There’s an interesting article on the BBC News website about brands that have crossed over to become household names for the item we use: think ‘hoover’, ‘jacuzzi’, even ‘escalator’, ‘google’ and ‘yo yo’! The suggestion is that while the transition of a brand name to becoming a generic name suggests success it actually can sound the death knell for a company because at that point the brand has lost its distinctiveness.
Most of us don’t ‘vacuum-clean’ a room (some of us don’t hoover either but that’s a different issue). We don’t use the ‘moving staircase’ in a shop or on the Underground. And because of that the brand name no longer means just that product: in our thinking it includes any similar product, including those from a different manufacturer.
It got me thinking: has ‘Christian’ had the same experience? It used to mean ‘follower of Jesus Christ’ but now seems to have crossed over to mean ‘Christened as a baby’, ‘knows where the local Anglican Church is’, ‘nice person’, ‘has a residual awareness of church’ or even ‘not a member of another faith’. I have suggested on this blog before that the word ‘Christian’ has been devalued and the article from the Beeb made me think further on that.
I think a similar thing has happened to the word ‘church’ (at this point you can imagine me climbing upon one of my hobby horses!). It used to be the collective noun for Christians – the name of a gathered community of believers – but has now been reduced to describing buildings or as a sloppy shorthand for ‘Church of England’*.
So what’s to be done about it? We could abandon the words – allowing them to float like verbal flotsam and jetsam in the Linguistic Sea. We’d have to come up with some alternatives but they can seem a bit clumsy: ‘Jesusite’ (oops, Jesuit!); Christfollower; born-again Christian (but that’s now a loaded term and anyway we only have a record of Jesus saying that to one person), ‘free sample of Jesus (sounds familiar)…
Or we can reclaim them but reasserting our distinctiveness. Surely those brands are not lost. Surely if those brands were so good, so significant, so much better than the rest people would want them first. So how does that look for ‘Christian’ and ‘Church’? It starts with us being filled with God’s Spirit and then letting him flow out through us so we can be the best free samples of Jesus possible.
Be blessed, be a blessing
*I listened to an interview on Radio 5 Live this morning where ‘the Church’ was used 10 times in the matter of a few sentences instead of ‘the Church of England’. It irks me because it suggests / assumes that there are no other churches in this country… [deep breath, and r e l a x]