02 August 2010

'Christian' versus 'Christ-follower'

I've been noticing a subtle change in wording on a good number of people's blogs and profile pages...instead of calling themselves a Christian, they call themselves a Christ-follower.  I have no idea where this got started, and I'd love to know.  If any of you reading this have a source, please drop me a line and let me know.


I haven't thought this through completely, but on the surface at least,  I have a bit of a problem with the new wording.  I know it sounds kinda cool, and it is certainly a contemporary way to express a religious orientation, but I'm not sure it means what many people seem to think.

Here's an example from scripture- both Simon Peter and Judas Iscariot were Christ-followers.  Jesus called Judas to follow him, and he did.  He called Peter, and he also followed.  Yet Judas (as you know if you read the story) was never a Christian.  Peter was.  Judas was lost; Peter saved.  One was sad he got caught, the other saddened by his lack of faith.  So one can be called a Christ-follower and not be a Christian.  I don't think that's the meaning most folks intend to express when they refer to themselves as a Christ-follower.  (Though, as an aside, the term may have a lot of utility, since there are so many folks who attend church that are apparently not Christians.)

The Bible refers to Christians as, well, Christians.  Acts 11:26 says the disciples in Antioch were the first to be called Christians.  I don't think that verse is anecdotal or without importance in the scriptural narrative.  I don't see any reference to Christ-followers in the New Testament.  I do see Jesus telling folks to follow him, and I don't have any problem with the language used as a verb (command).  I just don't see the need to use it as a noun (description).  The word Christian means little Christ.  This is not a reference to some kind of inherent deity in any believer, but rather to the idea of a believer in Christ being an understudy who is attempting to typify or embody Christ-likeness in their own life.  The Biblical term for this process is sanctification.  We can follow someone without ever trying to become like them.  I follow Weird Al Yankovic, because I think his parodies are funny and I think he's a genius at what he does, not to mention he's a very talented musician.  But (no offense, Al) I don't want to be like him.  I don't want to be a Weird Al Mini-me.  I do want to think, talk, act, love, hate, see, hear, etc., like Christ.  Thus I am a Christian (a little Christ), not merely a Christ-follower.

I don't know that any of this is a really big deal, but as has been said so often, words mean things.  Certainly, in the gospel itself, the importance of words is not capable of being overstated.  Over time, we tend to wreck our language by the overuse of superlatives (everything is awesome even when its not).  We also tend to water language down by shifting definitions, almost always away from the precise toward the general (ask someone what radical means, then look it up in the OED and you'll see what I mean).  This is never helpful to a culture; moving from the concise to the abstract always results in a loss of information.  Yes, we have too much information, and losing some of it wouldn't be a bad thing, but we need to keep the good and dump the bad, and that's not what happens when we lose our language.

I don't mean to disparage any who call themselves Christ-followers.  I just want to make sure I send the right message by what I call myself.

As for me, I'll stick to the Biblical term, Christian.

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