What Is A Christian?

One of the stories circulating out there is that the federal vision folks have changed the definitions of words, words like Christian or justification. This is said because it is simply assumed (not demonstrated) that any expansion of a word’s uses must necessarily include an abandonment of previous uses. I was brought up in an evangelical home, and was taught that a genuine Christian was the kind of Christian who goes to heaven when he dies. This is an important (and precious) use of the word. I agree with it as strongly as I ever did. But somehow, because of a slavish and superstitious reverence for that one definition as the only possible definition, my recognition that the word can be used in other senses has completely thrown some people.

Suppose there were two young boys, Sammy and Dougie. Both of them were pleased one day to start receiving an allowance from their fathers, and they received a quarter a week. They both enjoyed the allowance, and Dougie particularly liked the sound of the word quarter. He used it a lot. One day, years later, when Dougie was in third grade, he learned another definition of the same word. The class was learning fractions, and he learned that quarter could refer to things other than the coin. You could divide pies into quarters for example. Proud of his new knowledge, he came into his house one afternoon with his friend Sammy, and asked his mother, who was cutting up a pie, if he could have a quarter.

“You want a coin?” Sammy asked.

“No,” Dougie said, “I would like a fourth of the pie. I am famished.”

“That’s not how you used to use that word,” Sammy said. “You’ve changed.”

“No, I’ve not changed. I still think quarter means a silver coin. I just don’t think that is the only thing it means. But it still means that for sure. See, here is a quarter in my pocket.”

“No,” Sammy said. “I heard you. You just called a piece of pie a quarter.”

“Well, yes. But that is not a change.”

Sammy still looked dubious. “Well, I don’t like it. But I’ll go for it if you admit that the two words quarter have absolutely nothing to do with each other.”

“Well, I can’t do that. They do have something in common — a quarter is a fourth of a dollar and a quarter is a fourth of a pie.”

“See! We can’t be friends anymore. You are using the word differently than you used to, and, worst of all, you won’t even admit that you have changed. Quarter means a silver coin. Now you say it means a piece of pie. Which is it? Yes or no. A coin or pie? No matter what you say, that’s change.”

“Now when you said change,” Dougie said. “Do you mean going from one state to another? Or do you mean coins in your pocket? Because . . .”

But with that, Dougie’s mother interrupted, told them both to stop being silly, and shooed them out into the back yard.

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