When Does One Become a Christian?


What a grand day of celebration this past Sunday!  After a year of intense study and reflection, six teenagers were confirmed in our congregation.  The decision of these young people to continue their journeys in the Christian faith spoke well not only of the thoughtfulness and faithfulness of the confirmands, but also of the commitment of their teachers and mentors.  Confirmation is a big, fat, hairy deal in the life of any church.  Sunday's celebration was most appropriate (even those helium-inflated balloons!).

The thing that haunts me, though, is the question asked by one of the mentors after the service:  Why didn't we confirm the kids who still had questions?

Three or four of our teenagers either went through the confirmation process and chose not to be confirmed or opted out of the confirmation process all together.  As one of the mentors said, "The reasons these kids gave for not being confirmed were compelling."  For most, as I understand it, they weren't ready to make a life-time commitment, they didn't feel ready to claim themselves as Christian.

That mentor's question has led me to another:  At what point do we know that we are Christian?  Is it that point at which we have more answers than questions?  Or perhaps when we have more questions than answers?  Is it the moment when we finally are able to see God in the people and situations all around us?  Or is it when God suddenly becomes more mysterious than ever?  Do we become Christians at the moment when our actions fall into line with our beliefs or when our beliefs fall into line with our actions?  At what point do we become Christian?

Two "well-known" Christians struggled with the same question.  When a radio interviewer asked poet Kathleen Norris, "Do you consider yourself a Christian?" Norris sighed and said, "My problem with that is that so many people who publicly identify themselves as Christians are such jerks about it."  In The Cloister Walk, Norris says, "I said I often wondered if being a Christian was something we could, or should, claim for ourselves; that if being a Christian meant incarnating the love of Christ in my own life, then maybe it would be best to let others tell me how well, or how badly, I'm doing."  (p.73)

The other "well-known Christian" is Catholic theologian Karl Rahner, who once prayed:  "I must bend my knee before you saying, I must alter my life.  I have still to become a Christian" (Prayers for Meditation).

If even "well-known" Christians have questions about their Christianity, why do we require such certainty of those who are just beginning their faith journeys?

Hear me well.  Confirmation is an amazing and important process and rite.  I guess I'm just wondering if perhaps we should reflect some more on precisely what it is confirmation confirms.

Peace for your journey...wherever it might take you,