“You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.” – Exodus 20:7
Most people interpret the third commandment as “don’t use God’s name as a cuss word.” But “taking the Lord’s name in vain” refers to any use that is irreverent or “empty,” if you look at the original Hebrew.
With this in mind, consider the widespread use of the word “Christian.”
There are Christian movies, Christian books and other Christian literature sold in Christian bookstores. There is Christian music written by Christian bands played on Christian radio stations. There are even Christian bumper stickers.
Now, I’m not suggesting we never use “Christian” as an adjective, but maybe it’s time we examined our use of it more closely. Here are a few reasons why.
What Does “Christian” Mean?
“Christian” as an adjective is supposed to mean “similar to, or belonging to, Christ.” It is applied to followers of Christ because they are (supposed to be) like Him. In today’s culture, it carries the additional meaning of “something that appeals to Christians.”
This all sounds fine and dandy until you ask, “Does everything that appeals to Christians resemble Christ?”
The Bible warns us over and over (1 John 4:1-6, 2 Peter 2, Matthew 7:15, Jude 1:4, 2 Timothy 4:3) of false teachers preaching things that sound right or “tickle the ears.” There are many things marketed as “Christian” that express ideas that are contrary to Biblical teachings.
How are we to avoid accepting false ideas? The answer is discernment. Unfortunately, discernment is often overlooked when the media carries the label of “Christian.”
“Christian” is Used Instead of Discernment.
I am guilty of this, my parents are guilty of this, you probably are too. My mom once asked me if a book I was reading was appropriate for me. I pointed to the spine and said, “It’s a Christian publisher.” She nodded and moved on.
Don’t get me wrong, books from Christian publishers are far less likely to have concerning content in them (and that particular book was fine). But discernment still needs to be used with every book we read, because deceptive beliefs are more subtle, and dare I say, more dangerous, than objectionable content. To this day I am still sorting out erroneous beliefs caused by media labeled a “resource for youth ministry.”
One or two false ideas in a piece of media don’t necessarily mean you can’t read, watch, or listen to it, but it should always be approached with discernment and evaluated against what the Bible says.
“Christian” Creates Cliques.
Another problem with the way “Christian” is used is that it creates cliques.
Marketers identify their niche and devote most of their resources there. But we are called to be missionaries, not marketers.
Using “Christian” to denote a genre, yes, makes it easier for Christians to find God-honoring media, but harder for the mainstream to find and accept it. The good news of God’s grace and truth does not belong in a niche.
In Matthew 5, Jesus tells us, “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.”
God-honoring, Christ-like media is needed desperately in the mainstream.
“Christian” as an Excuse for Shoddy Work.
A consequence of the narrow world of “Christian” media is the inbreeding effect it has on its content creators. The Christian genre is growing weaker, limpid, and less daring as creators only experience and draw inspiration from a very small sector of art. At this rate it will continue to blend together until nothing is original or unique. It will lose its power and beauty and stop being art.
In the past, Christian art was grand and awe inspiring. The Sistine Chapel took years of difficult struggle and takes the viewer’s breath away. Today, Christian art seems to be limited to little plaques in pastel colors with one of five popular Bible verses on it, maybe with some birds or flowers.
In the past, Christian music brought glory to God. Handel’s Messiah brings entire concert halls to their feet in awe of the story of God. Today, much of Christian music seems to be the same combination of ideas, repeated with no variation, played over and over until you’ve relegated it to background noise.
“Christian” media is becoming empty, much of it already is. Christ, however, wants to “bring us to fullness” (Col. 2:10). Should we continue to use His name to describe something that’s full of emptiness?
What Can We Do About It?
First, we can think twice before labeling something as “Christian.”
-Is it truly like Christ? (Do I know Christ well enough to honestly answer that question?)
-Is it both theologically sound and technically excellent?
-Will this label turn off unbelievers who would otherwise benefit?
-If this had no “Christian” label, would someone still be able to see my love of Christ in it?
Second, we can use discernment in media labeled as “Christian.”
-Is it true? Pure? Lovely?
-Is it worthy? (Do I know what worthy art is?)
-Is it excellent? Christian media does not get a pass to be less than excellent, rather it should be held to the highest standard.
-If it falls short, what can we learn from it?
“Christian” as an adjective is often used to describe things that are not like Christ, that excludes non-believers from the life-saving truth of the gospel, and is used as an excuse for giving God less than our best.
While not every use of “Christian” is empty and in vain, my hope is that each use of the word will be thoroughly considered, as it refers to the Lord’s name.