It is an often-repeated trope amongst Muslims in particular, and amongst some Progressives, that Christianity is a spent force; or not a serious religion. Part of this critique is that the Christian treats their faith as a ‘part’ of their life, rather than the whole of their being. Indeed, we must concede; amongst churchgoers as opposed to Christians – this is true. The truth, however, is that Christians, by sentiment, do wish to make Christianity the governing principle of their life, and some achieve that to a better degree than others. Where there is a shortfall is more due to a lack of formation than of desire or intent.
The Christian way of life is a way of being – being human – and it is a complete and whole way of being. But, how do we access this? How do we, as Scripture says, ‘Put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.’? We do this through the process of metanoia – which requires constant nepsis (wakefulness). This means that we reflect upon our lives and begin to transform them into something Christ-like – and therefore Christian. I want to share with you both a framework and ideas about how you can Christianise your life and make it more Christian; as an encouragement to you.
This is so that as Christians we may complete the command of our Lord when he says: ‘Love the Lord your GOD with all heart, mind soul and strength. Justin Martyr understood this to be how we worship GOD and that would concord with the Apostolic teaching of giving our lives as a ‘living sacrifice’. Basil the Great – put it this way:
‘It is not the privilege of any chance person to go forward to the perfection of love and to learn to know him who is truly beloved but of him who has already “put off the old man, which is being corrupted through its deceptive lusts and has put on the new man” which is being renewed that it may be recognized as an image of the creator’
Therefore, we will think of our lives in the following ways: economic, social, political, spiritual, time, and energy. I want to encourage you to try and Christianize your whole life as way of building up your discipleship in the Lord.
Let us talk about Money first; our economic lives, those transactions – of labour for cash, of quid pro quo, of volunteering and the like. I want to encourage you to find for yourself a Christian employer – that is right – go and try and find work for a Christian – and if you are a Christian employer – can you not make a special effort to employ Christians. We are supposed to sanctify our whole lives to GOD, and working for a Christian or employing Christians is one of the ways we can consecrate this aspect of our lives. Your working life – will make up a big portion of your life – so why not spend it; working in a business or company – that GOD willing is following Christian principles; or has a Christian aim. However, we can do more, once we have consecrated our working lives, we could also put our money into Christian banks – yes, they exist. When we donate money or tithe money out, we can give it to Christian charities; when we volunteer – we can volunteer with Christian’s organisations. I would argue that a not-for-profit business modal is more Christian – than a profit business modal. That is that once the needs of the business and workers are sorted out; including any re-investments for business development; the excess – the fat of the business; is given over to a charitable cause – so that we might fulfil the injunction of John the Baptist and all the prophets; that ‘he who has should share with him who has not. So that we do not build lives on ‘the love of money’ the root of all evil; and have ‘only one master’; serving GOD and not money in our businesses. We Christians are heading into a time of increased; discrimination in the west; and to get around the difficulties that come with that; I think it prudent; that we either corner an economy, learn our children trades; skills and become a people of artisans; or we [and I would say do this anyway] set up Benedict communities. The Christian community should be a distinctive people within a society – and that means that we will have all the same economic needs as everyone else; but as a spread-out diffused people, we are dependent on others for many economic services; and work; this leaves many of us economically vulnerable and compromised. We feel the pressure in our workplaces to shut up; not bear witness. There is a path to freedom – but it is to build a real economy out of and to the people of the way of truth; we can only truly be economically free – if we consolidate as Christians geographically. The more we build an economy amongst ourselves, the more we gain independence from the world – putting off the old self; and putting on the new. The more we build an economy amongst ourselves; the more we impact and shape the lives of others and draw them into our spheres of influence. We must offer our souls and bodies as living sacrifices, and that means our economic activity as well.
Since we have opened with money – it makes sense to move on to time – as these two are often interchangeable. Time is the one resource that is not renewable, and it is allotted in a set amount – given to sinners and saints alike. Man must work; for ‘If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat,’ and so we as Christians must be about the Father’s business ‘in season and out of season.’ That is, ‘building up the Church’ for in building up the Church, we participate in the divine energy of Christ who has and is and will continue to build His Church upon Peter and Peter’s confession that, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living GOD.” The Apostolic Constitutions put it like this:
Let the young persons of the church endeavour to minister diligently in all essential matters. Mind your business with suitable seriousness that you may always have to support yourselves and those who are needy, and not burned the Church of GOD. For we ourselves, besides our attention to the word of the Gospel, do not neglect our inferior vocations. For some of us are fishermen, some farmers, that so we may never be idle. So, says Soloman somewhere “consider the ant…”
The ant works for the good of her colony, the army ant, is a creative and ingenious creature, able to ford rivers, fight off opponents far bigger than itself; and create rafts at times of flood, hunt prey, build homes, care for its young. The body of Christ is so much more – and yet because we are so spread out and out time with one another so limited, what we can achieve as a group is also so much more limited.
Where and on what you spend your time will tell you much about what you value; so therefore, spend your time on building up the Church; of strengthening her; of fighting her battles, of advancing her causes; of bringing her joy; upon beautifying her with virtue and grace and meeting her needs. I want to be clear – in the first instance – I mean your fellow believers, but this should also include those institutions that embody her Spirit – the Spirit of the Lord and what he is doing. Your contact time; with other Christians; directly impacts how much you can live out and express your faith, and more specifically and what forms you can express your faith. The more time you have with one another, the more you can do; it really is that simple. Therefore, give your time to your brothers and sister, and to the causes of GOD. We’ve already touched upon your work time, and voluntary time; but now I am referring to the rest of your time. Who are your friends, who do you socialise with; what hobbies do you pursue, and how do you spend your leisure time – Christ has a claim on all of these things. Don’t get me wrong – most pursuits and activities – are compatible with a Christian life; but nothing to excess; so that ‘Let your moderation be known unto all men in eating in drinking in sleeping, in rest leisure and work; that our time is filled up with the pursuit of ‘whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise’ then let these be the matters of our concern. The Christian Calander is the easiest and quickest way to Christianise your time. It is a hot mess, whichever way you look at it, and personally, I feel could be trimmed down, as two thousand layers of rich sediment have been laid down upon its baseline (the celebration of the Eucharist) However, structure your seasons and festivals, times of fasting, and more along with a Christian Calander. There are several to choose from (Gregorian, Justinian and others). Let this mark out your year and build your life around its rhythm.
How can we achieve this but by the renewal of our minds; by changing our worldview? The energies of our soul are based upon what we direct it towards, and we can only direct our soul to GOD by structuring our lives consciously and deliberately towards GOD. Once we have achieved this in a particular aspect of our lives, then it will reveal to us another part of our lives or psychology that needs repentance and further change. Once we have established a new habit or pattern of life, we must then watch over it so as to not let it slide into ‘vain repetition’ or not be infused with justice and mercy. Therefore, disciplines must be applied to the Christian life; so that we might be His ‘disciples’ and keep His commandments. It is only by studying the faith, that you might discern the objective values taught by the prophets and apostles; too many for me to list here; but two principles ones – are justice and mercy; others you can find in the sermon on the mount. You can then begin to allow these values to impact your decision-making processes; as you do so, you will be aided by cultivating the virtues; remember the words, ‘if there be any virtue’ – as virtue ethics are the principle ethical matrix of the New Testament. We must of course surround all of this in prayer; for without prayer; our walk is naught but striving; all of our actions are meant to aid us, on becoming a ‘friend of GOD’; and how can we be His friend if we do not speak with Him with regularly; and even more if we do not listen. The travelling companion is of course fasting – which hastens our control over our bodies; and reminds us, that we are more than our physical needs; and creates space for prayer, meditation. Fasting also Christianises our diet – did you ever think that Christ has a claim on what you eat and when and how – but He does! We have spoken on almsgiving above, but ‘GOD loves a cheerful giver, and the giving of alms to the needy of the Church is an especially important Christian practice – as we should ‘do good to all men, but especially those in the house of faith’; how much and how often we do these things is for us to ‘work out our salvation with fear and trembling. The easiest way to give – is of yourself – in hospitality; particularly hospitality to strangers, to the pilgrim, the refugee, the newcomer to the congregation; the enquirer; to host lavishly and generously those who cross our paths in the course of our walk – this of all giving, will bring your soul closer to GOD; as it did with our father in Faith Abraham, who hosted the divine logos and accompanying angels in his tent. When we do all these things; they will reveal to us the depths of our sin, our resistance points, our failings, our back sliding – as we press forward; our rebellions; will become apparent; and so, I would urge you to have a spiritual mother or father; to talk to about your walk in the faith; and to ‘confess your sins’ as the apostles instruct us to; that we might confront them and be encouraged to overcome them as more ‘more than conquerors. We must ‘examine yourselves to see if you remain in the faith’; identifying each area of our lives that need to be improved, not just what we do, but how we feel about what we do, and what our reasons are for doing it; and even what we think is worth doing. This cycle repeated again and again and again; sifts us as Christ has ‘His winnowing fork in His hand’ that the chaff of our lives is increasingly blown away and our all that remains is the good fruit. Hilary of Poitiers put it this way:
‘He marks the time our salvation and judgment in the Lord those who are baptised in the Holy spirit it remains that be consummated by the fire of judgement. The wheat the full and perfect fruit of the believer, he declares shall be laid up in heavenly barns; by the chaff he means the emptiness of the unfruitful.’
The Church is filled with aids and resources; it has acquired over two thousand years of the practice of this way to help equip, train, and guide you in all of these practices – tap into them! By allowing this cultivation of the garden our souls – we might beautify them unto the Lord, directing our spiritual lives and energies to Him, in Him and through Him.
Christ addresses His Church; as a ‘city on a hill’ Hillary Potiers says this speaking of Christ: ‘Thus he becomes a city by our union with and we through union with his flesh are the community of the city. Therefore, he cannot be hidden. Situated on GOD’s Lofty height, he is held up to all in admiration of his good works as deserving of contemplation and understanding.’ The city of GOD – as Augustine put it, has its own politics, built around heavenly concerns – so that His ‘will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Christians must pursue these politics; because they cannot be hidden away; and more importantly should not be hidden away, but to proclaim the truth in a world captive to sin; necessitates, that the devil and his legions and subjects will rail against us. We will be persecuted as they persecuted our Lord – and with what joy we should greet such persecution; such hatred from the world. The city Chrysostom says: ‘signified his own power’ and the practice of power is the practice of politics. Christians have an agenda; His kingdom, is our agenda; that ‘all things have been subjected to Him’ and ‘under His feet’ no less – the whole point of this article; but this includes our politics; and what but the Church is the feet Christ! Therefore, as Christ must be triumphant over all things, so His body, His bride, must also be triumphant over all things. Therefore; our political activism must be devoted to this end – as the end goal! This requires of us radical solidarity with one another as Christians; as the apostles teach: ‘If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honoured, all the parts are glad’ Cyprian of Carthage said this: ‘For whom would not grieve at the misfortunes of that kind, or who would not consider his brother’s grief his own’ Basil the Great said this: ‘Our sufferings are such that as to have reached even the to the limits of our inhabited world. When one member suffers, all the members suffer along with it’. What then should we say; can we remain passive about the persecuted church; can we remain inactive, unconcerned bystanders; no we cannot see a brother or sister is without’ security and in need of protection, ‘and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be protected and be safe,’ and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body; what use is that? Even so, faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.’ No, our faith must be more than this – we must rise up as ‘more than conquerors’ uniting, organising, training, and mobilising to fight under the banner of Christ; against sin, the world, and the devil; so that: the kingdom of heaven may forcibly advance. Once again, like with the economy, we can do this best, if we consolidate geographically; where our endeavours and concerns, networks and energies, can be better focussed and amplified. The pursuit of justice; rarely comes without conflict but we are called to pursue justice and fight against injustice. Caesarius of Arles put it thus:
‘Christ says my justice can give your nothing except what your works deserve. To no purpose do you cry out, now that you are dead and in the power of another, for when you had opportunities and saw me in the person of the poor you were blind’.
If we do not provide for our brethren in their moment of need – how will we stand before Christ and not feel ashamed? What good is it, if we help the poor in the street, but neglect the poor in the parish congregation; or what good is it, to help the elderly, if we neglect the lonely old widow in the pew – charity – begins within the Church; and when we have learned to meet our own needs; we will be in the best place to help the needs of our neighbours; whom we must love like our own selves. Christians, there is no problem faced by the Church in our own generation, that was not faced before, and for which, given sufficient organisation, determination, mobilisation and resourcing – we cannot solve – even the bloody persecution of the faithful.
I hope in this article I have highlighted to you; that Christianity is a complete way of life; and that I have illuminated how you can deepen; broaden, nuance, cultivate and beautify your discipleship in the Lord. The process of Christianisation and the process of discipleship are linked and synergise; but they are not exactly the same, because you can Christianise a society without making a single disciple; though, if you do Christianise a society, it is easier to live as a disciple and for people to become one. What you do with this reflection and what you do next in your life is up to you.