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What Do We Mean by Christian?

March 06, 2019
By Brian Fitzgerald, High School Principal

Part 1: What Is It?

Good questions are important, and one of the more important questions that we can ask is the “what do you mean by … ?” question, because it pushes us toward accuracy and clarity by challenging unexamined assumptions, which may or may not be true. Defining familiar things is often difficult because assumptions breed familiarity, so those things which are most familiar to us tend to be the most difficult to define because we assume more about them than we do thinking carefully about them. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it works against us when we come to a place of failing to know exactly what we mean when we say something simply, because we’ve never given it careful thought.

In this three-part series, as a Christian committed to Christian education, I would like to consider the question, “What exactly do we mean by Christian?” and, in the context of Grace Christian School, what exactly do we mean when we talk about a Christian education?

The word Christian, meaning “follower of the Messiah,” is used only three times in Scripture (Acts 11:26, Acts 26:28, and 1 Peter 4:16). In each case, it refers to disciples of Jesus of Nazareth who were living according to the way that He had taught and opened to them. In fact, Christianity was originally considered a sect referred to as The Way (Acts 9:2; Acts 19:9, 23; Acts 22:4; Acts 24:14, 22), and followers of The Way were deeply and daily committed to the Messiah Himself. When Jesus says, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6), his followers find the good life in Him alone. It’s not about ways, truths, or lives. It’s not about mere philosophy or theology. It’s not even about ultimate destinations after death. It’s about Jesus Himself. A Christian is a Jesus-follower in the deepest sense of what it means to be personally committed to another in such a way that impacts every area of one’s life. In other words, Christian is primarily a person committed to walking with and learning from a specific Person: Jesus the Messiah. That may seem like a simple point, but Christian gets thrown around so often and in so many contexts that it’s good to remember that it primarily refers to a person.

With that in mind, consider asking your family or friends what they think about using the word Christian to describe something other than a follower of Jesus. Can a book, movie, show, song, video game, t-shirt, sport, or food dish be Christian? Is Christian a genre? If so, what makes it Christian? We’ll take a look at these kind of questions in next week’s blog.

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