When I was just about to turn 16, I got “saved” after a retreat.
What I didn’t realize was that besides being welcomed into Christ’s family, I was also being inducted into an evangelical Christian subculture that had some quirks.
I was introduced to Christian rock music. I was given a mix tape with Keith Green and Steve Camp. I loved it. Later, I bought a Stryper album called "To Hell with the Devil". They describe themselves as a Christian metal band. Carman had songs like "Spirit filled Pizza" and "Champion". Petra was the most popular Christian rock band of the time with songs like "This Means War!"
Though not maliciously, I was being indoctrinated into a culture in part through its music.
I was learning the lingo.
I was becoming one of them.
I started to learn to use the word "Christian" as an adjective.
Using “Christian” as an adjective
Have you ever worn a Christian T-shirt?
To a Christian concert?
At a Christian college?
To hear a Christian band?
A sign that something is terribly wrong in our subculture is that the word “Christian” has become an adjective.
It actually doesn’t seem like that big of a deal. We use Christian as an adjective to describe something we want to associate with. Christian music is safe for my kids to listen to and shares a message that I approve. Christian radio stations play Christian music (and ask for donations). Christian plumbers pray before they go to work on my clogged drain and won’t try to rip me off when they hand me a bill.
"Christian" seems like a helpful descriptor and can be benign.
What happens in reality is more destructive.
When we hear that something is labeled “Christian”, our brains can be short-circuited. I skip steps because I believe lies. I get lazy. I stop listening to the Holy Spirit.
Lie #1 – “Christian” means truthful.
We tend to think that if something is labeled Christian than it is truthful.
“The Christian right” claim to espouse Christian views on abortion, euthanasia, and politics in general. Christian views on anything are suspect. We tend to think that we can capture the truth in a sentence, a paragraph or an argument. And, then we see that view begin to lose its power and its vitality. We have just killed whatever truth we had by trying to capture it in words, in the law.
Jesus is the truth. Nothing else will set us free.
We know that many people who are Christians speak lies and sing lies and preach lies. And, we know that we do it ourselves. Not that all of us are habitual liars or even that we lie intentionally. But, when we speak, we can easily insert our faulty opinion alongside the truth.
We need to train ourselves to always be discerning, to always be critically aware of what we are hearing. When we accept something as truth simply because it comes from a “Christian” source, we are abandoning the core of our faith.
The first disciples in Berea were celebrated because of their diligence in searching the Scripture to see if what they were hearing was true. And, they were listening to the guy who eventually wrote most of the books of the New Testament.
Lie #2 – “Christian” means we are friends.
At times, the Christian label hurts businesses as much as customers.
Two Christian brothers started a landscaping business and have developed a reputation as being excellent at their work. One of them told me that they are always more hesitant to work for customers who think that because they are Christians they should work for less.
Sometimes the customers ask for a price break up front. Other times they try to take advantage of their kindness or friendly nature by asking them to do extra work for free. Sometimes they just won’t pay thinking that Christians won’t be mean and bring them to court or send them to a collection agency.
Just because a person doing business is a Christian, it doesn’t mean he should build your deck for free. That’s what your friends are for.
Lie #3 – “Christian” means better.
“Did you wear a Christian T-shirt?”
Just by asking the question, it sounds like judgment. I will judge you based on whether you did the right thing or not by using my handy “Christian” adjective.
Someone from my youth group had a shirt that said, “They will know we are Christians by our T-shirts.”
This ironic shirt highlights the belief that Christian T-shirts somehow glorify God, while other T-shirts do not. They are better than other T-shirts.
The same can be said about Christian schools and colleges, Christian music or Christian art. We equate the adjective with being approved by God and therefore qualitatively better.
On the other hand, in the case of movies, "Christian" has come to mean bad acting and poor scripts with a blatantly obvious moral. No thought necessary.
Which is a better movie, Left Behind or Les Miserables? Easy answer.
Which is a Christian movie? The question is jarring to me. A “Christian movie”? What does that even mean?
Lie #4 - "Christian" means only for a select group of people.
For many who don't follow Christ, "Christian" as an adjective turns them off. They assume that since it is "Christian" than it doesn't apply to them.
Let’s abandon the adjective Christian. Whatever connotations it brings up aren't helpful.
It is lazy at best and destructive at worst.
If we live in a religious world where things are labeled "Christian", we tend to think that we have to like these Christian things in order to be a Christian, to fit in. This does more to push people away from Christ than it does to draw them near. It is destructive.
If we don't live in this world, the thought process might be, "If that is 'Christian' and I am not a Christian, then it is not for me."
Becoming a Christian is hard enough: confessing our sins to God, believing that Christ died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins, that we are forgiven and believing that Christ rose from the dead in order to be the first of many to rise again and go to be with the Father in heaven.
Let's not push people away with labels before they even face the claims of Christ.
The Bottom Line
"Christian" is a noun. Only a person can be a Christian.
(Full Disclosure: Maybe a community of people who follow Christ could be considered a Christian community if the desire is to distinguish it from a Hindu or Buddhist community. I might even suggest that the New Testament could be described as the Christian Scriptures for distinction from the Hebrew Scriptures. Beyond that, I don’t see any use for the adjective.)