According the book of Acts, chapter 11, the first time followers of Jesus were called “Christians” was in the city of Antioch. It seems evident from the biblical context as well historical precedent that this label would have come about in a very natural way. Christians in Antioch grew in numbers, they were recognized as followers of the teachings of Christ, and so they were dubbed Christians.
The term “Christian” would literally mean “person who is like Christ” or “follower of the teaching and life of Christ.” in order to have this moniker applied to you, you must live a certain way; a way that is different from the majority. You are required to take on certain behaviors and beliefs.
Therefore, only a person could be a Christian. Only a person can choose particular behaviors and beliefs. “Christian” was a noun. A noun that would refer to specific individuals.
In our time “Christian” is commonly an adjective. It is a word that we use to describe and label things. This is a dangerous shift. We do not only identify people as being “Christian,” we use this word as a label for all kinds of items and activities. We have Christian music, Christian businesses, Christian art, Christian fiction, Christian breath mints, Christian counseling, Christian education, Christian greeting cards, Christian video games, Christian movies, Christian coffee houses, Christian t-shirts, Christian causes . . . The list goes on.
The way I see it, two big problems develop when “Christian” becomes and adjective instead of a noun.
1. We gauge the level of our faith by how much “Christian” stuff we surround ourselves with. When “Christian” is a word that describes things, it becomes less about our belief and behavior and more about those things that possess the “Christian” label. I become a better Christian if I listen to “Christian” music, hang “Christian” art on my walls, read “Christian” books, and hire the plumber with a fish on his business card. I can score even more points if I put a “Christian” bumper sticker or two on my car (which makes my car a “Christian” car) and hand out candy with Bible verses on the wrappers to trick or treaters.
All of this “Christian” paraphernalia may seem innocent, and even good, but it has come with a subtle and devious result. We can end up putting as much emphasis on our exterior as on our inner life that is transformed by the gospel of Jesus.
2. We lose our ability to discern what is true, honorable, just, good, and lovely (Philippians 4:8). Let’s face it a pair of plastic praying hands that was made in China and bought for $1.47 on clearance at our local “Christian” book store is far inferior to a Monet. And yet we often feel that those praying hands have more value than a masterful painting because they have the “Christian” stamp, while Monet was not a “Christian” painter.
When we rely on the “Christian” label to tell of if something is good or not, we abdicate our responsibility to discern the goodness of things. Just because music is called “Christian” does not mean it is noble, and pure, and lovely. Just because a painting has a Bible verse under it does not make it good, and true, and beautiful.
We must look deeper than the label
“Christian” is a noun, not an adjective.