What's in a Name?

"Christian" - a label that does us no good

Peter Baker | 18:47, Wednesday 1 February 2012

To the question "What religion are you?", the box we might well tick for a hospital ward admission, a Census or street survey is, "Christian" . There’s hardly ever an alternative, rarely a qualifying noun such as Anglican, Evangelical or Methodist. So how would you want to be labelled? 

You see, I wonder increasingly if the term Christian, however it’s used, actually does us any good at all. It comes with so much cultural baggage for one thing. For some people it means a 'jolly good sport'; for others a 'religious individual'.

I wonder increasingly if the term Christian ... actually does us any good at all. 

The New Testament only uses the term three times. Of course, in that original context, it’s describing people who are identified with Christ. Now that’s more like it! But the reality is that, over the centuries, popular understanding has come to associate such people not with the Jesus of history but with an institution. 

I want to reclaim the true meaning of the word 'Christian'. So label me a 'disciple of Jesus'. That’s what I am or aim to be. That means I submit to his teaching , I come under his authority, I follow him. There's a discipline involved. 

Of course that's not a concept with which people are comfortable. We want the freedom to find our own path. We want to create room for personal expression. So what will such discipline do to my lifestyle? Will I have to enter through a narrow gate and walk along a narrow road?  To ask the question is to answer it! But in the light of that cost, some will flinch - if that’s what it means to be a follower of Jesus, then I had better stick with the label 'Christian'!

Yet such a definition, however unpalatable, gives us a far more active, dynamic description of the Christian life. It immediately makes us relational in our faith commitment. We are not followers of a philosophy, advocates of a way of life, or proponents of a world view. We are fundamentally disciples of a person to whom we are life-changingly committed.  

It has always struck me with force that the One who said "Take up your cross daily and follow me," also said "Come to me .. and I will give you rest".

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