Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Christian or Christ Follower?

One of the newest debates among Christianity is over our name: are we still called Christians, or is it time for something new? Some have become so dogmatic in this discussion that they refuse to be labeled a Christian.

The Christ Followers say that the term Christian has a negative connotation in our culture; they assert that society has a bad taste in its mouth from all the hypocrites in Christianity, from disgraced leaders and fallen pastors, to money-grubbing faith healers and abortion-clinic bombers. On this issue, I cannot help but agree with them. These tragedies all hurt the cause of Christ.

But the way I see it, the world should have a negative view of Christians, just in a different way. In Acts 11:26 we see the first time that the disciples are called Christians. It is important to note that they were called Christians; they did not call themselves Christians. History shows us that the term was actually bestowed upon them by the ones who criticized them.

Society didn’t like them, so society called them Christians.

I Peter 4:16 says “If any man suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God on this behalf.” So if the world doesn’t like Christians, we should glorify God (Matthew 5:11-12), not run and change our name. This makes it look like Christians had an emergency staff meeting and agreed to retool the whole operation. And since “Christian” means “follower of Christ,” Christ Follower was not too creative.

Other critics of the word Christian say that the word means that we are little Christs (or little anointed ones by definition), thus making ourselves little gods. That just is not true. We are simply followers of Christ.

We don’t see the Muslims changing their names, and they behead people who do not believe like they do. What group could ever have a worse reputation than that?

If we really get down to it, the reason that society today has a problem with Christians is that they know too many of them. And the ones they know act just like they do, then go pretend to be holy on Sundays. The real reason society should not like Christians is the opposite; there should be a guilt felt within them because they are not living like Christ’s followers. They should see real love, joy, peace, patience, sacrifice, conviction, and commitment. When they do, they will do one of two things: they will feel compelled to change their lives and live for God, or they will harden their hearts and hate God and His followers.

As a lifetime Tampa Bay Buccaneers fan, I know all too well the agony of defeat. The Bucs are arguably the worst franchise in the history of pro football. Around the turn of the century the team was doing some soul searching, trying to turn around their fortune. The solution was not in changing their name and tricking all the other teams into thinking they were somebody else. The solution was found in getting better personnel, which was what led to their 2003 Super Bowl victory (yes, they stink again, but only because they got rid of those good players).

So in our mission to reach the lost world for Christ, let’s focus on developing our personnel by making sure that all who follow Christ are living the way Christ wants us to live. No gimmicks, no tricks, no name changes. Let’s just infiltrate our culture with the love of Jesus as we seek to live a holy life.

We need to get our act together and reach the lost before the Allah Followers do.


Tommy Mann said...

By the way, the YouTube videos with "I'm a Christian, I'm a Christ Follower" are ridiculous, boring, and don't make any actual points. That doesn't change the argument, but it certainly isn't helping their cause.

Scott said...

Good post, Tommy. I am a Christian. I am a Christ-follower. I don't care which one you call me because both are true. It is another worthless debate among Christians that has little relevance to the lost world. Same as when I see a pastor tell a lost person that the NIV Bible isn't legitimate. Now, I love a good theological debate, but this doesn't even fit that category. It is just petty.
This is a good reminder that no matter what we call ourselves, we should live worthy of the title.

Tommy Mann said...

I agreed with you up until you mentioned the NIV--the Not Inspired Version (J/K). Go King James!

Andrew's Antics said...

Great post, we all need to live up to the title. Great illustration about the Bucs also.

Bobby said...

I agree, although I've never actually heard of anyone debating this. Maybe I'm just out of the loop though. I will say that I prefer to call myself a believer, a Christ follower, a Jesus follower, a Kingdom person, a Jesus lover, and a Christian. When I talk with my non-believing friends, I usually refer to myself as a Christ follower for exactly the reasons you mentioned above - I prefer to not lump myself in with those unsavory religious types that come to mind when someone hears the term Christian. I also may not know what religious background a person may have, and their interpretation of "christian" could mean any of a number of things. Before they even begin to know me, in their mind I may be a snake-juggler, someone who blindly chants dry Latin phrases, or makes teenagers burn Aerosmith cds.

At the same time, I completely see your point about not running to change the name simply because the world doesn't like us. To change the name is almost like trying to sweep our checkered past under the rug, as if to tell people, "Those were Christians who participated in the Crusades, not the Christ followers", or, "A Christ follower would have never convinced your great-grandmother to send a $10,000 'seed offering'- that must have been a Christian". This may actually be more confusing to a nonbeliever.

I am reminded of Don Miller in his book, Blue Like Jazz, in which he and a few of his Christian friends set up a confession booth on their secular college campus during a week typically known for its drug and sex filled parties. When people wandered in to the confessional, undoubtedly to make a mock-confession of their partying sins, the Christian in the booth actually began confessing to the nonbeliever- Confessing that we've missed the point a lot throughout our history, admitting that many have done much to hurt the cause of Jesus, and apologizing for not loving like Jesus loved and not modeling a redeemed and transformed life.

While I will still use the titles I listed above, because they are all right and true, as well as good descriptions of what a Christian is, I think a good step forward would be to embrace the term Christian for all it means and all it has meant over the centuries, to own up to the fact that it hasn't always been perfect, and let my life and my example show people what a real Christian is.

Thanks for making me think critically and stretch my thinking.

Tommy Mann said...

Bobby, the other night we were around the campfire burning Jaded CDs when a python bit me. I dryly said, "conservate mundum." It was a classic Christian moment!

bmann24 said...

Did you really alude to the fact that Muslims haven't changed their name despite their reputation as one of the reasons that we shouldn't either? lol. just kidding. I mean, you did do that, but I'm just joking about calling you on it. :)

Tommy Mann said...

Ah, Bobby, I was wondering when that would get brought up. Suprised it took you this long!

I know you were joking, but others may wonder. Seriously, I would never condone trying to mirror the Muslims; in fact, I wish they would mirror us, and, more specifically, mirror Jesus.

My point was that Christians should not change their name due to bad PR, and for dramatic effect, I pointed out that the Muslims have nothing but bad PR. I have never seen a beheading cast in a positive light, although I'm sure Rachael Maddow at MSNBC is working 'round the clock to find a way.

A name change for bad publicity is a poor idea, no matter who does it. By the way, I hope I don't lose my head for this blog.

bud said...

On this issue, it is always helpful to look back in history. I'd like to turn to the great theologian of the
80s ....the 1980s.....Prince. I vote for "the believers formerly known as Christians."

What's next Tommy? You wanted change the name of the 'elect' to 'lottery winners.' Geez.

Tommy Mann said...

Bud, if we go with the Prince idea maybe we should just change our name to a symbol. Maybe a Jesus fish or a cross.

By your own logic the elect cannot be lottery winners. This would involve way too much choice on the part of the elect. They would have to choose to buy a ticket and choose to claim their prize. Be consistent. Geez!