Yesterday was my routine day for maintenance on my car. I drive a 2004 Chevy Suburban with 180K miles, and just getting broken in. Every month or so, I open up the hood and check the oil, check the washer fluid, and make sure the belts are all tight and working. Anyone who knows me is well aware I could probably hand in my “Man Card” when it comes to vehicles because I’m a total idiot when it comes to checking under the hood. I know a total of four areas to check for, but most of that stuff under the hood might as well be in a museum. I have NO IDEA what that stuff does. In fact, most of my friends try to be manly and look under the hood and act like they know what they’re talking about. “See that rotary girder right there, it controls the fly thing-a-ma-jiggy.” And we look at each other and laugh.
But yesterday as I was trying to figure out which tank to pour my washer fluid in, I started thinking, How many times do we regularly check out our spiritual engines?
How many times are we willing to open the hood up of what we think we know about faith, and shore up the deficiencies?
Or, how many of us crack the hood to look at something we have NO IDEA what it does or how it works?
We stare into our own tradition of faith and we see a bunch of stuff we start talking about, and it makes about as much sense as a ‘rotary girder’ in a car.
1. What does the word Christian mean?
When was the last time we had a conversation about the meaning of the word ‘Christian.’
I grew up in the South, and when someone said, “I’m a Christian” it meant
- I go to church on Sunday
- I sing in the choir
- I attend the Wednesday night prayer meeting
- I go to a small group of some sort
- I read the Bible
- I don’t get drunk, smoke, get high, or party with people who do
- I don’t cuss
- I don’t have sex outside marriage
(feel free to add anything you feel pressure to be because of the label “Christian”)
It’s amazing to see the variances of the word as I travel around America, and certainly the differences are stark when I travel around the globe. In the Northeast, Christian means something different from in the South. In the West, the checklist looks very different than it does in the Mid-West. African Christianity looks very different from European Christianity, and the people who worship in The Middle East are far from the people who worship in Southeast Asia.
As I search the Bible I’ve only found a few places where the word “Christian” is used.
In the King James Version it appears 3 times: Acts 11:26, Acts 26:28, and I Peter 4:16:
- Acts 11:26, “and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. And it came about that for an entire year they met with the church, and taught considerable numbers; and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.”
- Acts 26:28, “And Agrippa replied to Paul, “In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian.”
- 1 Peter 4:16, “but if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not feel ashamed, but in that name let him glorify God.”
But if you think about the development of language, the word Christian used in the Greek text didn’t mean checklist. It meant people who followed Jesus. Paul was called a Christian because he taught about Jesus. Peter talked about Christian as someone who was a part of a group who followed Jesus. Inside of our tradition of calling people “Christian” I’m not sure the checklist we’ve built has much to do with following Jesus.
Jesus taught about helping the poor. What part of our checklist is helping the poor?
Jesus taught about serving your neighbor, no matter who they are or what they believe. What part of our checklist is reaching out to others?
Jesus lived in a world that challenged the status quo of religiosity. What part of our checklist is interested in re-framing the institution of religion to make effective changes in the world?
I grew up in a world that talked about:
- My personal relationship with Jesus
- My own faith in secret
- My individual way of seeing the world
I don’t know anywhere these tenets of faith are promoted other than in the world I grew up in. The Bible certainly doesn’t talk about a personal Jesus. Individuality seems to have crept in the narrative with nationalism, economy, and sociology of the west today. I’m just not sure the word “Christian” today matches much of what Jesus was talking about.
I’m not trying to bait anyone here. I’m really struggling with the word. Is the word “Christian” something that correctly identifies those of us who are trying to understand and follow the Jesus we read about in the Bible? Or is that just an easy way to label somebody? I think there are pros and cons of both sides of the conversation. What do you think? I need some help here.