Sunday, February 20, 2011

What Does It Mean to Be a Christian?

The Bible’s Viewpoint

What Does It Mean to Be a Christian?

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“IN MY country to be a Christian means to go to church once a week,” says Kingsley, from one African country. Raad, from the Middle East, explains: “In our community Christians are viewed as a group who follow Western customs and traditions in their dress, celebrations, and treatment of women.”

But does being a Christian simply mean that one attends a church service once a week and follows certain social customs and traditions? Logically, should not the word “Christian” refer to a way of life that reflects the attitudes, values, and conduct that Christ preached and exemplified?* How was Christianity practiced at its inception?

Early Christianity—A Way of Life

Jesus said to his followers: “You are my friends if you do what I am commanding you.” (John 15:14) Since Jesus’ teachings affected all aspects of their lives, Christ’s disciples initially referred to their religion as “The Way.” (Acts 9:2) Soon thereafter, “[they] were by divine providence called Christians.” (Acts 11:26) This new name they bore meant that they believed that Jesus was the Son of God, who had transmitted to mankind the will of his heavenly Father. This belief led them to follow a way of life that differed from that of the world around them.

Christ’s teachings moved his followers to follow Bible teachings, which meant avoiding “fornication, uncleanness, loose conduct, idolatry, practice of spiritism, enmities, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, contentions, . . . drunken bouts, revelries, and things like these.” (Galatians 5:19-21; Ephesians 4:17-24) The apostle Paul reminded Corinthian Christians that some of them had once practiced these very things. Then he added: “But you have been washed clean, but you have been sanctified, but you have been declared righteous in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”—1 Corinthians 6:9-11.

E. W. Barnes relates in his book The Rise of Christianity: “In its early authoritative documents the Christian movement is represented as essentially moral and law-abiding. Its members desired to be good citizens and loyal subjects. They shunned the failings and vices of paganism. In private life they sought to be peaceful neighbours and trustworthy friends. They were taught to be sober, industrious and clean-living. Amid prevailing corruption and licentiousness they were, if loyal to their principles, honest and truthful. Their sexual standards were high: the marriage tie was respected and family life was pure.” Such were aspects of being a Christian in the early days.

Another distinctive sign of early Christianity was its zealous evangelizing work. Christ commanded his followers: “Go therefore and make disciples of people of all the nations.” (Matthew 28:19, 20) Jean Bernardi, a professor at the Sorbonne University in Paris, France, noted: “[Christians] were to go out and speak everywhere and to everyone. On the highways and in the cities, on the public squares and in the homes. Welcome or unwelcome. To the poor, and to the rich encumbered by their possessions. . . . They had to take to the road, board ships, and go to the ends of the earth.”

True Christianity Today

True Christians today should stand out for their distinctive way of life, just as they did in the first century. Accordingly, Jehovah’s Witnesses strive to adhere strictly to the precepts established by the first Christians. Their efforts to pattern their lives after the teachings of the Bible are noticed by others.

True Christians are zealous evangelizers, as they were centuries ago
For instance, the New Catholic Encyclopedia acknowledges that Jehovah’s Witnesses are known as “one of the best-behaved groups in the world.” The Deseret News of Salt Lake City, Utah, observed that Jehovah’s Witnesses “promote strong family ties and develop productive and honest citizens.” The newspaper added: “Members believe in a strong moral code. They believe smoking, overdrinking, drug misuse, gambling, sexual promiscuity and homosexuality are spiritually damaging practices. They teach honesty and good work habits.”

The Witnesses also take to heart their responsibility to be zealous evangelizers. Commenting on this the New Catholic Encyclopedia says: “The fundamental obligation of each member . . . is to give witness to Jehovah by announcing His approaching Kingdom. . . . To be a true Witness one must preach effectively in one way or another.”

Clearly, true Christianity is much more than membership in one of the many religions of Christendom. Jesus himself foretold the rise of counterfeit Christians. (Matthew 7:22, 23) Jehovah’s Witnesses invite you to learn what Jesus taught and put it into practice. That is what it means to be a Christian. Jesus said: “If you know these things, happy you are if you do them.”—John 13:17.

* One dictionary defines a Christian as someone who professes belief in Jesus as Christ or who follows the religion based on his life and teachings.

Whom did Jesus call his friends?—John 15:14.
What sort of conduct should true Christians shun?—Galatians 5:19-21.
In what work should Christians take part?—Matthew 28:19, 20.
Appeared in Awake!  April 2007

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