If I had been slightly more awake last week, I would have made that a two-for-one post because it turns out that Mistake #4 on our list looks like this:
4. The Mistake of Whole Congregations in Direct Involvement, Not Professional Missions.
And I think it is pretty self-evident that is a different flavor of Mistake #3, which is at its root a mistake of replacing the local church with something else.
If I need to cover that more deeply, bring it up in the meta – as if you people needed any encouragement on that front ...
Anyway, Mistake #5 of the list looks like this:
5. The Mistake of Insisting that Devout Followers of Jesus Call Themselves “Christians” and Identify with the Western Church
And for those of you who have followed my inglorious career as a blogger and fusser, you'll recognize this as what I would call an "oldie but a goodie". That is, it's something that comes up now and again, and it simply doesn’t make any more sense when the next guy brings it up.
This discussion is triggering a flashback to Jesuit all-boys High School where I had a Jesuit for senior elective theology and he was chastising the hypothetical Christian who did not want to self-identify. It made sense, he reasoned, that a devil would want to be reckoned as an angel -- because if you knew someone was a devil, you'd have to be crazy to follow him anywhere, right? And it made sense that if one was on the side of the angels one ought to want the credibility that goes along with being on Heaven's team. But what did you gain, exactly, by being an angel and posing as a devil? How does that deception advance the cause of truth?
This from a fellow who frequently smoke and drank around the seniors when the opportunity arose, and who swore like a sailor. Father, as they say, absolve thyself.
At its root, however, is the problem of whether those who follow Christ "own" the whole Christian church. I think the answer, for good and ill, is that they do -- and trying to change one's name to avoid that is, frankly, a shell game.
Let's first reason from the lesser to the greater, and consider the Southern Baptist Convention. There was a bit of conventional wisdom about 10 years ago that if you took the word "Baptist" out of your name and converted to a "community church" or "fellowship" church, you could participate in church growth by separating yourself and your church from the stigma of being called a Baptist. Yet here we are today, and Lifeway has conducted some studies that indicate that now, rather than contributing to growth and bon home, the unchurched and even those who are attending these churches cannot answer the question, "what is a Baptist?"
Think about that – because it is a perfectly logical paradigm. If you change your name to escape the so-called "stigma" of those who are like you, what you are doing is blotting that name.
And in this case, the name is "christianos" – those who follow Christ.
That seems to me to be the baby, the bath water, the tub, and the kitchen sink – and probably throws away too much.
Now, here's the reasoning behind this: the name "Christian" has a lot of political baggage, and it impairs evangelism to have that baggage attached – even in the west.
Apparently it was fine to be a Christian like Torequemada, and a Christian like Chrysostom (who was an anti-semite), and a Christian like Innocent III, but Boar's Head forbid that one is a Christian as portrayed by the propaganda arm of the Islamist political movement and a liberal media which cannot gets its fact straight about the abolition of slavery and the rise of civil rights in the West, let alone the implications of the human right to life.
But then there is the problem, as they say in some circles, of "catholicity". That is, the problem of being the visible church in a circle larger than the one at your dining room table. We often use the apologetic device that people should judge the church by what Christ has done for it rather than what the people in it are doing (that is, if you are encountering lost people), but that's really the same answer as, "well, I'm not a 'Christian'." It's conceding the point that people allegedly like Jesus but hate the church.
Listen: there's no question that there are some people who are inside the boundaries of the church who, frankly, blow it. In fact, you cannot find any age of the church in which the church wasn't cross-populated with those who are in the unenviable position of needing the church most and also demonstrating they do not belong there. It goes back as early as the Galatian church, and the Corinthian church, and the Laodicean church – which were, btw, still called churches in spite of their problems.
But that fact did not cause the Apostles to rethink their branding: it caused them to press harder on the Gospel and correct or discipline those who were falling away.
And my opinion is that we should follow those apostles and not some others who are self-appointed and clearly off the Biblical map.