Have you ever thought about the word Christian, and what a truly means? Last week, I wrote about words changing meaning, or losing their original meaning at the very least. I talked about the word morality, and what this word has come to mean in today’s society. But now I want to take a moment to define a word that I most hope defines me.
In C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity, Lewis writes about the word gentleman. Originally, the word gentleman was a word of position. It meant that a man was a landowner. However, through the years the word gentleman has gone from a word easily defined by set standards, i.e. “Does a man own land or not?” to a word that can only be determined by a subjective opinion. It has come to mean a man who is gentle in his manners. I am sure that you’d agree that if we went out on the street today, in any city, town or village in the world, and asked what the code for mannerly conduct is, chances are we would receive some similar answers, but more than likely we would also get a myriad of varied answers based on the opinions of those asked.
The word Christian, Lewis explains is much the same way. At one time it had a concrete definition. “The name Christian was first given at Antioch (Acts 11:26) to ‘the disciples,’ to those who accepted the teaching of the apostles.” However, by the time Webster’s Dictionary was published it came to mean the following:
1. A believer in the religion of Christ.
2. A professor of his belief in the religion of Christ.
3. A real disciple of Christ; one who believes in the truth of the Christian religion, and studies to follow the example, and obey the precepts, of Christ; a believer in Christ who is characterized by real piety.
4. In a general sense, the word Christians includes all who are born in a Christian country or of Christian parents.
Let me first address the first definition. A believer in the religion of Christ. At first glance this seems to be a concrete answer. But upon further examination one realizes that the word “believe” not followed by some type of action is an ambiguous word. What does it mean to believe? How does one know that they believe?
Amplified Bible (AMP)
9Because if you acknowledge and confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and in your heart believe (adhere to, trust in, and rely on the truth) that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.
10For with the heart a person believes (adheres to, trusts in, and relies on Christ) and so is justified (declared righteous, acceptable to God), and with the mouth he confesses (declares openly and speaks out freely his faith) and confirms [his] salvation.
Notice here that believing is accompanied by and action. Confessing with your mouth. The word “believe” in the Greek is most often the same word translated as “faith”.
Amplified Bible (AMP)
17So also faith, if it does not have works (deeds and actions of obedience to back it up), by itself is destitute of power (inoperative, dead).
So, if we water down Christianity to beliefs without responding actions, we have made it destitute of its power. We know we have faith or belief by what we do. Unfortunately, a large portion of America call themselves Christians based on what they say they believe. However, there are no corresponding actions. Am I saying that we can be saved by what we do? No, because it’s not by works, lest anyone should boast (Eph. 2:9). Putting faith in works puts the cart before the horse, in a matter of speaking. What I am saying is that you prove what you believe by what you do. Faith being the horse, and works being the cart.
If a man says that he loves a woman, but he is unwilling to be faithful to her, or to be kind to her, eventually that woman is going to want to see proof of his love toward her. She will not believe that he loves her unless he has corresponding actions. Thus, it is true for many words like belief, faith and love. It is true that they are matters of the heart, but they are proved by the actions of your body.
Let’s take a look at the second definition of Christian in the Webster’s Dictionary. “A professor of his belief in the religion of Christ.” This definition is closer to the Biblical and first century church definition in that it does include some type of confession. However, I dare say, we have all met people who have professed to be Christians and yet there would be definite doubt as to the validity of their self-“professed” title.
For instance, being an American, we have all witnessed politicians who have publicized and exaggerated their religious beliefs in order to be more popular with the “moral Christian majority” that we once had in this country. Or, an even better example is the man who performed the Norwegian shootings this past month. He claims to be a Christian. If we accept Webster’s definition of “A professor of his belief in the religion of Christ,” we would definitely not be able to judge whether or not this man is a Christian. He professes to be one, therefore he is.
1 John 3:14
The Message (MSG)
14-15The way we know we’ve been transferred from death to life is that we love our brothers and sisters. Anyone who doesn’t love is as good as dead. Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know very well that eternal life and murder don’t go together.
We can see very clearly here, that unless something alters this man’s future, he will not be spending eternity in Heaven with those who Jesus calls Christians. Although according to the New York Times, and definition number 2 of the Webster’s Dictionary, this man may be a Christian, according to the Apostle John, he is not. (Unless of course, he repents which is another essay altogether.) We can not only profess with our mouth, we must also have true belief. True belief is always backed by actions.
I am going to skip to definition number four before I address number three. I think this is where much of “Christian America” is situated at the moment. “In a general sense, the word Christians includes all who are born in a Christian country or of Christian parents.” This definition has nothing to do with belief, or action. It offers no visible characteristics to the onlooker. The person is made a Christian by birth or by citizenship of a country that calls itself Christian.The only proof for this definition would be a birth certificate.
There are clear issues with this definition as it infringes on a person’s right to choose. There is no choice in the matter, for according to it, a person who doesn’t want to be a Christian can be without their permission. They have no right to choose to be of some other religious thinking or philosophy. If they were born to a Christian, they are one.
The other side of the coin is the person who enjoys calling themselves “Christian” and they believe themselves to be one just because their parents were, or because they are American, or any other nation still professing to be a “Christian” nation. They have no responsibility in their title as Christian, nor do they care to seek out their responsibility. The title Christian in this case has ceased to appear to be anything even remotely like the first century definition of Christianity.
First century Christians, lived their faith. They died for their faith. Their faith had fruit which the observer could see. They followed after the teachings of Jesus and His Apostles. They were the third definition of the the word.
Through the years, we have weakened the meaning of the word Christian. Both the church and those not professing to be Christians have become utterly confused by what the word means, and by how one can define it. If we can not define who we are, how do we know who we are?
How would you Biblically define a Christian? Do you meet the terms of this definition?