The Label of Christian

Does choosing to call yourself Christian mean you are one?
Who has the right to decide?

Remember the term Christian was originally a nickname given by others to describe those at Antioch who refused to follow the Roman Emperor and instead followed Christ. As far as I can tell it was originally a derisory term and in some European languages the word shares the same root meaning as Cretin. It is also clear that many who adopt the term do so for all sorts of reasons, eg Hitler at one point described himself as Christian, and George Barna’s research shows that the self described “born agains” are little different from anyone else in terms of measures of moral behaviour. This implies some interesting questions that might be resolved. For example – should the word Christian only be allowed for those who exhibit certain characteristics? – and if so what are those characteristics? – and who – if anyone has the right to decide? eg is it resolved by doing a Church membership class?in which case should other denominations recognise other Church membership with different belief statements eg Catholics allowing Unitarians to take Communion from a Catholic priest. At one point Paul described himself as the greatest sinner. Since there is an obvious temptation for those who would not be recognised as Christian by others to use the term for themselves, should there be guidelines such as the signs of Grace to know who is Christian and who isnt? Your thoughts please.

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8 Responses to The Label of Christian

  1. abhi says:

    I like the way Zizek puts it – “Christianity is the ultimate pagan dream”, in it one gets to do all sorts of evil while knowing that one is forgiven and will ultimately get away with it. Christianity is an ideology that began on the margin and ended up in the center. In that process it has lost its authentic prophetic voice while amalgamating and becoming subject to the dominant power.
    It reproduces itself in different cultures. It’s agents are called Christians who often see themselves subjected to the ultimate dream of happiness and prosperity, and even global dominance.

    Words change according to the meaning that we attribute to them. Hence word “Christians” means something quite different now to what it meant 2000yrs back. One can say that authentic Christianity begins at the margins and should remain on the margins while challenging the center.

    • katargeo says:

      “Christianity is the ultimate pagan dream” ????????????????

      What type of Christianity are you talking about? This is not what Jesus or the apostles taught or practice.

      Jude 1:3-5 (New Living Translation)

      The Danger of False Teachers
      3 Dear friends, I had been eagerly planning to write to you about the salvation we all share. But now I find that I must write about something else, urging you to defend the faith that God has entrusted once for all time to his holy people. 4 I say this because some ungodly people have wormed their way into your churches, saying that God’s marvelous grace allows us to live immoral lives. The condemnation of such people was recorded long ago, for they have denied our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

  2. katargeo says:

    Dear Bill
    This is a well written article. We need to question ourselves and see if we are “in the Faith” as St. Paul stated 2 Cor 13:5. Jesus was quite strong in condemning the ultra fundamentalist Pharisees (Mark 7:6-13) for letting go of God’s Word and hanging on to the traditions of men. They had inserted their own human standards and traditions of holiness, and they became harsh, dogmatic and legalistic lacking compassion and mercy. He also equally condemned the liberal Saducees saying that they were in “error” because they “knew not the scriptures nor the power of God.” (Matt 22:29) Jesus warned that on the day of Judgment “many” would stand before him and say, “Lord, Lord, ” but Jesus will respond, “I never knew you” away from me you workers of lawlessness (Greek word is anomos) As you rightly pointed out in your article, according to Barna only 4% of Americans and 9% of those who claim to be “born again” have a Christian Worldview. When you examine their lives, you will see very little difference between them and the world. Paul referred to the Corinthians as carnal, fleshly, worldly and babies. It is sad to see that many who claim to name of Christ do not honor him with their doctrine and living. St. Paul warns that in the last days many would “abandon the Faith” and follow seducing spirits and doctrines of demons (1 Tim 4:1). He also warns that many would no longer endure “sound doctrine” but would gather multitudes of false teachers and preachers who would tell them whatever their “itchy” ears want to hear. They will claim to know Christ, but by their deeds they will disown him (Titus 1:16) . They will have the outward appearance of religion, but they will deny the internal power of it (2 Tim 3:5). Unless we believe the truth and carry it out in our lives then Jesus warns that we will be like fools who build our lives on sand. When hard times come our lives will come crashing down with a “great crash.” (Matt 7:24-27) Maybe that is why Hebrews 12:26-29 warns that in the last days God will “shake” the heavens and the earth, so that those things not based on truth and his kingdom will crumble and fall away.

  3. katargeo says:

    It is interesting in a recent study done by the University of Michigan they showed that 6 out of 10 evangelicals do not attend church regularly (obviously not strong Christians) and they have a divorce rate of 61%, while those who do attend church regularly (3 out of 4 Sundays) have a divorce rate of only 38%. The break down of the family and marriage is one of the biggest areas where we can see that Christianity has lost much of its influence over our culture. Jesus warned quite severely about the break up of marriage and family (Matt 19). It is interesting that the Minrith / Meier clinic has quoted studies that show that if people not only attend church regularly but also have daily family devotionals and bible study the divorce rate is much much lower. Obviously what people believe truly in their hearts they will practice.

    The Heritage Foundation has come out with some interesting stats on marriage:
    Men and women aren’t the only ones to benefit from lifelong, married love. Children raised in families headed by a married couple have a greater chance of experiencing economic stability, high academic performance, and emotional maturity. Children living under the promise of marital commitment are six times less likely to experience poverty and can display the positive social effects of having both parents in the home, potentially avoiding the many hindrances to social mobility that tend to plague children raised in single-parent households.

    Unfortunately, the personal joy and socioeconomic advantages of marriage are often lost on those who arguably need those benefits the most. With the national unwed birth rate reaching 41 percent in 2009 and almost three-quarters of African-American children alone born outside of marriage, millions of children are at risk of experiencing the financial difficulties and social challenges of living in single-parent households. The same children (and their parents) are also more likely to need government financial assistance. Of the nearly $400 billion in annual welfare funding spent on low-income families, three-quarters goes to those led by single parents.

  4. katargeo says:

    Here are two of the studies I quoted above:

    Professor Bradley Wright, a sociologist at the University of Connecticut, explains from his analysis of people who identify as Christians but rarely attend church, that 60 percent of these have been divorced. Of those who attend church regularly, 38 percent have been divorced

    Other data from additional sociologists of family and religion suggest a significant marital stability divide between those who take their faith seriously and those who do not.

    W. Bradford Wilcox, a leading sociologist at the University of Virginia and director of the National Marriage Project, finds from his own analysis that “active conservative Protestants” who regularly attend church are 35 percent less likely to divorce compared to those who have no affiliation. Nominally attending conservative Protestants are 20 percent more likely to divorce, compared to secular Americans [2].

    Professor Scott Stanley from the University of Denver, working with an absolute all-star team of leading sociologists on the Oklahoma Marriage Study, explains that couples with a vibrant religious faith had more and higher levels of the qualities couples need to avoid divorce:

    “Whether young or old, male or female, low-income or not, those who said that they were more religious reported higher average levels of commitment to their partners, higher levels of marital satisfaction, less thinking and talking about divorce and lower levels of negative interaction. These patterns held true when controlling for such important variables as income, education, and age at first marriage.”

    • dave says:

      The divorce statistics are definitely off-topic when the essay is about labels.

      China has had low divorce rates and only recently is seeing them increase (according to a June 2010 news report), from about 14% to about 20% in just the last decade, but with both numbers below ALL the rates cited in the Wright study (or at least what I find in his blog’s entry for: Statistics about christian divorce rates).

      China’s culture has historically been more family oriented but perhaps the intrusion of capitalism and the one-child rule have begun to change that.

      This observation suggests the divorce rates among different groups in a society could be more dependent on the particular couple’s emphasis on the family rather than on the couple’s religion.

      The role of the family in America’s society has certainly changed over the last 70 years. What could be called the socialist reforms of the 30’s (when divorce rates were at/near their lowest) have given way to the capitalist changes in recent decades. The popular emphasis is now on individual accomplishments and any perceived lack of success can be portrayed as the lack of ambition rather than as the lack of support (from the family and community), with the frequent claim ‘entitlements’ lead to laziness.

      Many families in the lower or middle economic classes require both parents to be wage earners, thereby hampering an emphasis on the family that was easier to manage when the father was the primary provider and the mother was able to remain satisfied as the primary care giver. I suggest the divorce rates in America are probably due more to the economic changes affecting society rather than to the choice of religion by the families.

  5. dave says:

    There are literally thousands of Christian denominations in the world.

    I agree with the pointed question in the essay ‘what are those characteristics?’

    A person wholly concentrating on their personal salvation (a ‘born again’ person?) quite possibly will be less altrustic, since the others have their own salvation to manage and their failure to achieve salvation is due to either their ignorance or their denial of the correct path.

    A person wholly concentrating on the well being of others (the Golden Rule and the Silver Rule) is one everyone wishes to be in their family and community.

    When a person assigns or is assigned the label of Christian, that label alone offers absolutely no insight into their personal orientation relative to others.

    I suspect a Christian can find particular Scriptures that can be used to justify one or the other orientation is the ‘correct’ path – so the Christian label is not useful.

  6. peddiebill says:

    Thanks Dave, I find your comments very constructive. Your suggested reason for the apparent loss of altruism among those focussed on being “born again” had escaped me, but makes good sense. It seems to me that the shift to communities which are no longer isolated in terms of different religions adds another dimension to the question about what Christian identity contributes. (Keep your comments coming!)

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