I was just listening to an interview with Mary Berry on the radio, she of that extremely low fat programme, The Great British Bake Off. In the interview Clare Balding asked her about her Sunday, which includes going to her local church and, as you might guess, cooking a great Sunday lunch. Clare B asked Mary B what she thought a Christian was, and her reply was something along the lines of – someone who cares about other people. Now, while that’s not wholly inaccurate, it struck me that there are thousands of people out there who care about other people but would not want to huddle under the Christian umbrella. In fact, they might well follow other religions or philosophies which inspire them to care.
Biblically speaking the followers of Jesus were first called ‘Christians’ or ‘Christ ones’ as a bit of a joke. A slur. A put down. And it wasn’t anything to do with the way they cared about others. It was because they believed Jesus was the Messiah and, affected by his forgiveness and offer of a fresh start, they were trying to follow his way of life. And, as often happens with insults, it was because they were different. A strange minority that bucked the trend. So by giving them a nickname others could label them and keep them in a box.
And it made we wonder again why the words ‘good’ and ‘Christian’ and ‘nice’ so often get mixed up together. Especially when you consider that the Bible is full of bad people. It’s something I often talk about because I think it creates a barrier for people. If you have to be good to be a Christian then count me out. I fall at the first hurdle. I recall the story about the prostitute who’d had a terrible life, and when it was suggested she try going to a church she replied, ‘Why? I already know how bad I am.’ And yet, in the Bible, time and again, we find Jesus hanging around with prostitutes and plenty of others who were seen as wayward.
I wonder if the mix-up comes about because many people start to follow Jesus and are then moved and inspired to want to do what he did = help others. In fact, he encouraged his followers with the phrase ‘Blessed are the merciful’. And the word he used for merciful meant those who were stirred into action to make the world better, not worse. In all kinds of ways. So I guess that, over the years, the idea of improving the world has often been labelled as ‘christian’. Perhaps overlooking the original inspiration – that for Christians it comes from deciding to follow Jesus, and thereby, in some small ways, attempting to become like their rabbi. To be kind and caring is fantastic – but that makes a person kind and caring. To be kind and caring because of following Jesus, that’s surely another story.