I was asked to write a short article for our local magazine on 'what it means to be a Christian.' Here's what I said...
‘There is only one Christ, Jesus, one faith. All else is a dispute over trifles.’ You may well recognise these as the famous words of Elizabeth I, and if you know a little about her life and times, you will know that she was speaking at a time of religious turmoil as England tussled back and forth between Protestant and Catholic forms of Christianity. On insisting on one Jesus and one faith, Elizabeth sought to end this bitter conflict by pointing all Christians back to the heart of their shared faith, Jesus himself.
Jesus was a Jewish rabbi in first century Palestine who, like many others under Roman rule, was put to death by crucifixion (like Elizabeth I, Jesus lived in tumultuous times). It was only after the news began to circulate that Jesus had risen from the dead and, after returning to his followers, had ascended into heaven that a relatively insignificant group found the impetus, given, as they said, by the Spirit of God, to spread the word that this Jesus was not just another victim of the Roman Empire, not just another religious radical, but God himself, ‘God with a face’, ‘Emmanuel, which means ‘God with us’’, God made human so that humans could see and touch and hear the divine. The cross on which Jesus died went from being a shameful accusation of criminality to the moment the world saw God’s love to the fullest; a divine love that stops at nothing, not even death, to bridge the gap between God and a lost, broken humanity.
In Jesus, Christians believe, people can turn away from everything that prevents them recognising and responding to the love of God (the Bible calls this ‘sin’) and can know themselves to be the beloved children of a heavenly Father, created to reflect his goodness, sinful yet forgiven, unworthy yet welcomed, accepted into the family of God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. They are mandated to take the good news of God’s transformative love into all the world (we Christians have not always lived up to this task).
Jesus is the heart of what it means to be a Christian; Christians are, simply, those who worship Jesus and seek to live out his teachings in their lives. Christians are those who aspire to become more like Jesus through the Spirit of God which Jesus promises to give to those who seek it. ‘All else’ is not so much a ‘dispute over trifles’ as , hopefully, a working-out of what it means to know God’s love and make it known in the world (as I’ve said, we don’t always get it right). Christians are no better than anyone else, and no worse. My own fascination with Jesus started as a child and continues to this day. I have known all sorts of Christians from just about every church background imaginable; the one thing we all have in common is the faith the conviction, along with Elizabeth I, that ‘there is one Christ, Jesus.’