Monday, July 13, 2015

Some Popularly Misunderstood Words

Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: 13 JULY 2015

This week, as I was thinking about what to reflect upon, I chance upon this video that highlights a number of “Christianese” or “Christian Talk.” In it, I hear a lot of familiar words used in Churches and Christian communities. The way that it was being played out, highlights some of the most used (and also misused) words Christians have used without really understanding what they mean.

A) Christian vs Disciple

On Christian: A “Christian” is often used loosely for “followers of Christ.” It could mean a person who had personally confessed Jesus Christ as his Lord and Saviour. It could also mean a person declaring his religion on government forms to fill. Sometimes, that would include the denomination or the increasingly popular “independent” or “non-denominational” label in order to differentiate one from the mainline Churches which are increasingly out of vogue. The first time the word “Christian” is used in the Bible is Acts 26:28;

“Then Agrippa said to Paul, "Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?"”

There is an emphasis on belief, or a confession of faith. The moment one confesses the faith, one would be granted the title, “Christian.”

On Disciple: A “Disciple” in Greek (mathetes) simply means “learner.” Etymologically, some have linked this to the word of “discipline,” which is rather inaccurate as far as the meaning of “mathetes” is concerned. The way I harmonize them is to see “discipline” as a given for a true disciple of Christ. Those who claim to follow Christ will adopt the necessary disciplines to follow Christ all the way.

For me, I would prefer to be called a “Disciple of Christ” rather than a Christian, simply because the former better elevates the desire to go beyond nominal faith. One can call oneself a “Christian” and there is no way to verify that truth, just like anybody can set up his own $1 company and calls himself a CEO. We live in a time where people are increasingly disenchanted with the word "Christian" and equates them to being attached to institutional religion. One example is Jonathan Bethke's "Why I Hate Religion but Love Jesus" which went viral a few years ago. While there are things I do not agree in Bethke's video, he manages to highlight the polarizing sentiments between the use of the words "Christians" and "Disciples." Again, I do not want to push this difference too much. My purpose of distinguishing the two terms this way is because of Matthew 28:18-20 which calls us to "make disciples of all nations" rather than "make Christians of all nations."

B) Evangelism vs Evangelicalism 

On Evangelism:  “Evangelism” is derived from the Greek word, “euangelion” which means “good news.” It is sharing the gospel of Jesus with people in the hope that they too will come to believe in Jesus as their Lord and Saviour. It can sometimes mean outreach or sharing the gospel. The one who evangelizes is called the “evangelist.” The gospel writers are sometimes referred to the four evangelists: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John. Evangelism activities include mass rallies, distributing tracts, sharing the gospel bridge, the four spiritual laws, or any message of salvation for non-believers to hear. There are a lot more. Evangelism is an activity of sharing the gospel with others.

On Evangelicalism: “Evangelicalism” is a movement that branched off from the Protestant line at the height of liberal theology in the early 19th Century. It is often used in Western Europe and North America to describe disciples of Christ who adhere to a set of core beliefs. The classic definition of evangelicalism is given by David W. Bebbington, Professor of History at the Universtiy of Stirling (Scotland), who gives the world the four defining marks of an evangelical.
  • Activism – Our faith needs to be evidenced by works
  • Biblicism – highest regard for the Bible, the Word of God as the standard for living
  • Conversionism – the need for individuals to be converted in Christ
  • Crucicentrism – Focusing on the atoning work of Christ which cleanses all from sin
Popular evangelicals include John Stott, Jonathan Edwards, Francis Schaeffer, Billy Graham, Tim Keller, Rick Warren, and many more.

For me, I have heard many people use the word "evangelism" and "evangelical" very interchangeably. It is not. Each word is different in itself. When we know the actual meaning, we will be able to use it properly and not spread our ignorance. In summary, "evangelism" is an activity while "evangelical" is a modern movement against mainstream liberal Christianity; a little like what "Protestant" is against the Roman Catholic Church in the 16th Century.

C) Mission vs Missional

On Mission: Companies have mission statements. Unfortunately, many have confused vision from mission statements. Putting it very simply, a “vision” is about where we want to go or to become. A “mission” is about how to get there, the nuts and bolts of reaching that visionary objective. The Pentecostal scholar, Andreas K√∂stenberger defines mission as:
Mission is the specific task or purpose which a person or group seeks to accomplish, involving various modes of movement, be it sending or being sent, coming and going, descending and ascending, gathering by calling others to follow, or following.” (Andreas J. K√∂stenberger, The Missions of Jesus and the Disciples according to the Fourth Gospel: With Implications for the Fourth Gospel’s Purpose and the Mission of the Contemporary Church, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998, p199)
Mission is not about an old-fashioned term replaced by "missional." It is simply a call to every Church, every believer to put into action the words of Matthew 28:18-20

"Then Jesus came to them and said, 'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.'"

A Church or a disciple on mission is a Church or disciple putting into practice the above.

On Missional: The word “missional” has become very popular within the past two decades. Many churches think it is quite a cool name, and prefer this word to the old word “mission.” The truth is, they are very different. Some people think that it is a modern version (or version 2.0) of the word “mission.” It is not. In fact, it carries a much broader meaning. “Mission” is part of being “missional.” One of the champions of the missional movement has been Australian theologian Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost. For them, a missional church is not just about “sending missionaries”; it is about realizing he is already “being sent.” It is not about quickly spreading and sharing the gospel to people both local and abroad. It is about moving oneself into the neighbourhoods just like Jesus coming to earth to dwell among us (John 1:14). It is not handing out tracts or putting up some mission statements. It is living out of the mission. One of the best ways to understand what “missional” is about is from Michael Frost’s illustration of a movie trailer. The purpose of a movie trailer is to show the reasons why people should watch the movie. Being “missional” is to live in a way as to give people reasons to believe that Jesus is the Son of God. Let me close with Reggie McNeal’s definition of missional

Missional is a way of living, not an affiliation or activity.” (Reggie McNeal, Missional Rennaisance: Changing the Scoreboard for the Church, San Francisco: CA, Jossey-Bass, 2009, xiv)

Stay tuned for more in the coming weeks. If you have any terms you want me to cover, feel free to send them to me.


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