It's frustrating… but I still get some flack from some corners of the globe about using the term "Jesus Follower" as the designation of my faith. Strangely, the flack comes from Christians… Christians who for the most part seem to truly believe in Jesus and dare-I-say follow him. What they are concerned about is what they perceive to be my rejection of the word "Christian" as the designation I take upon myself. Oddly, some have accused me of liberalism while others of ultra-fundamentalism. In the end, I don't care. I just want to follow Jesus.
First of all, I never have rejected the word "Christian." It's a fantastic word, and should be a badge of honor carried by those who follow Christ. In fact, I consider myself to be a very passionate Christian according to it's original usage! Originally it was a title given to those who followed Jesus (see Acts 11:26) in the city of Syrian Antioch during the days of Paul and Barnabas. In that church community there seemed to be a great emphasis on the power of the Lord, an environment of encouragement, on the Holy Spirit, on serving people and giving resources to help others… oh… and also on "great numbers" of people being brought to the Lord… all in a culture where persecution impacted the practice of faith.
In Acts 11, the term "Christian" was a label given to those who followed
Jesus so that people could identify them for what
they were all about. At that time in Syrian Antioch, those who followed
Jesus were all about walking in the way of Jesus Christ. That clearly
meant they were "of Christ" (Christian), or Christ-like.
And so this is my beef. In North America today, the term "Christian" is rarely synonymous with the qualities of the church in Syrian Antioch back in those days in Acts 11. Today, the term "Christian" implies all kinds of connotations. Some connotations are bland (eg. cultural, religious upbringing, family heritage, conservative or liberal politics) and some connotations are blatantly negative (eg. judgmental attitudes, superiority complexes, hypocritical behaviors, conservative or liberal politics). Very few references to the word "Christian" in the media or common jargon in the West today are construed as positive with Jesus Christ as the central component of the term. In other words, I'm not sure "of Christ" is the idea most people have when they think of North American "Christians" today.
If "Christian" meant what it once did, I'd use the phrase all the time. But I wonder which scenario is more likely today:
- Imagine seeing me help someone on the street and witnesses were to say, "Wow, that was really cool. There's another Christian!"
- Imagine seeing me preach about behavior and then getting caught in a public sex scandal and witnesses were to say, "Wow, that hypocritical, arrogant @#%&%!!!. There's another Christian!"
If those who walk with Jesus today in North America can overcome the loss of the term "Christian" to what has become in many usages a mockery of Christ, then I would rejoice. I'd love to see the word "Christian" redeemed from it's tragic trajectory. But in order for this to happen, Christians must once again commonly exhibit the traits of those who follow Jesus Christ first and foremost with their lives. In John 8:12 Jesus says that those who follow him won't stumble in the darkness. In John 8:31 Jesus says that those who truly are his disciples are those who keep obeying his teachings. In John 10 Jesus describes those who listen to his voice as being his sheep… and everyone else as being thieves, robbers, hired-hands and wolves. In John 12:26 Jesus says that anyone who wants to be his disciple must come and follow him, because his servants must be where he is. In John 15 Jesus says that his people should remain in him and should produce much good fruit. And this is just scratching the surface of what it means to truly be "Christian."
I pray that we Christians get back to the place where we are known for having a great emphasis on the
power of the Lord, an environment of encouragement, on the Holy Spirit,
on serving people and giving resources to help others… oh… and also
on "great numbers" of people being brought to the Lord… all in a
culture where persecution impacts the practice of our faith… When we are doing that, then the term "Christian" will once again have it's useful rather than deluded or stumble-causing meaning.