“And Agrippa said unto Paul, With but little persuasion thou wouldest fain make me a Christian” (Acts 26:28).
Let us say at the outset that we are using the word “Christian” strictly according to what is found in the New Testament, and it is assumed that this will be accepted. Our enquiry will take the form firstly of a process of elimination, and we shall observe
(1) To become a Christian is not to become ‘religious’, or to adopt a new ‘religion’.
Among non-Christian peoples, a turning to Christ is often referred to as ‘accepting Christianity’, and in what are called Christian countries conversion is frequently referred to as ‘becoming religious’. Such expressions, with their associated ideas, are altogether inadequate and indeed fundamentally false. There was no more religious man on the earth, in his time, than Saul of Tarsus. Read what he says of himself in Acts 22 and 26, and Philippians 3. Here was a man who was just aflame with religious zeal and passion. No argument is necessary, with history before us, to prove how wide of the mark religion can be.
And that is true of ‘Christianity’, when it is merely a matter of religion. To be a true Christian is not to accept a creed or statement of doctrine, to observe certain rites and ordinances, attend certain services and functions, and conform more or less diligently to a prescribed manner of life. All this may be carried very far, with very many good works; but those concerned may still be outside the true New Testament category of ‘Christian’. Herein lies the danger of an assumed acceptance with God, which may bring that bitter disillusionment foretold by our Lord Himself in those startling words: “Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, did we not… by thy name do many mighty works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me (Matt. 7:23,24).
No, religion is not Christianity, either more or less; it may be only a deception. So that when we seek that people should become Christians, we are not asking them to change their religion, nor are we asking them to become religious. Religion, as such, has never made this world happier or better.
(2) To become a Christian is not to join aninstitution called ‘The Church’.
If the truth were known, there is no such thing as ‘joining’ the Christian Church. We never took any steps, either of word or deed, in order to get our limbs to become members of our bodies. There is no distinction between our members and our bodies – our members comprise our bodies; but they do so, not by organization, invitation, examination, interrogation or catechism, but simply by life. So, in the Church of Christ, provided that a true life-relationship exists, a ‘membership’ in the technical sense is a superfluity, and may be a menace. If there is not that relationship, then no ‘membership’ can constitute the Church of Christ.
There are multitudes, we fear, who have ‘membership’ in what is called the ‘Church’, who are not able to stand up to the test which will be presented when we come to speak of what a Christian is. But let us say here that when we appeal to people to become Christians we are not asking them to ‘join the Church’. And it must be realised that Christianity is not just one more institution or society. You may go to many places called ‘churches’, and never really meet Christ, or find satisfaction.
Of course, that is negative. We must realise, however, that when we become Christians we share one new life in Christ with all other born-again believers, and thus we become one in Christ. That really is the Church. It is for us, then, to cherish that relationship and jealously watch over its sacredness. There are immense values in it.
(3) To become a Christian is not to become a part of a new movement.
It is true that there is a sense in which Christianity is a movement, a Divine movement from Heaven. But there are very many who conceive of Christianity in terms of a great enterprise for world betterment or even evangelization. The appeal is so often made that people will come and associate themselves with this great ‘work’. There is that in most people which makes a response to such an appeal, and would like to be in a great movement. But such a way of approach is to court trouble, or at least to be found sooner or later in a false position. Moses got the ‘movement’ idea in Egypt – and then had forty years’ inaction in the desert.
There is that which comes before the ‘movement’, and the movement is with God, not with us. The greatest value in movement, when God’s time comes for it, often is that we have learned not to move without Him.
We do not appeal to you to join a movement. We do not invite youth, saying, ‘Here is something into which you can throw all your natural powers and youthful enthusiasm!’ We would say: ‘God has a purpose: you are of concern to Him in relation to that purpose. But – youcannot even know or enter into that purpose until something has happened in you which has made you another person. In that purpose you will need much more than natural powers and youthful enthusiasm.’