The word, “Christian” is a noun. You remember nouns from high school English class, right? A person, place or thing. The proper use of the word is something like, “I am a Christian.” The problem is that we have created an adjective from it. Rob Bell points out in his book, Velvet Elvis, that when we use Christian to describe, books and music, at best we blur the meaning and at worst, we say things that are untrue.
For example, what is “Christian” music? Is it music that is performed by Christians? Is it music with words about God from a Christian world view? (Whoops, I’m already in trouble. What is a Christian world view?) I am a Christian and I am a musician. When I play music, is it Christian music? What if it has words that don’t talk about God? What if it has no words at all? Is it still Christian music?
Is Christian music, music with a Christian theme? Is it worship music? Is Christian music the same thing as gospel music? What if it is performed by musicians who do not consider themselves to be Christians? I once knew a guitar player who was not a follower of Jesus and yet he loved to listen to (and perform) country-gospel music. Was it Christian music when he played it?
Do you see how quickly things get ugly when Christian is used as an adjective? Many of us Christians like to join together to find a consensus towards a goal or against something or someone else. For instance, the religious right want to make a Christian world view equivalent to republican world view. I think we do that sort of thing because it feels good to have our beliefs validated by others who believe the same thing we do. While validation and consensus sounds like a great thing, it is counterproductive to our becoming more like Jesus. “Christian” does not work as an adjective.
According to the Bible, God has given each of us unique spiritual gifts. I like to think of these gifts as talents and strengths given to us by God and blessed by Him to help us be the Body of Christ. Just like a body with many members, we all have unique functions. (Functions is not really the right word. It implies something I don’t mean. I am talking about “being” the Body, not “doing something”). I am at my best in the Body of Christ when I am being who I am in a Godly way. When I begin to change because I am concerned with what someone will think, I am moving the body towards conformity and away from being Christlike. A body was never intended to be an eye or a hand or a toe or a spleen or a liver. We need all the parts functioning the way they were created to function.
The best thing we can do as Christians is agree on the basics that make us Christians. After that, we should be able to hold our different beliefs and views. We should discuss them, learn from one another and most of all respect one another when we disagree. Agreeing to disagree is not a bad thing, but we cannot truly agree to disagree until we know that we disagree. We can only know that we disagree by listening to one another. Can we listen without agreeing? Of course we can.
By retaining our own views, beliefs, talents and strengths, the body becomes much more healthy. In The Wisdom of Crowds, James Surowiecki says that groups are smarter when the individuals can think and act independently of one another. I believe that the Body of Christ is smarter and more effective when everyone is able to bring their own perspective to the table… not to convince everyone that they are right and the others are wrong… but to share their perspective.
If everyone has a different perspective, how can there be a single “Christian” world view? There cannot be. “Christian” does not work as an adjective.
When we discuss a particular topic in my small group and we start moving towards a consensus, I frequently find myself asking if our consensus view is true of the universal Church. If it is not, I push back. The reason is that when we reach consensus in our little community, we shut off our brains and our hearts. That is counterproductive to our being the Body of Christ. Consensus implies that we are all the same. It feels good, but in my experience it is usually unhealthy. It feels good in the same way that having an advantage over my opponent feels good. This is not a game that we win or lose. The Body of Christ is not about being against non-Christians, it is about being Christ to them.
Being a Christian is about following Jesus. There’s so much more to following Jesus than having a cute Christian bumper sticker or Christian key chain fob.
I suggest that we stop using Christian as an adjective. It is too confusing and when it is not confusing, it is comforting for all the wrong reasons. Will you join me in reinstating “Christian” the noun?