Thursday, January 07, 2010

Council Estate Christians 29: What does the term "Christian" mean?

Today I was reading Acts 11, and was interested by the story there about how the word "Christian" came about.
Jewish Christians had to leave Jerusalem cos they were getting persectuted. As they went their way, some of them shared the gospel with other Jews only (Acts 11:19). There was nothing strange about this, these were Jews (who saw Jesus as the fulfillment of Judaism) reaching out to other Jews. People who believed in Jesus in those days were Jews.

=> Its a bit like how today, certainly amongst the white community, people who believe in Jesus are very often middle class. These people mainly reach out to other middle class people.

But back in Acts 11, there were some of them who starting sharing the gospel with non-Jews (11:21). These non-Jews subsequently put their faith in Jesus Christ (11:21). But what do you now call these people? They're not Jews, they're nothing like Jews, but are they still Greeks? Their not like Greeks, cos they're no longer pagan, they now believe in Jesus.

=> we've had this problem ourselves when we've been on the street sharing the gospel with people, and someone looked us up and down and said, "You're not Christians!" It was cos the way we were dressed, and the way we spoke, I expect they were thinking, "You're not middle class!"

So back in Acts 11, what do you call these non-Jews who became disciples of Jesus? No-one had any vocabularly for them, no one had even a category for these people. So they came up with a new term, they called them "Christians" (Acts 11:26). This term Christian was new vocabularly to describe people who could be either Jews or non-Jews, but who followed Jesus.

The problem we have today is that the word "Christian" doesn't communicate a "disciple of Christ." Instead "Christian" communicates a whole bunch of other things, including - middle class. This is especially so in the white community, but although less noticeable, its also visable in the black community. Many pentecostals are aspiring middle class. For some, when you become a "Christian" you are supposed to give up using slang, and wearing street clothes. Some pastors even encourage the congregation to get jobs in finance.

It seems to me then that we need a new category. We need a new "Christian" category, Not one that makes people think, "middle class." But one that makes people think,
"This person has put their faith in Jesus Christ. They could be from any social background around, the key thing that distinguishes them is Jesus Christ."

1) I'm not talking about just inventing a new word (although that might be a good idea).

2) I'm talking about it being modelled: Christians from the lower classes who havn't taken up middle class culture.

3) Christians who communicate justification by faith in their evangelism and lifestyle.