“Follower of Christ”?

santaSome people in the Church avoid the label of “Christian”. Instead, the tell people they are a “follower of Christ”. I don’t like this sort of marketing and re-branding and definitely think it is the wrong place for us to concentrate our energy.

The “meme” photo here (“Put the ‘Christ’ back in Christmas?  How about putting the ‘Christ’ back in Christians?”) prompted a discussion on Facebook which included the comment that one person “no longer [identfied himself] as a Christian but rather as a follower of Christ.”  Following is my response:

When you change the wording, you’re attempting to address people’s first impressions of you as an individual.

This is understandable. No one likes to start off “in the red”, no matter the circumstances.

Still, community and co-suffering (as well as co-celebration!) are integral parts of what the Church is about. It should also be noted here that Christ said “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you.”

Followers of Christ should recognize that Christ didn’t duck away from labels or identification with those who he shared community with. He knew what Judas was doing, but didn’t shun him and didn’t take the label of “disciple” away from him.

And when Christ was asked if the label “Messiah” applied to him, he didn’t say “I don’t like to use that word. I prefer ‘Son of God.'” He acknowledged it (“It is you who says it”), even though that would result in suffering.

For what its worth, all my friends (many who are atheists) know that I’m a Christian. And lets admit it, they would know that I was even if I said “No, no. I identify myself as a follower of Christ, not a Christian.”

So, yes. The Church is full of broken people. There are many people (myself included) who claim the title of “Christian” who are gigantic hypocrites. It is surely annoying to have to deal with all that cultural baggage.

But changing the label doesn’t change much about this.

3 thoughts on ““Follower of Christ”?”

  1. As an atheist, it’s easy for me to smirk and lob rocks from the comfort of my silica edifice, but it seems to me that a follower of Christ who eschews the Christian label is saying “I want to abandon two thousand years of history”.

    Which is fine, but for two things:

    First, those two thousand years are the human implementation of what people saw as Christ’s teaching. That’s an awful lot of interpretation for someone to say “uh, yeah, y’all got it totally wrong and we need to start over from first principles”, especially since…

    Second, what we know of Jesus’s teachings (yes, I’m using “Christ” vs “Jesus” deliberately) has been filtered through two thousand years of human history. I don’t know what makes someone think that a “reboot” will cause a different interpretation in the next phase.

    I’m a software developer. I have seen any number of “we’re going to wipe this slate clean, rebuild it from the ground up, and get it right this time” projects fail. When they have succeeded, they’ve come from a willingness to break with the past that isn’t echoed in hanging on to “Christ” in the first place.

    But far more often, the successes have come from the people who’ve said “let’s work from where we are to a better place”, and in the process salvage the reputation of the failing system. Many of us atheists have gone the route of the complete break, and I respect those who see a future within the current system, but hedging bets down the middle seems almost exactly like one of those software projects born of good intentions but doomed to failure.

  2. I would agree with you, as far as a deliberate, in-your-face rebranding effort is concerned, but I also see the Christ-follower’s point. Words/labels get misused and their meanings change. Some people think “Republican” is another word for “Christian”, for example. You make a point of mentioning that you are an Orthodox Christian. Back in the day I think people said “born again” to delineate their “true” Christian-hood. I think Christ-follower is a little weak and maybe it’s unprofitable to say “Just so you know, I’m the real deal” but I get why someone wants to clarify. The other day, someone asked me if “all those kids are yours” and, when I said yes, replied “Ah, a full quiver”. I thought this was a clever way to say “I get it” as that’s a phrase a Bible reader is more likely to know than the average Fox news viewer.

    1. Events over the past week have made my “Orthodox” qualifier — something a Jewish friend once asked me why I felt was so important — take on a new meaning.

      A white nationalist recently made the news (that is, my facebook feed) because he was chrismated this past Easter. He says the Orthodox Church is great because it is a nationalist, fascist and ethnic church. The sad thing is (see previous link) there is a lot of truth in what he says, but quite a few friends of mine are appalled that he would celebrate it instead of see it as something that needs changing.

      To make matters worse, the Monday after he was chrismated he assaulted someone while holding a large Orthodox cross and posted the picture online.

      All this to say that even when we think we’re saying “Oh, but I’m not like those other guys” someone will come along to give our words and give them new meaning.

      Words do have meaning, but actions speak louder than words.

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