Does “Christian” need a facelift?
by Matt Chapin
I work in a secular coffee house as my part time job while going to seminary. The environment is so great to work in because it puts me in contact with so many different people with different beliefs, backgrounds, professions, ages, and ethnicities. It is truly a multicultural environment. The coffee house is quite possibly the most postmodern place one can be in, as it provides a unique environment in which to talk about anything and everything with coworkers.
Working in such a place provides a level of closeness with other employees where we get to know one another’s stories. My coworkers know I go to seminary, which has provoked some very interesting questions from them. One of the questions I get asked most often is “What are you?” Sometimes they want to know if I am studying to become a priest, then I remind them I’m married.
This defining question of what I am in light of others misunderstanding has led me to think about how I can better communicate what I believe to nonbelievers. When I respond to them by saying I’m a Christian, it often doesn’t provide them any clearer understanding then what is preferred stock or common stock. To my secular colleagues Christianity is understood through an association with whatever denomination I attach myself too. For example, when I have responded that I am a Christian, the follow up question is what denomination I belong to? When I once responded to my coworker that I didn’t follow any particular denomination he asked if I was agnostic?
I got the same line of questioning during a spiritual retreat I went on about a month ago to a local abbey. While sharing a meal with a couple of devout Catholics who were also on a spiritual retreat I was asked what brought me there. And if I wasn’t Catholic what was I? Was I a Presbyterian, Methodist, Lutheran, or Baptist? I knew I couldn’t say I was a Christian. That wouldn’t mean anything to them about what I believed, because they would say the same thing about themselves. It would put us in the same category, but I couldn’t allow that as I knew it wasn’t true. I fundamentally knew it wasn’t the same Christianity when they were praying to Mary before their meals. So, I said I was Protestant hoping that would cover it.
The word Christian being associated as a follower of Jesus Christ first appears in Acts 11:26 at the church of Antioch. Our fish symbol which we still associate with contained five Greek letters forming an acrostic within the fish during thus providing a method of identification for the early years of persecution in the church…
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