Sunday, July 31, 2011

What is an Evangelical?- The Term "Christian"

John 17:20-26 "My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, (21) that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. (22) I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one- (23) I in them and you in me--so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (24) Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world. (25) Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. (26) I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them."

We’ve all seen & been surprised at the polls that indicate very large percentages of Americans consider themselves Christian. Well, either most Christians are living under rocks & in caves, only exiting to answer poll takers’ phone calls, or we have a large group of Americans who do not know what it means to be “Christian”. I think the latter is the more likely scenario, & an unfortunate recent event gives us yet another reducio ad absurdum argument against too broadly applying the term:

“A majority of so called agnostics and atheists in Europe are cultural conservative Christians without even knowing it. So what is the difference between cultural Christians and religious Christians? If you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and God then you are a religious Christian. Myself and many more like me do not necessarily have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and God. We do however believe in Christianity as a cultural, social, identity, and moral platform. This makes us Christian.” -Anders Breivik’s manifesto, page 1307

Well, we could spend hours broaching all the contradictions in this paragraph alone, much less the devilish drivel on the other 1499 pages. Nevertheless, I want to focus in on this brief moment of lucidity found in Breivik’s manifesto; the clear delineation- the line in the sand, that he makes here. He speaks of one group, calling themselves “Christian”- these “have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and God”, & yet another group, also identifying themselves as such, that “do not” have that bond. He himself speaks openly of lacking that relationship, yet he still lays claim to the title. So therein lies the pertinent question: What, or Who, should define the term “Christian”? Should it be based on a personal relationship, or can it be, as Breivik says, just “a cultural, social, identity, and moral platform”?

Defining ancient words from an etymological perspective is best way to find what should be their true meaning; and make no mistake the term “Christian” is very nearly as old as the faith that formed it (Acts 11:26). So what should be the root? (hint- this one’s a softball) Obviously, the word is a patronym, derived from a “fatherly” view of the Person of Christ (Is. 9:6). Accordingly, the first definition in any good dictionary will go along these lines: “a person who believes in and follows Jesus Christ”. Yes, the “cultural, social, identity, and moral platform” definitions will follow that primary meaning & that is key. In this case, the primary definition must truly apply for the secondary definitions to have true application. What’s more, the secondary meanings should act as an introspection to the depth one has accepted the primary meaning. Given Breivik’s actions, his factual denial of a relationship with Christ is wholly duplicitous. It should not need to be said that a person committing murder does not know Christ in any intimate way. His visible actions betray his invisible heart. (Luke 6:45)

Return then, to our question: What, or Who, should define the term “Christian”? Breivik's delineation between two clearly different entities is correct; where he errs is in the misapplication of the term "Christian" to both. To be “Christian” demands firstly a belief in, & following of, Jesus Christ, which results in the secondary connotations becoming evident. The term should be as it originally was, fundamentally founded not on the “what” of a cultural, social, identity, and moral platform, but upon a relationship with the “Who” of Christ.

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