False advertisement: How NOT to Wear the Label “Christian”

By: Wolfgang Vondey
Monday, October 11th, 2010

I work at a “Christian” university. It is difficult to avoid that label; difficult to fail to understand what is intended by that label, since the mission and vision of our university are clearly stated. The history of our school paints in bright colors our commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ and to the responsibility we assume by living our lives as a celebration of that gospel. And yet, there are many days where I am reminded that the label “Christian” does not need to be accepted by all those who are on campus. It makes me wonder what exactly is understood by that label or if it is assumed by all in the first place. I have the feeling that being at a “Christian” community, whether university or church, does not mean the same thing to all. To put it differently, I think the label “Christian” can easily become a case of false advertisement.

This morning I got cut off in my car by another vehicle with explicit references to ”God” on the license plate and to ”Christian” on the bumper. The driver then proceeded to drive on our campus, ignore a stop sign, speed through the central campus, avoid a speed bump by swerving onto a bus stop waiting area, showing no signals when turning, and finally entering a private road in order to access a public parking lot. I would be hard-pressed to call that “Christian” behavior. On my way to the office I use the hallway on the east side of our building. The staircase smells like smoke and cigarette butts litter the space in front of the window even though our university is frank about being a non-smoking campus. Exposing others to second-hand smoke is not what I would call “Christian” behavior. In the afternoon a student fails to see me just a few steps behind with a handful of books from the library and simply closes the door in front of my face. A lack of consideration I find difficult to label “Christian.” In some classes, students spend their time engaging in social networking, messaging, emailing, or simply web browsing instead of engaging the class discussion. A lack of respect toward the instructor and the classmates I am hard-pressed to call “Christian.” I could come up with many more of these episodes. The one that bothers me the most, however, is the fact that when I came on campus five years ago, I was amazed at the fact that everybody greeted me, and that meant mostly strangers. Today, I am amazed at the many people who walk right past me without even looking at me or who fail to respond when I greet them. Do I have to reiterate that this is not what I would call “Christian”?

Of course, it does not matter what I would call “Christian.” What matters is what that label means in light of the gospel of “Christ.” My concerns are also not really about our university. I could have given examples from other “Christian” places and communities with similar results. The sticker “Christian” has pervaded many areas of American society; it has even been applied to American society itself.  In the same vein, we now call some societies “post-Christian.” What I am concerned about is that none of those who assume the label “Christian” by associating with a decidedly Christian community would fail to carry that label in a manner that reflects the gospel. What exactly does “Christian” mean if it is not a reference to a life emulating Christ lived with respect for oneself and others, care for the safety of others, a consciousness we may call good will toward all people. Those who fail to recognize the importance of reflecting the gospel emphasize the fact that even among “Christians” righteousness is attributed to God alone. All of us “Christians” are in need of restoration and renewal. God responds to that need with what we may call ”grace.” It is a hallmark of the term “Christian.” For many of us in the renewal movements, grace is a particular reference to the gift of the Holy Spirit. If anything, wearing the label “Christian” means to live a Spirit-filled life, one that is oriented toward transformation in the image of Christ who seeks to fill all of our lives with the grace of the Father. Being “Christian” still means that we aim to become Christ-like, not that we are so already. What we advertise with the word “Christian” is not ourselves but Christ and our desire to be like him. That is the intention of any community that calls itself “Christian.” In the same sense it should be adopted by every individual. Let us learn to wear the label more deliberately. It should not be false advertisement.

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Wolfgang Vondey
This entry was posted by on Monday, October 11th, 2010 at 5:51 am and is filed under Faith & Culture, Worldview. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

16 Responses to “False advertisement: How NOT to Wear the Label “Christian””

  1. Sorry you had a bad day Wolfgang. I would be concerned about the university as you are – especially if the campus has lost its community. I found an interesting article that might offer some insight to Christian action. Perhaps there may be some insight for you. If not it’s still a great article.


    Grace and peace to you in our King Jesus.


    • Hi Gary, thanks for your response. I hope my post did not give the impression that I had a bad day. I was pointing to more systemic problems in the way the label “Christian” is applied (or not) by members of a community that labels itself “Christian.” These are not only matters of community but also of socialization, traditioning, and perhaps the estrangement of everyday life communication from the authority and regulative power of the community. A disconnect, if you will, between the intentions of those who actively shape the community and those who participate in it as a means to an end.

  2. Hello,

    Like you I am concerned that the title of Christian has become just that, a title that is used arbitrarily by some. I have spent a miniscle amount of time considering changing my “title” to something else having to do with being a follower of Christ, just so that I would not be associated with those who wear the title of “Christian” but do not take the responsibility of wearing the title seriously. Luckily, my name in itself is already that, it means “follower of Christ” and the last name means “wine maker.” But it bothers me greatly that the name “Christian” is used as curse word in some circles, due to society’s experience with some of our brothers and sisters.
    I have to remind myself that we are all human, and that God’s job is immense to remind us who we are in Him daily. It is easy to judge another person, as we sometimes judge ourselves. However, our job is not to judge others, it is to worship God and live according to His Word. your posting only highlights how important it is to live each day as if every breath and step one walks is a prayer to God. If we live in the moment and very aware of how we influence the world around us, then we will become less likely to cause scars in society.
    I wish that I could ask every Christian act responsibly in all things, including when one thinks no one is paying attention or watching. Because when one thinks no one is watching is when someone is, in particular God. And in some cases, a non-Christian. If a person would not do those same actions in front of Christ, then those actions need not be done. If one thinks, “I do not care what Jesus thinks, I need to do this anyway” it is time to examine why one thinks this way. No person is entitled to treat another person horribly, no matter how bad their day has been.
    Part of being at RU is to stretch some boundaries and to learn how other people perceive God and form their theology. According to Dan Merchant, the way non-Christians view God is through their repeated experiences with Christians. And to me, personal experience is as valid as doctoral thesis as far as establishing a baseline from which to improve. I would like to recommend the movie “Lord Save us from Your Followers.” http://www.lordsaveusthemovie.com/movie-synopsis.html

    • Thank you, Christine. I wonder how much of the behavior we are concerned about is the result of ignorance, not beligerant neglect but an absence of concern. The heart of this ignorance may be directed at oneself rather than at others. The bumper sticker for this group is not “I don’t care about others”– it is not even “I don’t care about myself.” There is not even a bumper sticker, because there is no critical reflection on what constitutes proper Christian living. That is what needs to be addressed if we want to avoid false advertisement of the title “Christian.”

  3. Ken Lundgren says:

    All believers are in various stages of “completion” as being conformed to the image of Christ. Much of our growth in this pursuit is done on a personal level, but what many do not realize is that a part of it is done in the community of “one-another,” our fellow believers. Those who are “casual” about the name they bear must consider this question: Whose life do I want others to see (Gal. 2:20)? The other big question is: Am I open to correction by my brothers and sisters? Thank you, Dr. Vondey for your willingness to be “one-another” to us which involves admonishing!



    • Thank you for your comment, Ken. The question I would have is at what stage of Christian formation do we become concerned about the way we carry the title “Christian”? Is it not the very first step? If we neglect to ask that question from the very beginning, how can we ask other questions as Christians?

  4. Dave Hutton says:

    I agree with Dr. Vondey concerning the lack of common courtesy, much less Christian behavior among those who profess to be Christians. We had this discussion in a class a few weeks ago and it concerned me that those with Christian symbols attached to their vehicles are the same people practicing road rage and driving like they are the most important car on the road needing to get to their destination. This is the very thing that gives Christian nomenclature a bad reputation. How can we refer to someone as a Christian when their behavior indicates something else, something far removed from the very behavior they are supposed to be representating. Beyond that, whether we are a Regent student, faculty, avid church attendee or other “Christian” representatives, should our behavior be nothing less than the example set by our Lord and Savior? I firmly believe that we should be setting the example for others to follow, and then maybe, just maybe, they would get in line, or allow another to get in line in front of them. What a concept that is !

    • Thank you, Dave. I like your image of letting others get in line in front of us. I am always surprised at the surprise of others when I let them go first. Is that not the basis of what makes us like Christ: to consider others before we consider ourselves?

  5. Candace Laughinghouse says:

    In light of political reform and today’s TEA parties (which I, too, take the same stance as you concerning the label “Christian” and other divine references conveniently adorning the lips of journalists, news media and politicians) , is it possible, that people are entitled to wear the label in the way they “think” is correct?

    First of all, I’m in total agreement with your blog, but wonder if we possess a air of “elitism” when people aren’t as Christian as we’d like them to be. True, the unsafe driver, on-campus smokers and less than friendly people on campus aren’t, what I would deem, the best models for Christianity. But would the “Christian” thing to do be for us to recognize they might be intentionally Christian, as you mention towards the end of the blog.

    • Thank you, Candace. Personally, and quite frankly, I think the only person entitled to wear the title “Christian” is Christ. All others have no entitlement. To feel entitled would be as if we picked up the cross and carried it around in a parade. We forget what the cross is intended for.

  6. Lesley says:

    Dr. Vondey,

    I found your article interesting and timely. I too have been a little taken back by some Christian behaviors I have seen at Regent or elsewhere.

    When I do notice an action which is less than what *I* think should be coined Christian behavior. I begin to ask myself, “Is this person a Christian?” “Is this person having a bad day?” “Is this person aware of the rules?” I can’t expect someone to preform the way I want them to when I don’t even know if they know how to act or what the rules are.

    I’m a DE student who only visits the campus twice a year, my time to witness poor behaivor is limited but I do get to witness the staff, other DE students, and those who work at the cafeteria. Thankfully for the most part it’s all good. But I would agree more people should be a little more friendly possible in the library.

    I think if you’re a Christian, a follower of Christ, a Believer in the Son, no matter where you are, you should be aware you are His child representing Him. I have found I tend to have more issues with people within the church, those who say they are Believers but then their actions out side the church doesn’t match BUT with that being said, as another poster mentioned, many of us are at different stages in our Christian walk and through-out each one of our lives our own blind spots of sin is being revealed to us in His time. Sometimes we just have to remember GRACE.

    Honestly, I don’t think obeying rules, good manners and be helpful really needs someone to wear the title, “Christian” rather one should be taught these simple and kind gestures, unfortunately in our world today and for some in this last generation more and more of these civilities have been broken down.

    In closing, thank you for this topic and open form to discuss how we all can be better to one another …to love another in action at Regent and beyond. Lord have mercy on me, I’m a sinner.


  7. Aisha Clarke says:

    I know plenty of nice courteous people who are not Christians. And that is exactly why people don’t take Christians seriously. “How,” an unbeliever might inquire, “can u say YOUR faith has cornered the market on the awesome God of all creation and you don’t even act like you love God?”. Or rather, “how can all the people who follow the so called false Gods behave in ways that are leagues more compassionate than Christians?”

    No one’s perfect. But I think the idea of Christians reaching the 21st C world, has somehow motives into an attempt at relevance that looks more like Christian assimilation. The days when a born again Christian could be spotted a mile away (from their dress or by the company they keep) are long gone but that DIFFERENTNESS not only told the world who we were but it also reminds US who WE are and who we are supposed to be.

  8. As I was reading your post I was reminded of a conversation I had several years ago with a “seeker” who was quite frustrated with what he was seeing from those called Christian. That is when I began referring to capital “C” Christians and lowercase “c” christians to differentiate those who were truly seeking to follow Christ and all venues of their lives.

    One of the other comments said, “All believers are in various stages of “completion” as being conformed to the image of Christ. ” Undoubtedly, and with your experience, there are those, dare I say, “arrogantly content”, with where they are in their (c)hristian life and satisfied they “prayed the get out of hell prayer”. It is sad to see and to experience yet we press on seeking to leave the mark of Christ in every encounter.

  9. Dave Belles says:

    I appreciate the observation that we are all in various stages of growth and development as believers, but at the same time don’t we need to have some understanding of what constitutes “normative” Christian behavior? Also, shouldn’t what is normative” have the potential to influence culture and society?

    The Apostle Paul lists certain behaviors that are Christian (those that are of the Spirit), and those that aren’t (they are of the flesh). Of course if someone fails to walk in the Spirit that doesn’t mean necessarily that they are no longer a Christian; but God forbid that we should ever lower the bar such that fleshly behaviors become normative for Christianity. If that ever happens then in the end there is no difference between us and the world.

    Forgiveness for weakness: Yes. Acquiescence to an ever devolving standard of moral behavior: God forbid!


  10. Thanks, Michael. Hope all is well. Your comment makes we wonder if it should not read: in Christ there is all secular. Christ opens himself up to us with the goal of transforming our secularity. It is the lack of transformation that taints the label “Christian.”