You know how words can lose their meaning, or change their meaning... What I mean is this. A
swear word once had the power to offend, now becomes so common-place in
the vocabulary of some that it acts more like a punctuation mark! Then,
there are other words which once meant one thing and now mean another.
Of course the most famous of these is the word 'gay'. There are still
other words which once had power but now have become almost redundant.
Different generations and cultures endue particular words with
particular power. Equally, words that carried great significance in the
past have no place in our language today. Words like 'fraternity' might
have been potent words symbolising the uniting interests of a state or
nation. Now, such a word is seldom used as a description of community
life. In everyday conversation, words like 'sin' have become taboo, or
are considered inappropriate or overly judgmental. Other words have
taken on a persuasive power of their own. Words like 'community' and
'freedom'; 'choice' and 'opportunity' are in vogue and are deployed
liberally as 'argument-winning' phrases that can trump your opponent. To
prove my point, just try listening to politicians being interviewed on
the radio one morning and count how many times they will use such key
words and phrases.
You can see that I'm interested in the meaning of words. They are my 'stock in trade'. As the
songwriter Sting once wrote (and I grew up listening to this) "Poets,
priests and politicians have words to thank for their positions" Part of
me is rather embarrassed to be engaged in a form of employment that uses
such fragile material. Yet, all of us know that power of words to change
lives: "I have a dream..." "We are a rainbow nation..." "I have nothing to
offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat."
So what about the word 'Christian'?
What does that mean today:
"You don't have to go to church to be a Christian."
"A Christian is someone who leads their life according to the Ten Commandments."
"A Christian is good person."
And so on. Maybe you could add your own definition at this point...
As much as I would like to try to define this word according to my definition - and I hope
that would help people - I fear that the linguistic battle is almost
lost. The 'train has pulled out of the station'. In our world of many
meanings for the same thing - and our 'pick and mix' culture, the word
'Christian' has become has become ill-defined. This is a great shame.
The word 'Christian' was first used in Antioch: Acts 11 v26:
So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught
great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at
Antioch. If the word has become ill-defined, then as sad as it is to
stop using it- maybe it is still the right thing. After all, the first
Christians were also called followers of "The Way" (Acts22v4)
but we don't use that term anymore! So what is the alternative? Well,
you might like to think up your own, but here's my suggestion (it's not
new and it's not copyrighted!) Why don't we talk about
"Christ-followers'? (Trendy, new-fangled vicar- why can't he just
leave well alone! you say) Well hear me out. If the word 'Christian'
can mean anything to anyone, surely the word Christ-follower is a little
more precise. A Christ-follower is, well, 'a follower of Christ!' Then
we need to ask ourselves 'do we follow Christ?' Where is Jesus Christ
going and how should we follow him? I will leave you to think these
things through for yourself. I'll also let you consider whether
Christ-follower is a word that you are comfortable using to describe
yourself or others. Let me leave you with something that Jesus says to
those who would 'come after him' (follow him). I hope and pray you have
a good summer.
Then he said to them all: "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny
themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever
wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for
me will save it.
Yours, in his service