I listen to a sermon in which the minister propounds the question: can you be a Christian without going to church? While stressing the importance of church, his sermon at the least implies a yes, because of the truth claim that it is Jesus who does the saving – thus can one ‘be’ a Christian without going to church.
Which takes us right back to my question: is being saved the same thing as being a Christian?
I am inclined to say no. Being a Christian is about being a follower of, and not [merely] a believer in Jesus the Christ.
Church [Greek: ekklesia] by definition involves the two or more Jesus references as enacting the reality into which he is present in the here and now.
Can you believe in Jesus without the church? Maybe. But while you may believe in Jesus without the gathered, you cannot follow Jesus without the gathered – carrying you . . . upholding you . . . believing when you cannot . . . lending its very self to you when you have no other self to offer . . .
We humans are social creatures – we cannot survive without each other.
Think about the implications of solitary confinement:
. . . solitary confinement is a cruel practice which causes permanent psychological damage to those who have been treated in that manner [which] . . . even in the absence of brutality can cause emotional damage, hallucinations, delusions, depersonalisation and decline[d] mental functioning. . . Solitary confinement is banned under . . . the Geneva Conventions as it amounts to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Amnesty International
It drives us mad to be forcibly separated from our own kind. And yet we still argue for our right to go it alone when it comes to matters of faith.
Thus the question: what does it mean to be a Christian?
Holding fast to the Reformed notion that as to whether any person is or is not a Christian, I am limited in my answer as to only one soul – and that my own, it nevertheless seems to me that we have gotten the emphasis all wrong when we focus on our own ‘saving’, however we may define the term.
When it comes to salvation, God and only God stands center stage.
But when it comes to the Christian identity, is it really merely a question of salvation?
Yeah, yeah, yeah – I get it – I did nothing to earn my place before God – and thank God for that. But is that what this is really about – my assured status?
To say that Jesus saves is to make a truth claim about Jesus.
To say that I am a Christian is to make a truth claim about myself – that I follow the one who saves.
Both claims are ultimately verifiable. But they are not interchangeable.
You might come to the garden alone, but you sure won’t be staying there alone.