Well, it seems to me, that it does not necessarily mean that you’ve recited something known as a “Sinner’s Prayer” and so are Christian. To be sure, it is possible that this is how your spiritual journey with Christ began. But do not mistake the recitation of words with the resolve of life.
To be Christian does not necessarily mean that you’ve received the sacraments of the Church and so have performed the proper rituals to qualify as a Christian. To be sure, it is possible that this is how your spiritual journey with Christ began. But do not mistake the performance of rituals with practice of faith.
Jesus’ call was simple: “Follow Me” (Matt. 4:19, 8:22, 9:9, 10:38), and many, many more times.
What does this mean? It means to resolve to pattern your life after that of his life. It means to daily practice living by his example, his teaching, his instruction.
“But what more does it mean than this?” you ask.
What more does it need to mean than this?
For me, it has taken a lifetime to fully understand the depth of this simple instruction. It has been equally challenging to appropriate the teachings of this one whose life I’ve chosen to follow.
It follows, does it not, that by this definition, you may be a Christian – or, Christ-follower – but not necessarily associated with any particular “Christian” church or denomination? Maybe it is not the recommended course of action to follow but does not the possibility exist nonetheless?
Furthermore, it follows, does it not, that you might be a practicing Buddhist or HIndu, Jew or Muslim, or the practitioner of another tradition altogether but, at one-and-the-same-time, be a Christian – or, Christ-follower?
When I let go of my fear of what others might think, for example, or say about me, I began to open myself to the truth I might find in all spiritual traditions. As a consequence, I made many wonderful discoveries. In fact, I am still making them almost daily. The openness to other spiritual traditions has diminished neither my love for Jesus nor my desire to follow his teaching. If anything, it has enriched my journey as a follower of Jesus.
The only odd thing my openness has done is to cut me off from some Christians. This is regrettable and it saddens me. Further, when I have been made aware of it, I have sought to re-open lines of communication with these Christians, as well as a preserve what relationship I might have with them. Usually, however, my attempts at this have yielded disappointing results. Consequently, I have concluded that Christians are only ever threatened by another faith tradition when they’re insecure in that of they’re own. Until the latter issue is resolved, Christians will continue to be offended, want to argue, debate, and even disassociate with those with whom they disagree. Strangely, for many of them, this is “defending their faith.” What they do not know is that all they’re really doing is hiding themselves from their own inner insecurity.
So, if being Christian means being a follower of Jesus, then God’s family is most likely infinitely larger than any of us could ever imagine. Father Thomas Merton said it well when he outlined the one-and-only-requirement for being on a spiritual journey with the Divine. He put it like this:
“As soon as a person is fully disposed to being alone with God, he is alone with God no matter where he may be: in the country, the monastery, the woods, or the city…At the precise moment he seems to be in the middle of his journey, he has actually arrived at his destination already.”
Two striking things the Roman Catholic Father reminded us:
1. “As soon as one is disposed to being alone with God…” – in other words, the disposition is enough. Desire is all that’s needed. That is, the inner inclination to know the Unknowable or to feel the Infinite is itself knowing that which cannot be known, feeling that which cannot be explained. Whenever you feel the inner impulse for what many of us call God…or, to state it another way, the moment you have a thought of God, know that this IS God. No need to complicate matters. Just follow the impulse, the thought, and see what happens.
2. “When he seems to be in the middle of his journey, he has actually arrived at the destination already.” Throughout my spiritual journey, I have learned to recognize the inner desire for God. But then, almost immediately after having the thought of God or a feeling for God, I will have yet another thought, as well as another feeling, and that is that I am still far, far from God and that there is much more I must do in order to deserve to actually feel Transcendence.
I know better than this. I realize it is a conditioned response based on years and years of faulty conditioning from well-meaning people who actually believed that God is never quite pleased with any of us and that we are never really worthy of the peace that is the Divine Presence.
I have made it my daily practice, therefore, to remember this: God is not a destination. God is the journey. You do not arrive at God. You walk with her, just as Enoch did in Jewish folklore (Gen. 5) and about whom I’ve written in The Enoch Factor.
You cannot get much closer than a companion who walks with you…who is around you and within you…who is You!