Christianity and Why Words Matter
If you haven’t checked out the discussion on both my Facebook and my last blog post, you should. It’s in response to my thoughts entitled “Jesus Wasn’t a Christian.” You should go read them if you haven’t….
Here’s the deal – words matter. Sometimes I hear that “it’s all a bunch of semantics.” Well, yes. Language is vital. And Communication 101 is this: it’s not only what I say that matters, but what you hear.
I could tell you that today I feel gay. And insist that this word means “I’m happy.” I could do that, but my guess is, I wouldn’t really be communicating effectively. So why use words that don’t communicate what we intend. Maybe you could say that it almost lacks integrity to call yourself a Christian, since every time I do that with someone who doesn’t know Jesus, they think of about 5 things that don’t define me. When you tell someone who doesn’t know Christ that you’re a “Christian”, do you think that the first things that come to mind are “Oh how nice. Carl loves God and people. He serves unselfishly and always puts others before himself. It’s so great that Carl the Christian has had his heart changed and warmed by the power of the Holy Spirit in order to see nations and peoples live an abundant life?” I doubt anyone would be thinking that.
So why use a word that doesn’t mean what we want it to mean?
So when I say that Jesus didn’t “start Christianity” and that “he wasn’t a Christian”, I simply mean two things:
- Jesus was Jewish by culture and religious affiliation. But even that wasn’t his point. He wasn’t selling “Jewishness.” He was offering Himself to the world. Jesus is above religion. Greater than religion.
- Jesus did not come to institute a new religious system, as if the old one was no good, so we need a better one. He came to provide life. A way. He doesn’t know the way. He is the way. He doesn’t point to the truth. He is the truth. And he doesn’t tell us that this new religion to be named after him will be the new life. He is the life.
This is quite the opposite of watering down our faith. It’s actually turning up the heat on all of us who might identify ourselves as “Christian” and saying something like “That’s great. But are you/we following Jesus?”
From day one, Jesus asked men and women to follow him. He invited both the crowds and the disciples to follow. Not simply to believe, but to believe and follow. That’s a disciple. Someone who loves Jesus so much that they believe in what he said, and they do it (follow).
You might say “Yes, Carl. And that person is called a Christian.” You can say that if you want, but it doesn’t communicate the heart of the matter. And that word no longer holds any power to it. The 3 times it was used in the New Testament are all in regard to what others (unbelievers) were calling the followers of Jesus. It was never mandated or encouraged by the Apostles.
But hey, listen carefully – ANY word or set of words we use, can and will be misused and misunderstood. So the words are not magic. The reality of how we live our lives and love others in the way of Jesus will win the day!
Now….does that help the discussion or confuse us some more? This discussion is the exact point where I live my life every day. And I can use all the help I can get! So let’s work on this together!