Not a Christian, But a Christ-Follower?
The downside of trying to re-brand your Christian identity.

Anyone can understand the desire for an alternative to the word "Christian." There are plenty of "Christians" I'd rather not be associated with. I'd much prefer to maintain my relationship with Jesus while making clear to others I am not in relationship to Pat Robertson or Jack Spong.

Lisa Miller, true to form as an excellent religion journalist, has brought attention to efforts to follow Jesus without calling oneself a "Christian." Non-Christian Christ-followers even seem to have some scripture on their side. The first name of the Jesus movement in the book of Acts is "followers of the Way." There are plenty of other fully-biblical alternatives: disciples, apostles, friends of God. Apparently the movement has legs: more than 900 Facebook groups call themselves some variant of "follower of Jesus."

There's some sleight of hand here. Imagine a banker in the current financial crisis objecting when you name her job description. "I'm not a banker, I'm a cashier." You would be unimpressed. Or a Major League Baseball player seeking distance from the steroid scandal this way: "No no no, I'm not a baseball player, I'm a second baseman." It's as if my alma mater, Davidson College, disgraced itself in some horrible way. When people cluck their tongues at me, I cleverly respond: "Not me, I'm innocent, I'm not from Davidson, I'm just a Wildcat." I'd be fooling no one. So too with these non-Christian Christians.

More importantly, Christians believe our baptism is not just a set of beliefs. One could come up with some new way to follow Abraham Lincoln or Ayn Rand and give it a brand new title. But Christianity joins us to a body of other believers. This biblical description of the "body" is so basic to the faith it's almost not a metaphor: a new member is healthy tissue grafted onto a wound. The loss of a member is like the tearing away of flesh. Christ himself is our head, and we belong to one another. The very word "religion" has the same root as the word "ligament." We are quite physically bound to one another.

This is especially important to reassert when we are tempted to say we're with the head, but not the other parts of the body. We are all tempted to pick and choose our fellows, buffet-style. "I'm with Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela, and Mother Teresa, but not the Southern Baptists." No! We're part of this body, with all its dazzling glory and all its tragic flaws, and cannot claim the former without the latter. Further, we are responsible for those parts presently misbehaving, and for its misdeeds through time—if we want credit for its virtues.

November 04, 2009

Displaying 1–10 of 65 comments

Riley

November 05, 2012  10:42pm

"Christianity joins us to a body of believers" ??? Really? I thought accepting Christ and his sacrifice on the cross is what joined me to a body of believers. It's called the ecclesia. And it is not neatly packaged in one congregation or denomination. It's called the Kingdom of God. And yes, once I've been added to the universal body I should become united with a group of fellow believers. But I am not a Christian. I am a disciple of Christ. You may call it semantics, but words are powerful. I also agree that all who have been saved are members of the same body. I just don't think we should call ourselves Christians anymore ... never should have in the first place. It's like the term "Methodist." It was originally used by those who criticized the methods of spiritual discipline that John Wesley encouraged others to follow. Over time, those who were derisively called "methodists" just accepted the name. Early critics of "those of the Way" called them "cristianos," or "little Christs." Over time, they just accepted the term (maybe as a way of disarming their critics). And I think it IS important to disassociate ourselves from the unholy Crusades, other wars of religion, or any evil thing done in the name of Jesus. I don't want my identity wrapped up in that ungodly mess. Why? Because those things were not of Christ. If we are to have any impact on the world today, we must emphasize the disconnect between those who strive to follow the teachings of Jesus and those who slap His name on their personal crusades. I am not a Christian. I am a disciple of Jesus Christ and a part of the Family of God. Words matter.

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Anonymous

October 28, 2012  11:16pm

A Christian is a Christ-Follower, well according to scripture anyways.

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Gayle

September 24, 2012  10:59am

I think that this whole argument is exactly the type of thing God hates. Why in the world is this whole thing being argued, if someone calls themselves a Christian or a Christ-Follower aren't we all on the same path together if we believe in Christ? Christians or Christ followers arguing about what to call themselves is ironically not Christ Like...

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Douglas Asbury

September 15, 2011  3:01pm

Two stories, with observations: I seem to recall a story - true or not, I don't know - that indicated that when the State of Israel was being established in the late 1940s as a "homeland for the Jews," there was discussion over how the country could know who was a Jew and who wasn't. Was it a matter of religious identification? religious practice? orthodox or conservative or reformed or reconstructionist adherence? ethnic heritage? through the father? mother? Finally, as I recall - again, true or not true, I don't know - they decided that if someone came and asked to be a citizen, claiming that he or she was a Jew, the country would welcome them to full citizenship simply on their own account, however they defined what it was for them to be a Jew. "Christian" is a term like this. Though each of us - and every non-Christian - may have an idea of what a "true Christian" is, when it comes right down to it, each of us becomes definitive within ourselves of what "Christian" means; and we hope that we as well as others bear that name with the dignity appropriate to its namesake. Some time ago - perhaps when the new United Methodist Hymnal was being discussed before its 1989 publication - a recommendation appeared online that the hymn tune "Kaiserhymne" (entitled "Austria" in the United Methodist hymnal because it had been used as the Austrian national anthem) composed by Franz Joseph Haydn be omitted from the hymnal because it was used by Nazi Germany to assert German superiority over all other nations ("Deutschland, Deutschland ueber alles"). I responded to the suggestion by indicating that just because a venerable hymn tune such as that had been coopted for less than worthy purposes, that should not be cause for the rejection of the tune itself, but instead, if we were to use it in praise of the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, we could, in a sense, "redeem" the tune and cause people to relate it to the praiseworthy sentiments sung to the tune rather than those of long-past nationalistic fervor and destruction. The tune is currently used in the UM Hymnal to support the text by John Newton, "Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken" (UMH 731). Surely, we can similarly redeem the name "Christian" from its misrepresentation by others, though we must always beware that, in our hubris, we are not besmirching it in yet another way other than the one we are criticizing.

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Lihana

October 17, 2010  2:55pm

As someone who prefers the term christ follower I can tell you I prefer not because I'm trying to disown other christians and the church. I prefer it because the mission of a christ follower is far more specific. When you live under the title of christian as long as you go to church every week, volunteer, read your bible, and pray you will be saved. A christ follower know diffrent. A christ followers knows that you can do all these things and still go to hell. A christ followers does all those things because they want to know God. They do things to get closer to him and because they know it'll make him happy and no other reason. I once called myself a christian and during that period in my life I can safely say that I didn't know God until God finally got my attention.

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Elvus

September 05, 2010  1:04pm

You know the term "Christians" was first used in a derogatory sense. People were criticizing the movement. So, if the immediate followers of Christ referred to themselves as "the Way," then wouldn't "Christian" be the off-shoot of "the Way?" And really, no one but God knows who all is in the body of Christ. It doesn't matter what you call it. The funny thing is "Christ" is just a translation of "the anointed one" and Jesus just translates as Joshua. His name is not significant (oh gasp!). It's his story that is salvation. If otherwise then he could be claimed by some culture. Then people who don't get to hear the name "Jesus" couldn't be saved. (and scotty, the whole article is against people using other names than Christian. That's the whole point of the article.)

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scotty

June 23, 2010  1:29pm

I am one of the crowd that doesn't like to refer to himself as a Christian, but as a follower of Christ. As such I would like to make a couple of observations about this article. The author is not arguing for or against using the word Christian, as such. He is arguing against the reasons that one might give for not using the term Christian: 1. To distance themselves from being associated with "distasteful" people within the Christian faith. 2. To disassociate themselves from the "bad press" Christianity has gotten over the last couple thousand years (yes, much of it earned). While I agree with him that these are not good reasons for not referring to oneself as "Christian", these are not my reasons. Rather, I feel that the term Christian has become diluted, such that the very meaning of the word has become lost in the minds of many people. People such as the author, Jason Byassee, wrongly assume that the term Christian means the same to everyone else as it does to him. This is a mistake in my mind.

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larry

April 21, 2010  9:58pm

The Greek word christianos – meaning "follower of Christ" – comes from christos – meaning "anointed one." Evidently, the Christ wasn't bothered by the idea of His disciples identifying themselves as His "followers," given His statements such as these: Matthew 4:19 - "Come, follow me,' Jesus said, ‘and I will make you fishers of men.'" Matthew 8:22 - "But Jesus told him, ‘Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.'" Matthew 9:9 - "As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector's booth. ‘Follow me,' he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him." Matthew 10:38 - "‘. . . and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.'" Matthew 16:24 - "Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.'" Matthew 19:21- "Jesus answered, ‘If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.'" John 1:43 - "The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, ‘Follow me.'" John 8:12 - "When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.'" John 10:27 - "‘My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.'" John 12:26 - "‘Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.'" John 21:17-22 - "The third time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?' Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, ‘Do you love me?' He said, ‘Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.' Jesus said, ‘Feed my sheep. I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.' Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, ‘Follow me!' Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, ‘Lord, who is going to betray you?') When Peter saw him, he asked, ‘Lord, what about him?' Jesus answered, ‘If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.'"

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Vince Wylde

April 10, 2010  4:33pm

The Christ Follower movement is anti Western Civilized Christianity. It's a battle cry, not a label. For myself, I am sick to death of people who come along with a Masters in Theology, or from some big Seminary with their elitist paperwork (like Pharisees in Jesus time) suggesting my ministry is less because I have no earthly "credentials". Well, neither did Jesus. His were spiritual, and he was constantly challenged by the educated ones because of it. "In who's authority..." In today's vernacular, "Which degree do you have?" It's the same mindless picture and the unsaved are very put off by the elitism of it all. They don't know it, but they WANT Jesus, perhaps partially because he WASN'T an elitist... Faith is not a Sunday club, it's a lifetime commitment. Most Sunday Scenarios cheapen the sacrifice Jesus and his disciples made.

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hargis

December 15, 2009  12:02pm

When we face God He will not ask us how did everyone else live up to what He called them to do. He will only ask you how you lived. You will be judged by your life, not by the way others lived. i don't choose by what i see from others. i choose by what God says. He did not tell me to follow Mr. Jones, He said follow my son Jesus who is the Christ. Let us not take a name and define it by how some live. Do you not buy a certain car because you saw a person that owned one be reckless?

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