October 2021 - Rector's Ramblings

A bit more ‘religious’ this month: perhaps not without a challenge, and possibly confronting our differing convictions.   I wonder what you think?

I found myself in an excellent meeting yesterday, which prompted me to consider the labels which describe us as people of faith.  I will give us three choices: ‘a Christian’, ‘a believer’ or ‘a disciple’.   Which of these most nearly hits the mark?

To many of us, the term, ‘A Christian’, sounds mainstream, inclusive and unobjectionable.  It has, however, I suggest, morphed into something quite different from its meaning of fifty years ago, and those who use it as a self-description, may not entirely have recognised that.

My impression is that at one time to be ‘a Christian’ in Britain was simply to be mainstream, and not to be placed into the competing boxes of being ‘a Muslim’, ‘a Hindu’, ‘a Buddhist’, …     Maybe the most fundamental difference of all would have been instead to be ‘an atheist’; though that was a far rarer self-description ‘back in the day’  - and perhaps one that required a fair bit of self confidence.

To depict oneself as a Christian, though, for a person 50 years ago, was then something quite unremarkable; and ironically allowed a pretty loose connection to the Church.   We’ve all heard phrases such as ‘she was a good Christian woman’; and, to be sure, I would prefer that to hearing that she was a ‘wicked girl’; but that sort of phrase tends to focus on behaviour and viewpoints to the possible exclusion of actual belief.

Today, of course ‘a Christian’ is more distinctive; more out-of the ordinary.  Use that description to a teenager, today, and they will think you anything but ‘mainstream’.  They will probably assume you are a weird one, rather out of keeping with the secular age.  How words can change over time!

Let’s try another.  What is it, in our time, to be ‘a believer’?

Well now the focus is upon the interior person, and their mindset.  This will be a person who is describing their moral and philosophical stance; but the emphasis could be that it is ‘all in the head’.   The believer may be one who accepts all the claims of faith, but has no necessary urge to put them into practice.  Remember, ‘even the demons believe .. and tremble’!  (St James 2:19).   I might initially be encouraged to know that a person had belief in God; but if this did not translate into a life of hope and loving service, then I might prefer the traditional measure above: of a Christian soul, who simply does the outward-bit well.

Which brings me to a final choice, ‘a disciple’.  What does that convey?

Well, the word may be rather alien to many of us.  Surely ‘disciples’ were a particular band who followed Jesus round long ago?  Who hung on his coat tails; and wondered at his wisdom?

I would like to argue, that ‘disciple’ remains a very noble word indeed which is still relevant for us today.  It means a learner from that man Jesus; a person, who receives Jesus’s teachings and his example, and wants to be shaped by these things.  If you and I are prepared to be followers of Jesus: then, we are ‘disciples’ just as much as those beside the Sea of Galilee long ago.

It is a wonderful thing to be a learner; and to remain a learner: humbly aware that there is ever more to be taken on board; and to care that this should translate into truthful living.  The ‘disciple’ will hold-in-one the best aspects both of being ‘a Christian’ and being a ‘believer’; in so doing, they will unite heart and soul, with hands and feet and a smile .. in making belief and action part of the selfsame pilgrimage.

The other attractive aspect that educationalists have urged on us, is that we want to make people into life-long learners.  We go on ‘learning’; there’s always more.  So, may it be for those who would ‘learn’ Christ.


Andrew Doye               

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