In a previous post we examined what “Christian” means in America today, basically “somebody who goes to church.” But what should it mean?
“Christian” used to mean somebody who was a follower of Jesus Christ. It used to mean somebody who was a disciple, who’d made a commitment to following the teachings of Jesus, to keeping the commandments, spreading the Gospel and making new disciples. But today the word “Christian” means different things to different people, to the point that nobody really knows what you mean when you say it. They only know what they think it means.
Back in the Fourth Century this same problem erupted as various heresies spread through the community of believers. People needed a definition of what “Christian” meant. So they came up with the Nicene Creed, which essentially declares:
We believe in one God, the maker of everything. That Jesus is his only begotten son and divine. That he was born of a virgin, suffered under Pontius Pilate and died on the cross for our sins, then rose again the third day. He will come again to judge the world. And we believe in the Holy Spirit, baptism for forgiveness of sins and the resurrection of the dead into a life eternal. (This is the Ciffs Notes version. If you want to read the full text click on the link above.)
Back in 325 AD (sorry, I don’t go with that common era nonsense) this was what it meant to be a Christian. You could (and churches do) add other stuff, but if you didn’t agree to this minimum, or changed it around, you weren’t “Christian.”
The Statements of faith of most church denominations use this as a base and then add a few bells and whistles, the things that make their denomination distinct from other churches. For example Pentecostals add something about the gifts of the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues. The Catholics emphasize the authority of the Church and its traditions, etc.
And you could take away from this standard. Some organizations do stray from this basic foundation. But the ones that do are not Christian.
The problem today is there are many people in all those churches that consider themselves Christian that don’t agree with that creed. Many of them don’t agree with their church’s statement of faith. Some aren’t even aware such a thing exists or what it means. In America today “Christian” has taken on the meaning “somebody who goes to church.”
If you tell people you’re a Christian it means something different to each individual. You mean (say) you try to follow Jesus. But members of other churches probably don’t consider your “cult” to be Christian. And to an atheist “Christian” means “anti-intellectual anti-science anti-gay hypocrite.” Moslems use the term to refer to basically anybody from the West who isn’t one of them, including atheists and agnostics.
A word that has a different meaning to everyone has no meaning at all. At least if you told people you were a Scientologist they’d know what it meant (that you were crazy.) By calling yourself a “Christian” you aren’t defining yourself. You’re completely at the mercy of what the other person thinks that means, for good or ill. (And these days, mostly ill.) We need a better word.
When people ask me about my religion, I tell them I’m a “Believer.” Believer is a word that means someone who believes. But it doesn’t give any details. This can lead to the question, “a believer in what?”
This is exactly what you want. Instead of having your beliefs defined by someone else’s expectations, it gives you the opportunity to define yourself. This is where that 1700-year old creed comes into play.
“I believe Jesus is the Son of God, that he died for our sins and he’s coming back soon. I believe the Bible is an instruction manual for Mankind from our Creator.”
If we truly believe in the teachings of Jesus we ought to be about making disciples. Those were his last words before he left. (Matthew chapter 28) Christ left us a task.
Churches today have forgotten this. They’re all about attendance, the building program and collecting cash to finance everything. They’ve become businesses concerned with perpetuating themselves, not carrying out the Great Commission, which has generally been redefined (when it’s remembered at all) into you passively supporting foreign missionaries with donations when it originally meant every individual believer making disciples himself in his local community.
And if we really are believers, we ought to be about our Master’s business: making disciples. And the first step in that is to let people know who we are.
And the best way to do that is to dump “Christian” and become “Believers.”
If you found this post interesting you might also like some of my books:
Revolutionary Discipleship What does Jesus expect from his followers? How did he train his disciples?
Has Christianity lost its cultural relevance? Has the Church’s misguided efforts to market itself to non-Christians doomed it to irrelevance? Is it time for a new Reformation? Spiritual Embezzlement Made Easy
Of Myth and Magic A comparison of religion, philosophy and magick throughout history. Are all religions basically the same? Is there a way to Truth and contentment?
A Priestess of Mars - a romantic steampunk adventure that explores the meaning of love from a Biblical perspective. Lilith of Gomorra is a noble Martian priestess who sees love as nothing more than an exercise in naked carnality. But when she discovers a higher form of love, her faith in the ancient religion turns to doubt and she must choose between her people and the man she loves. The fate of the Earth hangs on her choice.
And if you didn’t like this post…well, there’s always something on TV.