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How do you spot a real Christian? Are you sure?

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'IS she a Christian?" Someone asked me that about a person who has actively participated in the worship and work of the church for decades. She's spent her life ministering to others in a service orientated profession. How could her faith stance be queried, I wondered? It just so happened the woman had been observed participating in an activity someone felt was not seemly for a follower of Jesus. Considerable audacity is required to pass judgment on the religious sincerity of another, based on your own idea of what is acceptable behaviour for a believer. Plenty of folks however have exactly that kind of bravado.

What motivates those who seek to cast suspicion on the validity of someone's claim to Christianity? It is difficult to understand how anyone can feel they have the authority to decide who is, or who is not, a follower of Christ. Jesus had the gift of being able to look into men and women's hearts and minds and see what was really there. I guess there are people who presume to have that ability as well.

Who is a Christian? According to a Gallup poll, 88 per cent of North Americans will tell you they are Christians if you ask them. Some encyclopedias claim it is impossible to define the word Christian. Although many people say Jesus is at the centre of their life, they do not agree in belief or practice what makes Christians unique and distinctive from other people.

There are hundreds of Christian denominations and each has a different perspective on what it means to be a follower of Jesus. The church to which I belong, for example, believes Christians should never bear arms or take part in a war. Many who say they are Christians would disagree. Does that mean they or I are not truly Christians?

There are churches that claim you become a Christian when you are baptized as an infant. Others believe you must have a salvation experience later in life, or publicly declare agreement with your church's creed as a young adult. There are denominations that would no doubt agree with Webster's dictionary, which defines a Christian as someone who demonstrates the humility, love, kindness and decency that Jesus did.

Billy Graham is perhaps the most well known follower of Jesus Christ in present day North America. I was curious how he would identify a Christian. I found a Web site where Mr. Graham has listed the hallmarks of a dedicated disciple of Jesus. He says it is someone who reads the Bible regularly, prays daily, attends church, depends on God for guidance, is of service to others, battles the temptation to do things they know are wrong, accepts suffering as a part of life, works at conquering their doubts, lives one day at a time confident God will care for them, and tells others about Jesus. A tall order for anyone to live up to!

G.K. Chesterton said "Christianity has never really been tried." He thought no one had ever met the criteria for living a Christian life. Maya Angelou writes that she is always startled when people tell her they are Christians. Her first response is "Already?" Ms. Angelou goes on, "It seems to me becoming a true Christian should be a life long endeavor."

John's primary mission was preparing people to meet Christ. Despite this, at one point late in his life, he had second thoughts about whether the man he himself had baptized was truly God's son. He sent some messengers to his famous cousin to ask an important question: "Are you the one?"

Even in the face of such obvious doubt, Jesus appears unperturbed. He simply instructs John's emissaries to go back to their master and tell him about the healing and hope Jesus has provided to people. Then John will have to decide for himself if Jesus truly is "the one." Like John, those who call themselves Christians, are continually working at developing a better personal understanding of who Jesus was and is. Determining what a true follower of Christ's should say and do is also an ongoing process for believers.

No doubt if we are as busy as we should be acting on our own convictions about what it means to be a Christian, there simply won't be time to condemn the ideas or behaviour of others.

I saw a slogan once that read: "A Christian is like a Coke. The real thing!" What is the real thing? Are you sure?

MaryLou Driedger studied theology at Canadian Mennonite Bible College and religion at the University of Manitoba. An elementary school teacher and freelance writer, she lives in Steinbach. Her e-mail address is:

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 12, 2002 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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