Words Mean Things — Including the Word 'Christian'
I imagine that any doctor will agree that patients who self-diagnose can be a nightmare.
Qualified not by years in medical school, but by a few minutes on Google, they have searched on their symptoms, constructed a diagnosis, and settled on a course of treatment. Doctors may have to penetrate a hard shell of stubborn ignorance before they can help ailing folks.
The situation spiritually can be very similar. Last time, we exposed the tragedy of deluded folks whose lives bear no mark of Jesus’ presence, who nonetheless imagine that they “made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important to their life today.” Barna accepted them as “loving Jesus” because of a few truth statements they affirm –though their priorities and choices fly in the face of Jesus’s own definition of what it means to love Him. Their self-diagnosis was eliminated by the facts of their own choices.
Now we come to the other side of that same coin. The BBC reports the results of a survey which found that “a quarter of people who describe themselves as Christians in Great Britain do not believe in the resurrection of Jesus.” What is more, “Three in ten Christians surveyed (31%) said they did not believe in life after death.” In a sort of echo of Barna, “Almost two in five Christians surveyed say that they never attend religious services (37%).”
Both the Barna and the BBC polls reveal the under-discussed rotten core of polling. Polling treats opinions as if they had weight. It is as if the very fact that someone holds an opinion means the opinion is significant and must be respected. This absurd idea is the bastard lust-child of postmodernism and humanism.
We are seldom given any data that would help us weigh polls. For all we know, if someone told the BBC pollster he was a Christian (“describe themselves as Christian”), he was simply taken at his word. But suppose a survey reported, “Of the scientists polled, 83% believe the moon is made of green cheese, 47% believe that flies spontaneously generate from corpses, and 62% believe that disease is spread by ‘humors in the air.’” Wouldn’t everyone immediately challenge the survey’s definition of “scientists”?
In this case, it’s more significant, simpler, and worse. A parody tweet in response from Matt Smethurst highlights the problem:
“That’s ridiculous,” you chuckle. Yes, as ridiculous as a tweet saying “One out of every four Muslims name BLT their fave sandwich,” or “25% of lesbians love only men.” A definitional issue instantly stands out.
The same is true of this survey finding, and its use of the word Christian.
“Christian” – while used badly by a great many people – is not itself inherently indefinable or nebulous, nor can it be left to individual feelings and guesses.
For instance, I gave hard Biblical data in the last article (and linked to a great deal more) that proves that claiming to love Jesus, but deliberately refusing to obey Him if I don’t feel like obeying (by learning, believing and doing Scripture, and by participating in a local church as He commands, etc.) are mutually exclusive lifestyles. You can embrace one, or the other – not both. To hold one, the other must be let loose of.
And so here: one has the perilous liberty of insisting that Christ did not bodily rise from the grave, or one can admit that Christ did. Anyone may do either.
However, if one chooses the first option, he must let go of any claim to be a Christian. And if he claims to be a Christian, he must let go of the first option. How can I say that? Because I’ve read 1 Corinthians 15 and taken it seriously. Affirming the bodily resurrection of Jesus is definitional for Christian faith.
Why do people pretend otherwise? I’ve never seen the appeal in claiming to be something you aren’t. I wasn’t a Christian for the first part of my life. I knew it, and I didn’t want anyone to be mistaken. Now that I am a Christian, I don’t want anyone to believe that I’m an atheist, or a Mormon, or a Roman Catholic, or a Hindu. I’m not going to try to say, “Well, I’m really an atheist, but I believe in God and everything the Bible says.” Or “I’m really a Roman Catholic, but I look to Jesus alone for salvation, by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, as I learn from Scripture alone.” And so on. Why pretend to be what you aren’t?
There are literally no real benefits to a false claim to Christian faith. A false claim not only does not erase sins, it adds to them. It provides no reason to hope for Heaven, or God’s acceptance or love. In fact, it inoculates one to the real saving message of the Gospel, since one imagines he’s already checked that box – which he hasn’t. All such a person has to look forward to is hearing the words Jesus warns us He’ll say to “many” in the last day: “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness” (Matthew 7:23). They are all certain they’re “in” – saved, OK with God – and they’re all wrong.
So why do people who in major ways do not sync with the Biblical description of a Christian become so emotional when anyone suggests that they drop the label, as they have already dropped the beliefs and/or practices inherent in the label?
The facts are simple enough: atheists do not believe in God, Muslims do not eat pork, and Christians admit that Jesus was raised bodily from the dead.
Otherwise, we might as well eliminate the words hypocrite, delusion and deception also.