If one of the problems with our church is that we are too fond of attaching an "es" to the end of it, the same can be said about our people. Last Friday, I wrote about the name "Christian." Today, the troubling question is what to do with "Christians."
Notice the "s."
Now, there's nothing inherently wrong with this "s." Even in the Scriptures, we see persons being called Christians, as though as Christian is an individual entity. As though you may be a Christian and I may be a Christian and together, we may be Christians. This is perfectly valid and an acceptable way to describe ourselves. After all, your faith is your faith and my faith is my faith, and although we are happy to share it, we maintain our individual identities in the faith.
But that's not all we are.
The name Christian is not just an individual characteristic. Or, at least, it shouldn't be. This is one of the uses of language that, in our postmodern, language-based culture, has led us (in part) to the idea that faith is an intensely personal experience and that, essentially, whatever faith you choose for yourself may be good and valid for you and whatever faith I choose for myself may be equally good and valid for me. If all that we are are individual Christian persons come together into a network of Christians, then this makes perfect sense.
Where this gets a little sticky, however, is in the sense of our communities. Several weeks ago, I wrote about how God is best expressed in community, since He is a Triune community Himself, and how the relationships we form are part of our being created "in the image of God." And, indeed, I might even argue that the greatest advances that Christians have ever made in this world were not done by individuals who called themselves Christians and came together for some holy purpose, but by persons who came together from some holy purpose and called themselves Christian.
Notice, there's no "s."
See, something special happens when we come together as a Christian community, rather than merely as a community of Christians. Something happens when we call ourselves one people, even when there are many of us, rather than focus on the multitude that happen to be present. It's a subtle distinction, but it makes all the difference.
Particularly in terms of evangelism.
How do you tell someone what it means to be a Christian if we are but mere Christians in a community? It means one thing to me and another thing to you and still something else to the man two pews down, which makes it hard to convince anyone that being a Christian means anything at all. It means whatever the person needs/wants/desires it to mean. (And this is the present state of Christianity in America.)
But when we are a Christian community, when we hold ourselves to a common standard, when we commit ourselves to a common commitment, when we bond ourselves with a common love, we declare plainly that this is what it means to be Christian. Not "a" Christian or some "Christians," but Christian in our very essence. As one. And now, our Christianity starts to mean something. Now, we can start to put our finger on it.
There's nothing wrong with our being Christians, each of us our own man before Christ. But it's important that we understand that when we come together, we are not to be Christians together; we are to be Christian together.
One faith. One hope. One love. One body.