God's earthly family, by a realisation, not too soon, that God does exist, and by His good examples, life could be led in the correct manner. "Repent ye, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand."
Well then, 'what is a Christian?' To follow the example of Christ and His teaching to the best of our ability would certainly secure us a heavenly life hereafter. In the Articles of Religion we are told of what ought to be.
"The condition of man after the fall of Adam is such that he cannot turn and prepare himself, by his own natural strength and good works to faith, and calling upon God." Thus the Christian cannot live without the Grace of God. He needs, not a natural endowment, but a set example of life. "The Three Creeds, Nicene, Athanasian, and Apostles', ought to be received and believed." Therefore, without laws of the Church to guide him, the Christian would falter from his purpose. It is certain then, that man must be familiar with the Bible, and its contents. Nevertheless, it is quite common that people tend to translate the Book wrongly - perhaps the content has been taken too literally. Some have so understood and practised their religion as to over emphasise its denials - as in the more rigid forms of Puritanism - and have thus helped to give colour to the idea that Christianity makes rather for the impoverishment of life than its enrichment. The true Christian finds that by the Glories of God he has been enriched in every realm of human experience. Such enrichment may be shown in the world of ethics, literature, art and philosophy, and even science, inspite of the Church's attitude in some periods of history, to those scientific hypothesis that appeared to deny the Christian conception of the world and man.
We see in Christ's earthly life what God is really like, how he thinks of man, and what he desires human life to be. Even before the birth of Christ, there were yet here and there many evidences of inspiration and insight which the Christian accepts as a genuine revelation of God. When Jesus gave His Sermon on the Mount, he said in short simple statements what he considered that a good man should have for the fulfilment of life. The poor and humble had more of a right to heaven than the rich. Christ was no doubt moved by what he had experienced during His travels - ill treatment of the poor by those enriched only with gold. He considered everyone a Christian who served him faithfully - whatever their circumstance in life: e.g. "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven." And again "Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled."
Christ tells us in no difficult words that whatever our status, if we are righteous and "try His works to do" then our life is worthwhile, and our desires shall surely be "filled." Filled by God's favour, His constant presence in our minds, and the hope that life will go on, even after death. "Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake. Rejoice and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets before you."
Jesus tells us here, that whatever is said against us for upholding His Holy name, we must never falter, and continue to strive against our persecutors. In this way we shall surely win, and will at length be able to rejoice in the goodness of our work.
The Christian must then have all those gifts which Jesus preaches of, and be able to transplant them into the world, so that the Church may grow, not only in strength but power. In the Book of Corinthians there is a chapter I think which tells of what a Christian man really is, and of his duties to the world. Perhaps if we could substitute 'a Christian' for 'Charity' then my ideal would be illustrated. (cp 1 Corinthians 13)
The Christian suffereth long and is kind, he envieth not, vaunteth not himself, and is not puffed up. Doth not behave himself unseemly, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil. Rejoiceth not in iniquity; but rejoiceth in the truth. Beareth all things, believeth all things, endureth all things. The Christian never faileth. Here we see everything good in man, as far as his normal powers exist. A true Christian should live that sound life, and in doing so himself, teach others to be the same. Thus we see the Christian, perhaps not perfect as Jesus intended: "Try to be therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect." For if this was so, then the Christian would no longer so be called. We might then interpret him as "Messiah." To live the 'good life' is necessary, and if the Christian is able to set an exemplary character, then I think he has achieved success. His tenacity of purpose will eventually show the fruits of his labours, and then we shall see him as Christ proclaimed.
"Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid." Christ has set him on a pedestal and seeing him as such, will guide him always through all elements that may befall him.
"Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven." (cp Matthew Ch5 v7)