what does Christian mean?

…for an entire year [Barnabas and Saul] met with the church and taught a great many people, and it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called “Christians.”

Acts 11:26b

We can ask over time what anything comes to mean. There’s always inevitably the baggage of history, and some of that behind the name Christian is not pretty, including right up to the present day. I’ve heard that it may have been derogatory when first coined in Antioch. True Christianity for sure would upset the status quo.

Christian has basically meant those who adhere to and practice Christianity. And so much can get lost in that, as well as there being different emphases in different traditions of Christianity. In our time, in my lifetime, it seems to mean those who follow certain traditions such as Sunday gathering and whatever else might follow from that. There’s usually a profession of faith in Jesus and often an emphasis on the impact the faith has on the life to come, at least in the minds of many. Yes, teaching might bring focus into the present life, and often does, but it seems to me based on observation and on what much more knowledgeable and wiser people have said that there’s a missing piece, arguably the most important piece of all in one aspect.

Yes, it’s all dependent on God and on God’s grace. But what I’m referring to here is the simple goal of following Christ, becoming like Christ. From my nearly five decades of being a Christian, that doesn’t seem to me to have been much of an emphasis, not much in our minds at least from what we were taught or at least in what really hit home to us. What should people think of ideally when they hear the word Christian? And what do they think of? And that includes not only those who are not Christian, but those who are.

I’m afraid being a follower of Christ not unlike the Sermon on the Mount has at best been put on the back burner, if not taken off the stove entirely, as something just not for us today. This is a grievous error because what follows the gospel accounts Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in our Bibles comes from and is based on what Christ taught, the Spirit directing the churches through leadership on how this worked out after Christ’s ascension and Pentecost.

All of our prayer, reading of Scripture, gathering together as God’s people should be to the end of helping us become true and better followers of Christ, growing together into maturity in Christ, yes into Christ likeness. Anything less than that is missing the mark and what it truly means to be Christian.

is Christianity about following Christ, becoming more like him?

Discipleship is the process of becoming who Jesus would be if he were you.

Dallas Willard

We are flooded with so much that distracts us from our true calling as Christians. It’s not like we’re to ignore everything else. But what’s at the heart of who we really are?

For Christians it’s to be no less than Christ himself. And that doesn’t mean only to save us, and help us through life. But much more. To be in the process of becoming more and more like him, no less.

When people think of the word Christian, I wonder what comes to mind? Too often Christendom and the vestiges of that, I’m afraid. Not that all and everything in that is bad. But there has been much there, and still much remains that is really not Christ-like.

Notice what Dallas Willard says. This is a process, not something instantaneous. It requires effort and takes time. And prayer, and the work of God’s Spirit. It is certainly beyond us, not something we can achieve by following a few rules, not by our own self-effort.

We need to commit ourselves to wanting to know Christ. Simply asking Christ to make himself known to us is a good start. And then with the commitment to follow him in all of life, even when we have no clue what that means. I can’t imagine who Christ is myself. I need God’s revelation to help me. As God begins to give that to me over time, then I’ll learn more and more what that means. In loving others, in seeing in myself what is not Christ-like, in seeking to prayerfully adjust my life accordingly.

In and through Jesus.

made strong for the fight

As for God, his way is perfect:
The Lord’s word is flawless;
he shields all who take refuge in him.
For who is God besides the Lord?
And who is the Rock except our God?
It is God who arms me with strength
and keeps my way secure.
He makes my feet like the feet of a deer;
he causes me to stand on the heights.
He trains my hands for battle;
my arms can bend a bow of bronze.
You make your saving help my shield,
and your right hand sustains me;
your help has made me great.
You provide a broad path for my feet,
so that my ankles do not give way.

Psalm 18:30-36

The lines are blurred between the physical and spiritual in this psalm, but make no mistake about it, even the psalmist was in spiritual warfare, in fact that was the basis for the physical warfare Israel was waging. Put better, their dependence on God was foundational to what warfare they waged.

For us today as God’s people, we are in a spiritual battle. But that plays out in physical ways, what we actually do and say, as well as what we refuse to do and say. You can’t entirely separate the physical from the spiritual, in fact in a certain sense you can’t at all since our faith is incarnational. Christianity is Christ-centered, meaning that the physical is met and even imbued with the spiritual. So that the expression of our faith is always resolutely down to earth.

We are in a spiritual battle. Half of the battle is to remember and accept that. And then to receive God’s strength and take up what he has given us (Ephesians 6:10-20). And carry on. In and through Jesus.

an early Christian hymn

Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great:

He appeared in the flesh,
    was vindicated by the Spirit,
was seen by angels,
    was preached among the nations,
was believed on in the world,
    was taken up in glory.

1 Timothy 3:16

What is the difference for the Christian? What enables us toward true godliness? The simple answer is Christ, and Christ in his coming. What we celebrate at Christmas. And what we see in Christ in his incarnation, life and ministry of teaching and healing, his death and resurrection, his ascension and the Spirit being poured out, and the promise of his return when what he has accomplished will be completed.

The hymn like any good hymn gives us a particular focus. And the focus is on Christ himself, and the events and impact of that on the world. That makes all the difference. In and through Jesus.

 

 

 

Christians do those kinds of things

Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

1 Peter 2:11-12

The idea that Christians do those kinds of things can actually be a two-edged sword. Professing-I say- Christians did evil in the Crusades and against Jews as well. Those who have named the name of Christ have not always lived up to that name. Not that we can match Christ, but we are to be a community as well as individuals who are Christ-like, strikingly different than society around us.

The difference was stark as well as more subtle, definitely pronounced when Christianity first came on the scene: a fulfillment of Judaism, and yet in a way that no Jews anticipated, so that what Christians did, Jews would never do. And in sharp contrast, indeed opposition to the rest of humanity, the other group of people than Jews being called Gentiles, in this case the Romans. Christians actively protected babies from abortion, were to be faithful to only one spouse, considered humility a virtue, and I’m sure on and on it goes. Old hat now, since the knowledge of the story, and of Christianity played out in churches for centuries throughout the world has given at least many a kind of image of what that means, oftentimes by this familiarity breeding contempt, at least losing sight of the revolutionary character of what it means to follow Christ, to be a Christian.

Sometimes we might pinch ourselves and ask why in the world we’re doing what we’re doing, and not doing other things. Christians have been criticized for doing what they do out of a religious motive in comparison to nonreligious people who do the same thing, it is said not out of a religious motive, but out of a heart of love. There is no question that church and Christianity can be an empty ritual and religion which might even cause more harm than good. Of that I sadly have no doubt.

But at the heart of what Christianity really means as to its goal is the actual fulfillment of what it means to be human. And at the heart of that is love played out in good works. Faith in Jesus is restorative to the humanity that God created in the first place through the new creation in Jesus. A Christian should epitomize what it means to be human. What that involves might be debated, but scripture gives a clear picture of what it is. There’s some overlap with society at large, because humans are made in the image of God. Therefore people everywhere believe that loving others is important. But that love, just like all else in creation can be distorted so that it’s twisted, often to a self-love which “loves” for its own use and pleasure at the expense of another. And often in marked contrast to Jesus’s teaching about loving one’s enemies.

So why do I do the things I do? And part of that frankly is putting up with myself, being patient with myself, and my own unhelpful foibles, repentant yes, but still patient. At the heart of that is the cross, and in Jesus’s death seeing God’s love for us, and forgiveness and new life extended to us in Jesus. So that we want to follow on that basis. And live and do as Jesus did. With ongoing forgiveness needed for both omissions and commissions which deviate from that. But nonetheless that trajectory being our goal and passion in life from day to day.

All of this by the grace (gift) of God in and through Jesus.

 

where Greg Boyd’s *Cross Vision* takes us: classic Christianity

Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.

“Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!”

Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him.

Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine. Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.

John 12

Far from being heretical, Greg Boyd’s recent work in The Crucifixion of the Warrior God: Volumes 1 & 2 and Cross Vision: How the Crucifixion of Jesus Makes Sense of Old Testament Violence simply directs us into the full classic Christianity. Not to say at all that one has to accept his view of how to read the violent texts of the Old Testament to be Christian. But simply to say that the less than constructive critics likely to arise may be removed a bit from that Christianity themselves due to their metaphysics or epistemology, which is simply to say the philosophy they’ve added to the biblical text, unlike, I might say, Paul, who knew nothing else except Jesus and him crucified. And actually the only things I’ve seen so far from the scholarly world is just a bit of constructive criticism, and not much even in the way of that, but that will likely change. I use the word “classic” here in the sense of what conforms to the teaching of Christ himself in scripture, and which the church has acknowledged, even if often not living up to its light.

The chapter on the centrality of the cross for the gospel, knowing God, and for the Christian life, “A Cruciform Through Line” alone is easily worth the price of the book. It gets us back to “what is of first importance,” what is basic to the Christian life if one is to be in Christ and a follower of Christ.

A major stumbling block for some will be Boyd’s view on scripture, which while he says holds to its infallibility, does not mean for him that it’s inerrant in all matters. Inerrancy might hold depending on what you mean, and how that’s explained. I don’t know, myself. I’m inclined maybe a little more toward the view that without a doubt the Bible is inerrant in its main point, the point of it all, what it’s trying to do: lead us to Christ and the good news in him, and specifically, as Boyd would put it, and as scripture itself seems to indicate: Christ crucified. While our view of scripture is surely important: it is the God-breathed word, the written word of God, nevertheless the emphasis from many defenders of that in my lifetime in part has to be tied to a Modernist mindset which seems foreign to the Bible itself in the effort to defend its every part from the charge of error. Every word is important in its place for sure, Boyd tying that to its testimony of pointing us toward the cross of Christ either in God taking on himself the sin of his people and of the world, as well as God in Christ giving himself completely into the hands of sinners and evil, and by that reconciling the world to himself. Of course the cross always includes the resurrection, the resurrection deriving its meaning and significance through the centerpiece of the cross.

We’re saved through Jesus’s death, and we’re to live out that same death even now, a crucified life (Galatians 2:20, etc.) as God’s resurrection people in Jesus.

So please don’t jump to the conclusion that either Boyd, or others who may accept his proposals have jumped off the wagon of Christianity. Just maybe they might be closer to the essence and fullness of it in their emphasis on seeing Christ and him crucified as central to it all.

Earlier post: what if God never commanded the extermination of the Canaanites?

not believing

I am not talking about our church, nor am I talking about real Christianity, as in the ideal given to us in scripture. Even there we see serious issues and problems within some of the churches. I am referring to my experience with other believers at times. When I have thought that we were not doing well, or doing what we should have done by each other, especially with reference to needed reconciliation and growth in grace, then I look at what Jesus taught, what the New Testament teaches, and I can only shake my head in disbelief. And say to myself, “I don’t believe in this kind of Christianity.” Of course it’s not the real thing.

Therefore my problem is not with Christianity as given to us in scripture, but to our failure to live it out. Some matters are extra hard, though no doubt we are always in need of God’s grace and his Spirit to live at all in any moment in accord with God’s will in Jesus. I am referring to our stubborn refusal to obey the plain words of scripture. Perhaps we can’t see this because of the hardness of our heart along with lack of knowledge of what scripture says, perhaps including poor biblical interpretation.

Disciples were first called “Christians” in Antioch. Was it because they were like Jesus? Or more in terms of their profession of faith in being followers of this Jesus Christ, with some meaning of the Anointed One in “Christ” being carried over. I don’t know. We do bear his name. And so we are to represent him.

Therefore we need to be called to account for our failure to take this sufficiently seriously. It is never a question of not being able, since our ability is always in Jesus and never in ourselves. It is more a matter of simple obedience. In all of our weakness, we seek to obey and be obedient children. So that our profession of faith may honor the one whose name we bear.