Listen to this devotional:
Listen while you read: "To God Be The Glory"1 (Lyrics)
Acts 11:26b – So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch. (NIV)
The other night, I got embroiled in another theological tussle on Facebook. This time, it was in the company of a group of Scottish pastors, some of whom I have known for decades. The argument was over whether or not we should continue to use the word "Christian" in our faith and ministries.
Over recent years, the word "Christian" has garnered some negative connotations in our society. The word represents, in the minds of some people, self-righteous bigotry and unyielding fundamentalism. In our supposedly post-Christian and post-modern world, there is a push to get rid of undesirable labels, and unfortunately, "Christian" is one of them. Instead of being known for loving one another as in ancient Antioch, Christians are lampooned as being ignorant, uneducated, unsophisticated, prejudicial, and judgmental. While there may be some elements across all Christian denominations that reflect these negative flaws, they do not really represent who we are in most regions of the world.
To me, the word "Christian" means a person who is a follower of Christ, who tries to live by His tenets and is not afraid to speak the truth, even when it might be considered unpopular. It would be so easy to ditch the word and just call ourselves "spiritual seekers who like Jesus". We could then do what we wanted and not be burdened by the word "Christian" at all.
But the truth of the matter is this: to be a Christian means to follow Christ closely, knowing that we will frequently fail. His teachings and truths will challenge us constantly, in the hope that we can let Him change us positively to become more like Him each day. As C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity, "Every Christian is to become a little Christ. The whole purpose of becoming a Christian is simply nothing else."
Questions for personal reflection:
What does the word "Christian" mean to me? How do I personally convey that meaning to others?
Prayer: Lord Jesus, we try to follow You each day and grow in our Christian faith. Some days are better than others, and sometimes, we fail to live up to Your ways. Forgive us for our mistakes, and free us from our failings. Help us to be reconnected to Your truth, hope, and love. In Your holy name, we humbly pray. Amen.
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Right on, John.
I’m with you John.
You said it all about being a Christian, Thank you so much. I will print it out and share with my friends and family.
Thanks again John. You always put it so clearly.
Thank you for your thought provoking devotional this morning. Amen to your prayer.
I find a deep sadness in this conversation. If we can’t find the courage to claim Christ, who are we? Thanks for the courage to throw this conversation out. Blessings.
Thank you for your message today. Some times I forget who I and need to be reminded.
I wouldn’t be worried about “Christian” being a negative word. I am almost proud that it is.
Remember, John 15:18 If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.
By the way, I have enjoyed your devotionals over the years. Keep up the good work.
Thank you for this word today. Part of my Christian life is to be more like Christ every day.
We must strive for this goal. By being more like Him we will have power in our witness and in our intercessory prayers for others. God bless you for holding up the banner of Jesus Christ.
Dear Rev Stewart,
I would like you to know I believe the same as you. I am very proud to be considered a Christian.
I know without asking that many of us in Northern Alberta, Canada, feel the same.
Please do what you can to keep the name Christian as followers of Jesus.
I thank the Lord for men like you, who help us to follow Christ, and so to become like him in our thinking and in our actions. Our Lord is stronger than the folly of the abuse of his name, and he will take the sting of falsehood out of it.
Thank you for your insightful, pastoral words.
Dear Pastor Stuart,
As usual your writing speaks to my heart. Yesterday, I was reflecting on the bombing in Boston and how as a Christian I am suppose to forgive. Who ever said being a Christian is easy has no idea what they are talking about. Being true to Christ so often means not blending into the crowd and staying quiet. I do not believe that we Christian need to keep giving up things to please the rest of society. I am a Christian and very proud to be and Christian is the word to use.
Thanks for your devotional today. It brought to mind a discussion at a study group recently where the idea was expressed that “Christian” is a noun, but when used as an adjective, it is sometimes used to describe things that perhaps are not Christian. We had viewed a video entitled “Bullhorn Man” from NOOMA, and decided that this man was not a very good example of Christianity.
What would your discussion group think of this?
Always enjoy your devotionals.
Your observations are correct, many perceive Christians as being strong, “hostile” people.
We studied Brian McLaren’s “Why did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha and Mohammed Cross the Road” for Lent.
Although much of his writing was highfalutin’ the basic premise was that we should be strong in our faith, but “benevolent” in our relationship with those who are “other”- emulating the “little Christs” CS Lewis spoke of.
Jesus treated others, (his own disciples for instance, when they just didn’t “get it”) with great compassion and if that was our demeanour, we would present a more winsome approach.
Stick with the name, but have better “quality control” – that’s the Holy Spirit’s job!
It seems to me that your pastor friends have decided to take the easy way out by conceding and accepting the “critics” mischaracterization of what it means to be A Christian and the true nature of Christianity. Instead of meekly accepting this mischaracterization and moving on to some neutral, non-offensive name, they should be vigorously explaining the true meaning of Christianity and professing the faith – evangelizing. I think they will find that doing so will only further incense the critics. As Christ and his Disciples noted time and again, following him and preaching the Gospel is not a road to popularity, but rather to persecution.
However, this is what we are called to do as Christians.
On a more secular note, name changes (rebranding) are very seldom successful and typically are symptomatic of a superficial approach/solution to a more basic problem.
Very good, John. Yes, it is getting a bit strange out there.
Of course, there is another way to look at it.
Cardinal John O’Connor of New York City, had come out publicly against a certain lifestyle. So, this militant group would follow him around the country, trying to disrupt his speeches and even when he went to say Mass.
I saw one of these incidents on TV. O’Connor started to give his talk and a bunch of these militants stood up and started shouting at him with vile language, etc. The police were ready and took them all away.
When order was restored, Cardinal O’Connor apologized to the people there for the incident, letting the congregation know what was happening to him as he traveled the country.
But then he added something to the effect that maybe he should consider himself lucky as some preachers have difficulty in drawing a crowd!
So, John, keep pitching and keep following Christ. You will know if you are successful if you have two groups of people growing in numbers besides you, Group 1 who want to walk with you as you follow Christ and Group 2, who will be throwing brickbats your way!
God speed and see you atop the hill (Calvary)!
Thanks for initiating this important theological discussion. Here is my contribution.
I am a person who tends to overcapitalize words. However, I have been uncomfortable, for several years, about “capitalizing” the word “christian” – whether with reference to persons or with reference to the “christian church.” Doing so just seems to me to be presumptuous.
I think that we who are labelled christians sometimes let that go to our head – as if being known as christians somehow imputes special authority. I don’t think that is actually what it means to be a friend of Jesus – and to know him as the one who, through the presence of his holy spirit in our lives, keeps us close to God.
So – it seems to me that we do need to find new ways of naming ourselves that not only enable us to have meaningful and respectful conversation with persons whose spirituality is expressed in a variety of ways – but also minimizes the tendency to fall into ancient heresies.
Oh John, this one really gets the blood pumping doesn’t it? It is a shame that the Leaders of the Church are so easily derailed by the desire to be all inclusive, and are swayed so easily by public perception these days. Theology schools now teach that Jesus was a man, but only a human being; Mary was pregnant but not by any Divine means; and the existence of God a mere possibility. When will it end? Jesus was no wimp, he followed His Father’s instructions, no matter the popularity or outcome. It seems that the devil knows just how to divide and conquer. It isn’t enough that many Christians’ behaviours turn people off, so now the attack is focused on the leadership. Divide and conquer. The body of Christ should stand united in its beliefs, just as Jesus did. No human is perfect, no matter what their belief system is. Perhaps the church leaders should focus on teaching Christians who they are in Christ. Perhaps us Christians should take those lessons to heart. Our God is a loving God – He gave up His Son for us. We were made in His image and we are Christians. No name change will effect our heritage or change our behaviour, but it certainly will accomplish more division within the Christian community. score another point to the Devil. When will we start looking at things from a broader perspective, the heavenly perspective. We are at war with the enemy; the battle is taking place in the spiritual realm.
Christians should pray for unity within the body of Christ and wisdom for its leaders.
Thank you for sharing such a complex and challenging thought for today.
May God bless you, strengthen you, and continue to use you for His glory.
Good points John. May we always reflect our Savior’s love to the world around us. Blessings.