Editorial: Consider the Name – “Christian”

By Bryan Vinson, Jr.

I hold that the name “Christian” is sacred. I believe that most students of the word of God will agree with this. However, I feel that no word in the human vocabulary is the object of more abuse than this sacred term. Men speak of “Christian communities,” “Christian nations,” and “a Christian world.” They refer to all religious bodies professing a degree of faith in Jesus as being “Christian.” Most members of the Lord’s church recognize the abuse of the sacred word as it is used in these ways. But it is quite possible that some of our usage of the word has reduced the sacred to the level of the common.

Look to Thyself

I hear my brethren (myself included) speaking of “Christian colleges,” “Christian homes,” and “Christian recreation.” I personally doubt the propriety of such language. I do not say that there is never a time when the word “Christian” may be used, in good taste, as an adjective. However, I think we should be reminded of the fact that it was never so used upon the pages of the New Testament. It was a name that God applied to those who obeyed the gospel and were added the church which Christ purchased with his own blood. ” . . . The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch” (Acts 11:26). In order for the sacred term to be used properly as an adjective it would have to be descriptive of some work or group peculiarly related to the Christ, or to a Christian. Perhaps we may speak of “Christian worship,” i. e. worship prescribed by Christ and engaged in, or offered up, by Christians. If ever the word “Christian” could be properly used as an adjective, this would certainly be a proper usage. It would be describing worship authorized by Christ, specifically, and engaged in by Christians, exclusively.

This close relationship does not, however, exist in some of the spheres and activities sc often described by the sacred term. Consider: Christian Colleges. In what way is Christ related to the college? Did he authorize it as a religious work, thus obligating Christians to support it to the extent of their abilities? Certainly Christ did not authorize the work of maintaining a college, and that is why we oppose the expenditure of funds belonging to the Lord’s treasury for such operations. It is a “Christian college” because those who make up the faculty are Christians? Or is it “Christian” because those who attend are, for the most part, Christians? Or is it because those who support it are Christians? If this is the case, then any business could become a “Christian business.” A Christian could organize a business, employ only Christians, deal in a service only for the benefit of Christians! and thus have a “Christian business.” But some may say it is the fact that the college is teaching the Bible and trying to build up young Christians that makes it a “Christian college.” If so, the previously described business could qualify for taking time each day to conduct Bible studies. The point should be clear: Christ’s authority does not specify any such business enterprise and Christians are not exclusively related to any such activity, –so it could not truly be a “Christian business.”

As A Christian

Some seem to think that a Christian does everything as a Christian, i. e. because he is a Christian. This is not true. Relatively few of the activities we engage in from day to day are engaged in because we are Christians. Much of what we do we do because we are parents, tradesmen, citizens, or just plain humans. A father provides for his children because he is a father, not because he is a Christian. You may say that because he is a Christian he is more aware of his parental responsibilities, which is probably true, but the responsibilities remain parental, not Christian. Consider the fact that Jesus taught his disciples to pay tribute unto Caesar, –not because they were his disciples, but because they were related to the civil government headed by Caesar. The paying of taxes, therefore, is something we do as citizens, –not as Christians. Certainly I do not mean to imply that we can refuse to be good fathers and citizens and remain faithful to the Lord. The Lord has made faithfulness to our other responsibilities prerequisite to our complete faithfulness to His will.

In view of the fact that most of life’s activities are concerned with the fulfillment of responsibilities other than those pertaining to our relationship with the Christ, we should be careful as to how and when we apply the word Christian. As a father or mother we may supply the wants of our children; as a son or daughter we may give honor to our parents; as a citizen we may be in subjection to the powers of civil government; as a h1zman we may assist in relieving the needs of mankind. But as a Christian we may do only those things that Jesus has specifically authorized exclusively for Christians. As a Christian I may worship God in spirit and truth; as a Christian I may proclaim the gospel to a lost world; and as a Christian I may take a special interest in the needs of my brethren in the Lord.

True it is that my relationship to the Lord should awaken me more fully to the responsibilities that I have in other relationships, but these responsibilities remain related to the other relationships. If we could clearly understand this concept, I firmly believe we could improve upon our usage of the word Christian.

These comments have not been presented in the spirit of dogmatism. These are my own reflections. Perhaps many of our readers will disagree, and I invite your comments. Perhaps some would be interested in writing their reasons as to why they think there is such a thing as “Christian recreation.” I invite your comments and articles.

Truth Magazine VI: pp. 21-22
May 1962