Christian is a Noun
Text: Acts 11:19-30
Rev. Dr. John E. Manzo
July 8, 2007
Several years ago I heard a talk from a minister named Erwin McManus, one of the leaders of the Emergent Church movement. I’m not going to talk about the Emergent Church movement or it would take too much time and no one would still have a clue as to what I was talking about. But McManus is an interesting character in that movement.
He is the founding pastor of a church in Los Angeles named Mosaic. There is a fascinating quality to Mosaic. They do not call themselves a church. They do their thing and have their ministries and if people tell them that they are a church, they are a church. But to them, to be truly faithful is to have others see you as a church rather than innately being called a church.
In Acts 11 there is a similar scenario. The followers of Jesus are given the name Christian from outsiders. It is not a name that they have given themselves and many saw it as a derogatory term for the followers of Jesus.
Christians. They were called Christians for the very first time. The word Christian is not used a great deal in the Bible. Christian is used only twice and Christians is once in the passage we read from today. In both cases there is something that the word Christian has in common-----Christian is a noun.
Do you remember English class growing up? A noun was a person, place, or thing. A Christian, by definition, is a person who follows Jesus Christ.
Except the word Christian is used less often as a noun and more often as an adjective; a word which describes a noun. And, frankly, one of my great rants is that the word Christian has become cheapened. In 1 Peter 4:16 he writes, “Yet if any of you suffers as a Christian, do not consider it a disgrace, but glorify God because you bear this name.” The word Christian is a noun, a word which speaks to us of a person who follows Jesus Christ. To those on the outside, the word Christian was a term of mocking; but Peter says to use it to glorify God. He infers that we, as Christians, bear the name Christian and ultimately bear the name of our Savior.
But the word Christian has been cheapened. Instead of being a noun the word has become more often used as an adjective to describe items that really have no relevance to Christianity. I did some research to find some items that bear the title Christian. It is not an exhaustive list but it short is a long list.
Christian backpacks Christian punch balloons.
Christian bouncy balls. Christian squeeze earth balls.
Christian yo yos Christian rulers
Christian ties Christian pencils, pens, and magic markers.
Christian shirts Christian lip gloss.
Christian jewelry. Christian wallets
Christian coffee mugs The Christian diet.
And I have always heard that there was such a thing as Christian breath mints. I couldn’t believe it. But they do exist.
The thing is, if you read the Bible, if you read the stories of Jesus and embrace the sacrifice of Jesus then you realize that Jesus didn’t come to endorse products. Actually, Jesus’ teachings on money were quite interesting----Jesus had issues with money and would not have been pleased to endorse products.
I don’t mind of people have products which symbols which remind them of their faith----but don’t call the products themselves Christian.
Historically, as Christians, we have proclaimed to the world that Jesus suffered on the cross for us. Martin Luther called the words of John 3:16 "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life, “ a brief summary of all of Christianity.
Jesus came for people. Jesus died for people. Jesus was raised from the dead for people. God sent the Holy Spirit into the world for people.
Jesus did not come for product placement. Jesus did not die on the cross for backpacks, yo yo’s or bouncy balls. Jesus was not raised from the dead for the sake of pencils, pens, magic markers, or even coffee mugs. The Holy Spirit did not come into the world so that every family can be inspired to own a punch balloon or have fresh breath. And, if my chance you get a sense that I get greatly incensed by this gross commercialization of the name of Jesus Christ than you are correct.
We might, at times, need to use the word Christian as an adjective. We refer to the Christian Church, but the Christian Church has been in existence for 2000 years with the express purpose of carrying the message of Jesus Christ into the world. Christians have a specific kind of Worship and to refer to that Worship as Christian Worship is, by my standards, acceptable. Sacred Music is sometimes referred to as Christian and I can live with that. There are times, very limited times, when the word Christian may be used to describe something.
But it’s rare. The word Christian is a noun. Jesus came for people and invited people to be disciples and any almost other use of the name Christian, any other use of the name of our Savior and Lord, frankly, is intolerable to me.
Secondly, we need to recognize what being a Christian truly means.
Sometimes the things we refer to as Unchristian are interesting. Not being nice is labeled to be Unchristian. If your view of Christianity is about being nice all the time, please don’t read the gospels or you’ll find yourself uncomfortable with a lot of what Jesus said. He wasn’t always particularly nice.
I’m not saying it’s not a good thing to be nice, but it really doesn’t rise to the level of Christianity or not.
Being a Christian is becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ. The word disciple is often a word not used with a great deal of understanding. Most of us, now, would define a disciple as a person who follows someone. Christians, we would say, are disciples of Jesus Christ. Followers.
But a disciple is more than a mere follower. In Biblical times a disciple was a person classified as a student of someone. In fact, the Latin word, discipila, is literally translated as student. But this was not the same way we refer to a student at any kind of school. A disciple, in Bible times, was a person who literally sat at the feet of another for many, many years and learned virtually everything the person knew. Socrates had a famous disciple named Plato, who in turn had a famous disciple named Aristotle, who in turn had a famous disciple named Alexander the Great.
Acts of the Apostles tells us that St. Paul was a student, a disciple of the great Rabbi Gamaliel.
Being a disciple of Jesus is not just following, but it’s almost literally sitting at the feet of Jesus and learning. Being a Christian is sitting at the feet of Jesus for a lifetime learning everything there is to know and come to know Jesus as best as we are humanly capable. It is not a brief decision but a lifetime commitment.
Going back to where I began, I was taken by Erwin McManus’ comments. He told a story about flying from the east coast back to Los Angeles when he was seated in the plane with a young man who was flying to Hollywood to become a big star. Or hoped he would be a big star.
The young man asked McManus what he did and McManus didn’t want to get into a long theological discussion so he told the guy that he was an author.
In any case as they made the trip the young man told McManus that his family was concerned for him as he didn’t know a soul in Los Angeles and was away from home on his own for the first time in his life.
Mosaic, at that time, met on Sunday evenings in a restaurant that was closed on Sundays. McManus told him that a group of his friends get together on Sunday nights at this one restaurant and talked and sang and hung out. He invited the guy and gave him the address.
To McManus’ great surprise the kid showed up the following Sunday night and watched McManus give a talk and was impressed that the guy he met on the plane was so well thought of by this group of friends that they were interested in what he had to say.
The kid came the next week and the same thing transpired.
He came a third week and the same thing transpired and the young man walked up to Irwin McManus and said, “Hey I figured it out! This is a church and you are the pastor!”
And he kept coming.
What made the story unique was that the young guy figured out it was a church by what was happening, what was talked about, and how people interacted with each other.
As Christians perhaps that is the way we need to see how we fit the role of Christianity. Our lives as Christians is not by the back packs we carry or the breath mints we use, but by what we do with our lives, what we talk about, how we interact with each other, and where we set our priorities. Being a Christian ought not be something we proclaim about ourselves; it ought to be something people recognize about us.