CHAPTER 10 - WHO IS A CHRISTIAN? - "The Way" by Sir Robert Anderson

WHAT does it mean to be "a Christian"? In Christendom we are all Christians, for the Christian religion prevails. But as every one who has even an elementary knowledge of history is aware, "the Christian religion" has been a bitter opponent, and relentless persecutor, of Christianity. We distinguish, therefore, between a real Christian and a person who merely professes the Christian religion. Scripture declares that "he is not a Jew that is one outwardly." And if this principle obtained in the case of a religion in which such importance attached to externals, how much more applicable it must be to Christianity.
But there are other distinctions which, though not so obvious, are of great practical moment. WThen we say that a man is not a gentleman, we usually mean, not to impugn his social status, but to aver that his character and conduct are unworthy of it. And when we assert that a barrister is no lawyer, or that a military officer is no soldier, we do not question that the one was duly "called," or that the other holds his Majesty’s commission. What we mean is that the barrister is unversed in law, and the officer is ignorant of the art of war. And in a precisely similar sense, if a man is devoid of Christian truth, or if his conduct is un-Christian, we may challenge his right to be called a Christian, without claiming in the least to decide whether he has life in Christ, or is a mere professor.
In the Epistle to the Colossians the Apostle Paul puts the Christian position in a single sentence : " As ye have received Christ Jesus the Lord " - or to give the words more accurately, "As ye received the Christ, Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in Him."’ With the Jew the divinity of the Christ could never be in doubt. In his case, therefore, the burden of the Gospel testimony was " that Jesus was the Christ." But the Gentile, to whom Jesus Christ " was a mere name which meant no more than Pontius Pilate, nor half so much as Julius Caesar, it was necessary to unfold the meaning of the Christ, and to enforce the truth that He was Lord. Hence the Apostle’s words to the Corinthians : " We preach Christ .Jesus as Lord."To the Jew the emphasis was on the Christ " ; to the Gentile on "the Lord."
An attempt to limit the use of the word "Christian" would be mere pedantry. But yet in its highest sense the title belongs only to those who are of "The Way," or in other words, to those who combine Christian doctrine with Christian life or who, in the language of the Apostle have received the Christ, Jesus the Lord, and are walking in Him. There is much to be learned from Greek tenses. The word is, "As ye received the Christ," pointing back to a definite event or crisis in the life. And the Apostle adds, "so walk in Him": a present tense this, implying not an act, but a course of living. Walk about" is the literal rendering, signifying the whole tenor of the life. But how can we walk about in a person? Though the phrase is quite un-English, its significance in Greek is clear and simple. It means that the whole life is to be characterised by all that is implied in receiving the Lord Jesus Christ. As some one has sung
"From various cares my soul retires;
Though deep and boundless its desires, I’ve now to please but ONE."

Heaping metaphors together, the Apostle proceeds, "Rooted and being continually builded up in Him." "Rooted" is in the perfect tense, signifying a past event, continuous in its effect. A baby’s idea of gardening is to plant a thing one week, and to pull it up the next, to see if it is growing. And the Christian experience of some people is very like a baby’s gardening. But those who have really received the Lord Jesus Christ are rooted in Him once for all.
And what is needed now is to be continually builded up in Him, and continually established in the faith. "Even as ye were taught," the Apostle adds, again reverting to the aorist tense, and thus pointing back to the time when they received the Lord Jesus Christ. For in receiving Him they received the truth. And so he goes on to warn them lest any man should make spoil of them "through his philosophy and empty deceit." For a heretic is always a cheat. He defrauds his dupes into bartering the gold of Divine truth for the tinsel that is his stock-in-trade. And then follow the words, "For in Him dwelleth all the fulness of the godhead bodily; and in Him ye are made full."
One sentence has been omitted: "Abounding in thanksgiving." If the walls of the city of God are salvation, her gates are praise; and to abound in thanksgiving is to have "an abundant entrance" there. Such, then, is the meaning of being A CHRISTIAN.
But while in apostolic times the converts "received Christ Jesus the Lord," nowadays people "take Jesus." In this respect Ritualism, Rationalism, and Revivalism are at one - the three R’s by which Christianity is travestied. Ritual is often useful: too rational we cannot be in the religious sphere; and every true Christian delights in Revival.
But the "ists" and "isms" are only evil. Unlike the Ritualist, the old High Churchman was noted for devotion to the Lord and reverence for His name. And his errors were mainly due to a "Council of Trent" conception of the Church. With most Evangelicals that figment is but a vague theory; while with him it was not only Divine truth, but truth of principal importance. But errors and excesses springing from a false conception of the Church are not quite on the same level as the trivialities and superstitions of mere religion. If the Kingdom of God is not in meat and drink, it is certainly not in incense and millinery. If "taking Jesus" constituted a Christian, the present-day Rationalist would have an indisputable claim to the title. For Rationalism is no longer a cloak for loose living. The teaching of "Jesus," as recorded in the Gospels, is its code of ethics, and the life there portrayed is its practical ideal.
Dr. Harnack’s "What is Christianity?" is an exquisite presentation of the system. Of course a fallacy pervades it. For if the Gospels are relegated to the category of merely human writings, "Jesus" is as obviously the creation of the Evangelists as, according to the same school, Moses is the creation of the priests of the later days of the monarchy. Here is an inexorable dilemma. If the Fourth Gospel is authentic, Rationalism collapses like a house of cards. And if not authentic, then the fact confronts us that this writer’s "discourses" (as Dr. Harnack calls them) have throughout the whole Christian era exercised a wider and profounder influence upon the hearts and minds of men than the sayings of "Jesus" Himself. But let that pass. Dr. Harnack’s treatise is written to remind us "that a man of the name of Jesus Christ" once lived and taught upon earth. A man of the name of Judas Iscariot betrayed him, and a man of the name of Pontius Pilate gave him up to be crucified. And that was the end of him. And yet in a sense he lives; for the resurrection is a beautiful "idea," and all such ideas contain elements of truth. Not only so, for (under the influence of Spiritualism, no doubt) the coarse infidelity of the past has given place to Rationalism, and Rationalism is not quite irrational, nor altogether devoid of sentiment; and therefore the very miracles may now receive "a more intelligent and benevolent judgment" than of old. Nor is this all; even the doctrine of the Atonement may be accepted, for it "belongs to a class of ideas" that "respond to a religious need."
This is the sort of thing that now passes for Christianity in some of our most popular pulpits. Its exponents pose as persons of superior intelligence and of mental independence. As a matter of fact, their "religion" is borrowed from Germany, and the only element of "independence" they display is their amazing folly in still clinging to belief in the Deity of Christ. Which only proves that a Divine truth revealed to faith may be degraded to the level of a religious superstition. These teachers give proof that "taking Jesus" is not a synonym for "receiving Christ." "But," some one will demand, "do not these men live beautiful and useful lives, and is not such a life better than the possession of an orthodox creed?" The question is legitimate and interesting, but it is quite irrelevant here. For unless the words are to be dismissed as meaningless, "receiving the Christ" implies the acknowledgment of Him as the One "of whom Moses in the law, ajid the prophets, did write." As He said to His disciples after His resurrection, "These are My words which I spake unto you while I was yet with you, how that all things must needs be fulfilled, which are written in the law of Moses, and the prophets, and the Psalms, concerning Me." "The Law, the Prophets, and the Writings" is the title-page of the Jewish Bible. And as the Psalter comes first in the third division of the Canon, "the Psalms" stands colloquially for the whole. It is as though He said, "Which are written in all the Scriptures." This indeed is precisely the expression used in a preceding verse:
"He interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself." To receive "the Christ" meant therefore receiving Him "in the full and glorious sense in which that term was prophetically known."
If men to whom the names of David and Abraham in the opening sentence of the New Testament represent merely a brigand chief and a lunar myth - men who have got rid of "Moses," and who explain away all the Messianic prophecies and Psalms, are to be called Christians because they accord Him the highest human homage, accept His teaching in so far as it commends itself to them, and lead pure and devout lives, then infidels of the type of Renan and John Stuart Mill are Christians. And indeed, having regard to the present standard of faith and clerical morality, there is no reason why such men should not become Ministers of Christian Churches and Professors of Christian Universities.
The Satan myth of the Christian religion is the obscene monster of the cult of ancient Babylon. But the Satan of Scripture is that marvellous spiritual being who "fashions himself into an angel of light," and whose ministers "fashion themselves as ministers of righteousness" (2 Cor. xi. 14, 15, Revised Version). Ignorance of this deludes people into assuming that a man of "spiritual" power, who is "a minister of righteousness," must be a minister of Christ. The time may be near when "Christian" pulpits will be occupied by demon-possessed men. For another popular error is that of supposing that evil spirits must be unclean spirits.
"Revivalism" may be described as the parodying by natural methods, and in the natural sphere, the results which, in a true revival, the Spirit of God produces in the hearts and lives of men. To attain this end it hucksters Divine realities, bringing everything down to a human level.
The subject is embarrassing. For I fear lest my words should be misread as though they were aimed at men who abundantly approve themselves as true ministers of Christ. Some such, unfortunately, incur the unmerited reproach of belonging to a camp which is abhorrent to them. They err grievously, for example, in copying the Rationalists and Revivalists in the manner in which they speak of the Lord Jesus Christ. In this respect the habitual language of their lips belies the reverence of their hearts. For not only do they name Him in a way that seems to savour of undue freedom, but they foster this habit in others who, unlike themselves, are devoid of the worshipping spirit of the true disciple. It is not strange that Rationalists should habitually call Him "Jesus" or "Jesus Christ," but that those who believe in His Deity should do so gives proof how thoroughly the leaven of the apostasy has spread. Examples of, and precedents for, this evil practice abound. Having regard to the spirit of our newest "Bible Dictionaries" and "Encyclopaedias," and many other theological works, we are not surprised to find that it is of the dead Buddha, and not of the living Lord, that the writers speak. And in their references to our Divine Lord, even the authors of books of a wholly different class generally convey the impression of being under the influence of a great personality, rather than of being conscious of a Divine presence. They turn our thoughts back to the ministry and the Passion, but not up to "the Living One," who was dead and is alive for ever more.
In the case of most religious books, indeed, Mary’s lament might be written across the page, "They have taken away my Lord." And too often it happens that true ministers of the Gospel so speak of Him as to leave this sense of injury and sadness in the hearts of many of their hearers.
"Ye call Me ‘Master,’ and ‘Lord,’ and ye say well," ought surely to be enough for His people. And the significance of the words is indicated by the fact that the Gospels do not record a single instance in which a disciple ever spoke of Him in any other way. Yes, there is a solitary exception. The Emmaus disciples "had trusted that it had been He which should have redeemed Israel." But from that bright dream they had suffered a rude awakening. For the chief priests and their rulers had crucified Him, and He was no longer their Lord and Master, but only "Jesus of Nazareth."
As "Jesus of Nazareth" He was known to the world; and if one of the Jews had been sent to fetch the beast to carry him in His entry into Jerusalem, or to bespeak the guest chamber for the paschal supper, he would have said that "Jesus" required it. But His disciples declared themselves in the very mention of His Name. With them it was, "The Master saith;" " The Lord hath need of it."
Let me not be misunderstood. In the narrative of the Gospels He is spoken of by His personal name, because God is the narrator. But when the narrative introduces words spoken by the disciples as men, whether addressed to Him, or to others about Him, a title of reverence is used.
The use of the Lord’s name in the later Scriptures is a study of very great interest and of principal importance. But it is too large a subject for discussion here. Suffice it to urge that the Lord’s express words, and the example set us by His disciples under His teaching, should be our guide in this respect. For even the most elevated and solemn of mere human utterances are separated by an immeasurable distance from the inspired Scriptures.
(See the author's "The Honour of His Name")
(In our Christian literature the only guide known in using the names and titles of the Lord Jesus is euphony, and the writer’s reverence (or irreverence) of spirit, whereas in their use in Scripture there is an unexplored mine of deep and important teaching. Unexplored, I say, for theology ignores the subject altogether. For example, there is definite significance in the fact that the title of Lord is used only three times of Christ in the Epistle to the Hebrews, and not even once in the Epistle of John. But Christians notice this only, if at all, as a plea for their omitting the title in naming Him.
My reference to this subject in these pages is only by way of appeal to those who err thoughtlessly and by a habit acquired by reading theological and "Christian" literature. I am not confounding them with the Rationalists, to whom He is "a man of the name of Jesus Christ," nor yet with that class of men who thus offend through native vulgarity and slovenliness of mind; who call Him "Jesus" because it costs less time and breath than "the Lord Jesus," or because they have never learned to render honour to whom honour is due.)