How many times have you heard someone say ‘I can be a Christian without going to church.’ I also come across the belief that you can be a Christian without being a Disciple. Is there a difference between a Christian and a Disciple? And what about the Church, who is part of it, and who isn’t?
There seems to be an understanding that discipleship is for dedicated, serious or even extreme Christians. In this country we are left with a hangover of when we were a Christian country. Many people self define as Christians by which they mean that they live good, moral, lives.
I regularly find this when I do christening visits. Tied in with this is another hangover from past times and that is christening makes someone a Christian. This may be the theology of some within the church, but I believe it to be wrong!
Within the wider church community I see the idea of Christianity as morality, although here there may be the added expectation that Christians attend a service in a Victorian building occasionally on a Sunday.
Is a Christian defined as someone who lives a moral life, attends a church service once a month and maybe donates to that church community? And what about a disciple? Is that someone who goes beyond this to attend more regularly, is part of a house group, gives more and volunteers to support the church?
I think that anyone in New Testament times would be utterly amazed at the above! As I read the New Testament I find no distinction between being a Christian and being a Disciple. In fact we read in Acts 11:26 that “the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.” So they were disciples before they were Christians!
Biblically I find no distinction between the word Christian and the word Disciple, one may be a proper noun whilst the other may describe their way of life, however both describe the same person.
Part of our difficulty today is that we have created an understanding of ‘Christianity lite!’ If someone lives a moral life, ascribes to a set of intellectual beliefs and attends a service occasionally then we describe them as a Christian. In biblical times someone who described themselves as a Christian was putting their life on the line, they shared their daily lives with other Christians, their Christian family came before their birth family and what they owned was shared freely as needed by other Christians.
How far have we moved away from the biblical understanding of being a Disciple and a Christian?
And what about the Church, who was part of the church and who wasn’t? As I read the New Testament the Church was made up of those who lived their lives as disciples and Christians as defined above. You weren’t part of the church unless you really meant it because being connected in this way meant you risked martyrdom!