I’ve struggled for a long time with the questions surrounding “how” someone becomes a “Christian”. I have been even more puzzled by the questions floating around in my mind about what qualities music and movies and lunchboxes must exhibit in order to become Christian. What exactly makes a bookstore Christian? If you take the “testa” out of the mint, is it still Christian? Is the computer I’m typing this on a Christian? How can I tell? These are ridiculous questions. But when did it become necessary to label inanimate objects “Christian” or “secular”? Are the mountains Christian? The grass? How about Coldplay’s music? Let’s examine.
The word “Christian” is used three times in the entire bible. It’s what the people of Antioch, Greece first called people who claimed that Jesus was “the Christ”, a.k.a. “the anointed one” or “the messiah”. It was a vulgar name – a term used for mocking. It was like saying, “those weirdos follow that crazy dude that claimed to be God”. It was good to be identified with Jesus, who said “the world will hate you because of me” and “blessed are you when you endure persecution for living according to my teachings (righteousness)”. When these people claimed Jesus or Yeshua was the Christ, they were proclaiming to everyone around them that they believed Him to be the fulfillment of all the Old Testament scripture. They were aligning themselves with His teachings, claiming that they were the best way to live – and this was evidenced by their commitment to following those teachings. The term used to be derogatory.
The term is still derogatory. The word Christian used to be synonymous with the word “mathetes” or disciple. That word meant “learner”, specifically “one who learns from and imitates their teacher”. Now the term is synonymous with judgmental people and actors (a name that used to be synonymous with ‘pharisee’ – the people Jesus couldn’t stand). It is synonymous with moral living and right wing politics. And it is synonymous with money hungry pastors and high profile scandals. We might be hated now, but not for the same reasons.
As a teenager I never tried on an “abreadcrumb and fish” shirt or stuck a politically laced Christian sticker on my bumper, but I went to church almost every week of my life. I read my bible here and there before I fell asleep. I listened almost exclusively to records produced by tooth and nail (“Christian” punk) and Grapetree (“Christian” rap). I knew my way around a Christian bookstore. But over time I found that all that was surprisingly empty. I learned that it was easy to think I was aligned with Jesus while doing our shopping at Family Christian and listening to K love at work. It’s common to get a warm, fuzzy feeling while worshipping in a church service with lots of other people. It’s easy to read books written by Christian authors and hang out with Christian people and come to conclude that we are in fact, righteous. It’s much more difficult to follow Jesus.
It’s difficult to love our enemies and turn the other cheek. It’s even hard to truly love our friends. It seems a little harsh to cut off the parts of our lives that cause us to sin. Why should we have to take care of the poor people? Shouldn’t they just get a job? It seems slightly irresponsible to not worry about what I will eat, drink, or wear and focus only on the kingdom of God. I don’t want to choose whether or not to serve God or money. I would much rather sit around and talk about how much “he” or “she” needs to fix their life than to listen to the voice of God and my friends regarding what I need to fix. I’d rather not wash people’s feet and serve them – I want to be powerful. But whether we do these things or not has every bearing on whether or not we are actually a disciple of Jesus.
Are we disciples of Jesus? Or are we comfortable, middle class, suburbians gathering in buildings, singing songs to the God we’ve basically ignored, buying products with His name on them, and making excuses for ourselves about why He didn’t really mean what He said?