And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians. – Acts 11:26
The word “Christian” is nowhere used in the Bible as anything other than a noun. However, in American culture we constantly use “Christian” as an adjective or adverb to describe things such as music, movies, books, character, charitable acts, and so many other things. The great danger in this is the temptation to replace our genuine faith in Christ with traditions steeped in culture rather than God’s everlasting truth.
To be a Christian does not mean you must wear khaki pants, polo shirts, get verses tattooed on your body, or listen to music by Steven Curtis Chapman. To be a Christian is not equal to being a conservative American, white, black, or anything else rooted in a temporal society rather than the eternal God.
Christians have and will continue to be a part of varying societies with very different cultures. And as long as those cultural practices are not sinful and contrary to Scripture, than a Christian can be a part of any culture and not a part of other cultures and still be a real Christian. In fact, God wants us to be Christians in different cultures and societies so we can reach others.
Christianity itself, however, must never become cultural because when it does, the focus is removed from following Christ and is turned towards living a certain lifestyle.
To equate Christianity with something other than being a disciple of Jesus Christ is to risk fooling yourself that you can be saved by anything other than receiving the grace of Jesus, repenting of your sin, and following him. When Christianity becomes cultural it becomes tradition rather that a genuine relationship with Jesus Christ. Jesus warns against tradition when he states (Matthew 15:6-9):
So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. 7 You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said:
8 “‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me;
9 in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’”
To say this music or movie is “Christian” is not sinful. To use the word “Christian” as an adjective or adverb is convenient and helpful to some degree to give people a warning of what to expect. But we must be on guard from letting our pursuit of Jesus turn into a cultural, traditional practice that we do “because that’s just what we do here at [you fill in the blank].”
If we are to avoid forsaking our true faith for cultural practices, it is imperative that deep down we know what it truly means to be a Christian. To be a Christian means being Jesus Christ’s disciple.
You can be a Christian in your culture, but you can’t make your culture Christian. It may seem like a subtle difference, but throughout history anytime the church has turned from Christ and towards traditions, the consequences have been devastating.