Over the weekend it seems that some people have got their undergarments tangled over whether or not Britain is a Christian country. I struggled for a while to work out why it made me feel uneasy and then I had a lightbulb moment:
This is not a Christian country.
My conclusion has nothing to do with the culture or heritage of our country. You cannot deny that this country has been formed and shaped by reference to the Bible and by Christians who have made a difference in politics and as social campaigners. We should honour those who have allowed their faith to change this country for the better.
My conclusion also has nothing to do with the multi-faith landscape we have today in this country – probably all world faiths are represented here alongside those who vehemently state that they have no faith.
No, my conclusion is based on an incorrect use of the word ‘Christian’. It was first and foremost a noun – a word coined by the people of Antioch to identify followers of Jesus and his Way. I think we have got ourselves into all sorts of trouble ever since it was first used as an adjective. To say that we are a ‘Christian country’ is a grammatical error, and it is a descriptive error. To say we are a Christian country would mean that the study in which I am writing this is a ‘Lightbulb room’ because it has a lightbulb in it that illuminates the rest of the room.
I think we should ban the use of the word ‘Christian’ as an adjective. We seem to use it as an inappropriate descriptor for all sorts of things:
There is a genre of music called ‘Christian music’ – but the notes are the same notes that are used in all music. The lyrics may be about Jesus or about following him, but the words used are (on the whole) the same words that would be used in a seedy novel or even a humanist rant against Christians – they are just words (except for the jargon we somehow allow to infuse our language in churches).
We describe resources used in churches as ‘Christian’ (there are exhibitions devoted to them) – but they are just resources. If they are sold to people who are not Christians do they stop being Christian resources? What makes them ‘Christian’?
We even (heaven help us) describe churches as ‘Christian churches’. I know it is to distinguish them from other ‘churches’ but it is surely tautologous – a church is a gathering of Christians.
If Christians stopped using our name as an adjective I think we would find it easier to be Christians. We would not be confused with ‘Christian Scientists’ (Scientology). We could see all of the world’s resources as gifts from God that he may want us to use (wisely and with good stewardship) in his service. We might be able to see and experience God in the ordinary and the everyday rather than just in the ‘Christian’ so he could speak to us through a Batman film as much as through the Bible (was that a stone whizzing past my head?).
I am a Christian. But none of the things I possess are Christian. None of the things I do are Christian. None of the words I write on this blog are Christian. They may belong to a Christian, be done by a Christian and be written by a Christian. But that’s different.
Do you see the difference? Instead of this computer being a Christian computer, it is a computer that belongs to a Christian (to be precise it belongs to the church of Christians that I serve). Suddenly instead of a passive adjective (‘Christian computer’) it becomes more active – there are verbs involved. And I think that is the conclusion I have reached. If we label things as ‘Christian’ then we can become lazy and relax and think we have done a good job. But if there are verbs involved we are continually involved in the mission of Jesus – as Christians. And like the lightbulb in this room we will shine brightly in our communities, our homes, our workplaces and even our churches!
Be blessed, be a blessing.