What’s in a Name, and What Does it Mean to Be Christian?
by The Rev. Christie Logan
St Hugh Episcopal Church, Allyn Washington
This is a question I’ve been pondering a lot lately in view of the tension that seems to underlie so much of what has been going in the name of Christianity; is now rife in our beloved nation, and that has recently spilled over into our beloved St. Hugh community. A couple of weeks ago I was somewhat surprised, in a moment of pique at a conveners’ meeting to hear the words “I am not a Christian!”come out of my own mouth. I was aware from the look on the faces of others at the meeting that they were somewhat taken back by my statement. Most folks who know me are not used to me making that strong a statement, nor the passion with which it was expressed.
I followed up by explaining that I consider myself an Episcopalian, and that I have studied and tried for most of my years to model my life and my spiritual practice on the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, but that I no longer want to be identified with what I see happening in the name of Christianity. Why would I make such a statement? Perhaps it is because I feel the name has been co-opted and corrupted for the purposes of power and greed.
I was named for my paternal grandfather; my name is the diminutive of his name Christian. The family story is that he was named, like many other boys of his era and homeland, in honor of the benevolent and courageous King Christian of Denmark. I’ve always liked my name and what it represents. I’ve passed it down to one of my sons, and it was given to an infant grandson who did not make it from the womb into this life experience.
In thinking about this I’ve come to the conclusion that there is a difference between being “a Christian” and “being Christian.” The first is a label, and the other is a state of being. One is a noun; the other is a noun being used as a verb. I am also reminded that Jesus lived and died a Jew, not a Christian. Jesus of Nazareth did not become known as Jesus Christ until sometime well after his death, when what began as a small Jewish sect grew into a significant enough “Christian” movement to become the official religion of Rome by Constantine’s fourth century edict.
I learned early in my religious schooling that the Creator God, whom Jesus called Father, loved humanity so much that this benevolent parent placed in all his children a fragment of himself to so live in our minds and hearts that he might share in our lives; spiritualize our thinking; and lead us to himself. Christ referred to this as “the living water” of which our baptism is a symbol. Peter first recognized this when he answered Jesus’ question, “who do you say I am?” by responding, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Paul tells us this is the “Christ in you, your hope of Glory.”
Jesus, as many first born children do, modeled for us, his sisters and brothers, a living faith in the love and abundant provision of our Creator God. He taught us what it means to be children of God, called to bring to fruition the “Kingdom of Heaven on Earth.” Living faith is organic, it grows in us; opens us to hope. Living faith is imaginative and creative; expanding our ability to learn, understand truth, and experience true meaning in our lives. This is the faith that broadens our values and deepens our compassion for one another and all of creation.
Stephen R. Johnson in “THE GOSPEL OF JESUS: A SUMMARY, writes; “Remaining in the kingdom of heaven is predicated on growth and progress therein, ‘bearing the fruits of the spirit.’ Bestowing genuine love on our fellows and engaging in whatever unselfish social service we are capable of, are the keys to this growth and progress. Those who are spirit-born and God knowing show forth in their lives the fruits of the divine spirit, which are: loving service, unselfish devotion, courageous loyalty, sincere fairness, enlightened honesty, undying hope, confiding trust, merciful ministry, unfailing goodness, forgiving tolerance, and enduring peace. Although Jesus characterized the kingdom of heaven in different ways, his last word in this regard was always ‘The kingdom of heaven is within you.’”
This is being Christian in the true sense of the word as a verb. This is the kind of Christianity I can believe in and live with, and this is the Christianity I pray can be restored to our nation and our world. Amen