y husband shared a humorous conversation he had recently with our 3-year-old. He and the children were on their way home from our child-care provider and talking about their experiences during the day. Or, rather, my husband was listening to our daughter rattle off, in toddler-accented English, somewhat inconsequential information about broken trees, juice, and playmate Chelsea’s crying.
Finally he asked, “So did you have a good day, babycake?”
With serious eyes and somber tones—at first—she replied, “I not cake, Daddy. I Ally. I girl.”
“Nooo . . . I not cake,” she grinned as she caught the humor of the situation. Obviously thinking Daddy was very silly, she laughingly reminded him several more times before they pulled into the driveway that she wasn’t a “babycake.”
As followers of Christ, we are sometimes called by names that aren’t all that accurate, and, unlike an endearing term such as babycake, they can do more harm than good. Have you heard Christians called fanatics, or Jesus freaks? What about political labels such as “the Religious Right”? (How fair is that characterization—either to those groups or to other religious people with similar convictions?) Even cutesy terms such as Bible-thumpers or Holy Rollers can severely denigrate the One we represent.
It would take lots of . . . well, words, to share the many Bible texts that center around names and words—and their importance. Here is a familiar one: “A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches” (Prov. 22:1, KJV). Names—and nicknames—have always been important. And it is evident that we are a society of labels, of name-calling. Some refer to lawyers as “bottom feeders.” Some call police officers “pigs”—or worse. We have slurs for everything—including the disciples of Christ. It is time we change the nicknames—or at least their meanings. It is time we change popular public
How about a campaign for the appropriate use of the word “Christian”?
We can start by not being ashamed of the title. By lovingly and firmly explaining why we are not freaks, fanatics, or thumpers. And by actually living the word. Being the word. Reflecting the Word.
Here’s a written description of the noun “Christian”:
1. a person who believes in Jesus Christ; adherent of Christianity.
2. a person who exemplifies in his or her life the teachings of Christ: He died like a true Christian.
3. a member of any of certain Protestant churches, as the Disciples of Christ and the Plymouth Brethren.
4. the hero of Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress.
5. a male given name.1
“Christian” is also defined as “somebody who believes that Jesus Christ was sent to the world by God to save humanity, and who tries to follow his teachings and example.”2
Make no mistake, our God-given name should not—must not—be improperly handled. It comes as part of His grand plan to save us. Matthew writes: “And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21, KJV). Saving people from their sins is more than noteworthy—it is a huge deal. The biggest deal—ever. Thus, with His birth to Mary, those who follow were so named and so instructed.
So what’s in a name? Clearly, a lot. Especially when we are representing the Savior and Creator of the universe. And especially when the usage and understanding derived from our name has eternal implications.
Sure, we can play in our personal lives, calling each other “dear” and “honey”—or even “babycake.” There is a time and place for humor, merriment, and all sorts of things that make us smile and chuckle—and warm us to our toes. But when it comes to living up to our identifier as Christians we must take the name seriously. Let’s campaign for the appropriate use of the word “Christian.” Let’s be known, through word and deed, as those who believe that Jesus Christ was sent by God into the world to save the human race—and try to follow His teachings and examples.
1Courtesy of Random House Unabridged Dictionary, copyright © 1997, by Random House, Inc., on Infoplease, at www.infoplease.com/ipd/A0372675.html.
2From Encarta Dictionary: English (North America), part of Microsoft Word’s research software.
Kimberly Luste Maran is an Assistant Editor of Adventist Review