What is a Christian?

What is a church?

How would you answer these questions?

In 1636, Harvard University was founded with the mission of teaching students that “the main end of your life and studies is to know God and Jesus Christ.” At the 350th anniversary celebration of Harvard, Larry Summers, the former president of Harvard, confessed, “Things divine have been central neither to my professional nor to my personal life.” Today, Harvard does something very different from its founding purpose. What happened? Mission drift. From the YMCA to the Quakers, mission drift is a very serious problem for Christians and churches.

If a compass bearing is altered by just a few degrees, it may not be obvious immediately, you may not even notice, but after a few days, weeks, months, even years, you can find yourself having drifted way, way off course – somewhere you don’t want to be.

That’s why we need to set our compass bearing on Christ when answering these questions. Particularly since some wrongly think a Christian is a ‘good person’ falling into the trap of defining faith by behaviour not belief. Others adopt a consumerist definition emphasising what they get from Christ; adoption, redemption, forgiveness, wisdom and understanding (as we learnt in the last series). Although of course partly true, this is a skewed, even selfish perspective, since, the word Christian originates from outsiders (non-Christians) using it as a reproach (Acts 11:26; 26:28; 1 Peter 4:16) in contempt towards the first Christians being like their founder Jesus Christ, who shamefully came on mission to suffer a criminal’s death for our salvation. To the Gentile (non-Jewish mind) the mission of God in the cross was “foolishness” but for the believer it should be our life’s focus.

The God we worship is a missionary God. He came on mission in the person of Jesus. He moved into our neighbourhood, leaving the glory of heaven for our sin-soaked world. He faced criticism, opposition and suffering as He lived on mission, proclaiming and demonstrating the kingdom of God, even sacrificing His life that many might enter in. This is what a Christian should be like. This is what a church should embody. A church’s true and authentic organising principle and purpose should be mission.

In Acts 1:1-11 Jesus makes this plain. “Be my witnesses” He says. ‘Testify to the truth about me with words, works and wonders. Proclaim and reveal the kingdom of God, just as I did, and do it locally, regionally and globally. This is why I am sending you the Holy Spirit, to give you power for mission.’ Only, the disciples seemed preoccupied with themselves, asking when the kingdom would be restored to them, when God was urging them to reveal the kingdom to others. Isn’t this what can happen in the church? We think and act like consumers instead of distributors but the favour God has given us is also for the people around us. It’s time we stopped aimlessly “looking into the sky” allowing ourselves to become distracted like these disciples, and drift off course. The Christian life isn’t actually about increasing the theological circumference of your brain but becoming more like Jesus, the Messianic missionary we’re meant to be following. Jesus said, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” (John 20:21) You are a sent one. This is a core part of your Christian identity.

There have been times in our church’s history when attenders did little more than warm a pew. They came from far and wide for their ‘fix’ of good teaching but failed to play their part in our church’s mission. Today, we are called to “bring the kingdom of God to the heart of the nation”. The fullness of heaven filling earth. Kingdom words, works and wonders transforming London, the nation and the nations. This series, therefore, is designed to help us act out our faith; to put it into practice, to let the rubber hit the road, as we live out the missionary identity God has given us. The question is, will you play your part?