But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men.
Is there a problem with the word “Christian”?
I recently saw a Facebook post that tried saying anyone can be a Christian. It pointed out a specific people group, a marginalized group, and in frustration she said that these people could be Christians. It was a beautiful gesture but it made me wonder if that is true? Can people who identify as essentially Christian and essentially something else, actually be Christian? I know it’s true in the theoretical sense (that anyone can be a Christian), but certainly not everyone wants to be a Christian. I have met atheists, gays, and church wounded people who want anything but to be a Christian. How bout these people? And the list could go on from the obvious. To make matters worse the word itself is confusing. In fact, the first time the word (Christian) is used is to denote a group separate from the citizens in a city with even some critical and derogatory connotations. Here’s the problem, I fear that the wrong questions are being asked because the word “Christian” is so ambiguous beyond the obvious “Christ like” etymology. So to guide us in this critical issue I think we need to first ask, is our goal as disciples to be Christian? Or is that just an aspect of the people of God?
Christian vs Church
First off, yes, anyone can be a Christian? That’s too easy of a question. But can anyone follow Christ on their own terms? He’s made it clear, access into the Kingdom is on his terms. So let’s look at the word and idea around, Christian, most points to: the church and how it is designed to operate.
The People of Jesus
Two essential characteristics that we Christians are unified by is spirit and truth, so by default we’re unified to conflict. Why you may ask? But I would say, no, the better question is is how? Christians are baptized into a commitment to tell each other the truth through the Father, in Christ, by the Holy Spirit, that is our family bond. This is no easy task. Which is probably why Jesus said righteousness should be sought after and primarily. But this type of righteousness is no doubt going to alienate people who want to test life, God and beyond the limits of truth.
In the Church we stumble into redemption and fight to keep it even to the point of death if need be. Our common knowledge is through faith, hope, and love but it is only after being humiliated over and over again by the fact that what is true and good is not true enough or good enough in comparison to the holiness and unity of the trinity. Their qualities and attributes are added to us beyond us to demonstrate and magnify the glory of God’s grace.
The People of the Father
People want to say that our justification is by faith through grace alone. But no one is alone and the cross and resurrection were not done to trust in justification but Jesus and what he was resurrected for. But again the question is not why, this time it’s who? Before we ask why. That is, the Father, who raised Jesus for his purposes by the Spirit. And from the resurrection his purposes have been revealed by the Spirit, most notably in his spirited word and his Church.
The Church and the word
People want to downplay the holy teachings of the Bible, which is no less than revelatory knowledge, i.e. truth from the source of truth; downplayed, as though our justification is solely embodied by our faith, or solely unmerited favor; downplayed, as though justified people can come and go as they want like the church is just a cheep and easy social club where the minimum entry is a tithe; downplayed, as though the body of Christ is NOT obligated by the justification it administers to it’s people; downplayed, as though anyone can come and go with no stark conflict to lies, sin, and the costs to keep justification unified and Holy as God is; downplayed, as though the Spirit of the body that builds his body doesn’t demand a maturity in the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control he is orchestrating in his people.
Ultimately, I wonder if we’ll find many Christians outside a church context? Theory is great, but the practicalities and scope of the church and more importantly the power of the institution being built by the Spirit of God positions it in a much better and unique place than where there’s Christians who think they don’t need to be part of a faithful church body.
What is a Christian?
If being a Christian means being Christ like then anyone can do it. But if it means learning to be a living adjective of the holy and perfect triunity we find in what the word “God” means then few can be Christians alone because Christ is never alone. Can the word Christian mean enough to do what people think it does?
Anyone can be a Christian but it is the church that is united to worship together in spirit and truth; and it is the church who is closest to the rule and reign of God. God is not in control of everything directly (for important reasons and purposes) but he wishes people would trust him more then we do. Trust is an incredibly hard task and is impossible to do alone that is why I think we need the church to make sense of the word Christian.
What is the church?
The church is the community of God communing with God to live in, and through, and in the world to the point the world is corrupted by things like moral knowledge and love; to the point the world is corrupted by a people of transformed individuals. The church is a place and movement just like God is. God is “too many to be one and too one to be many,” says Dallas Willard. And that is why his church is necessarily of adopted sons and daughters. And that should be our most cherished virtue worth fighting for in the Spirit and truth.
Speak truth in a family, but above all seek and find the kingdom of God together.
Grace and peace.