What do you think when you hear the term “Christian”? Do you think of someone who is “saved,” or “born again”? Maybe you think of someone who goes to church. The face of a relative may come to mind who you would think of as a Christian. You may even think of yourself! Regardless what comes to mind when you think of the word, an honest investigation will show that it has lost a good deal of its original meaning. For the sake of effective ministry in this post-Christendom era, we may need to change the label we wear.
What Do Others Think?
I wonder what those outside of church circles think of when they hear the term “Christian.” Haters? Aloof? Exclusive? Bigots? Homophobes? Judgmental? Divided? Hypocrites? Cheap? Stingy? Finger-pointers? Heartless? I’m sure the list could go on. Needless to say, none of these terms support the original definition of the word “Christian”. We have lost something somewhere.
The origin of the term “Christian” is found in Acts 11:25 – 26.
So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians. ESV
The Greek word here is christianos from christos-Christ, the Anointed One. So the original word meant “like the Anointed One,” or, perhaps, “little Anointed One.”
Please notice that the disciples did not ascribe this name to themselves. The title was given to them by those who were observing them from the outside. The label was applied when they saw how the early disciples centred their lives around Jesus Christ. What may have originally been meant as a slur was taken up as a badge of honour by those to whom it was ascribed.
Unfortunately, throughout the centuries the title has lost its original force. When the church became a rich and powerful institution that condemned, persecuted, and slaughtered anyone who was not part of the fold, the term “Christian” no longer meant Christ-like. It simply meant someone who was affiliated with the institution. Equally unfortunate is the fact that centuries later the practices of the church haven’t changed much, although the church typically uses little more than its tongue to slaughter its enemies. Therefore the term “Christian” still largely refers to one affiliated with an institution that is quickly being viewed as archaic and irrelevant.
A New Tribe
I do see a change on the horizon, however. All over the world there is a tribe of people arising who are turning away from the institution and turning back the Christ of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. They are the ones who take the words in their Bibles, written in red, seriously, as though Jesus actually meant what He said. A new breed of disciple is arising, and we must have a new label for this new tribe.
How About This?
I recently attended a Leadership Conference where Dr. Stuart Murray (author of The Naked Anabaptist) was speaking. The term he suggested we use in this post-Christendom age is follower of Jesus. I like it! Why? Think about it. A follower of Jesus describes one who has fully surrendered the direction of their life to the King. They have set their sights on Him and are fully intent on going where He goes, doing what He is doing, saying what He is saying, etc. They are consistently being transformed into the likeness of the One they are following, which, of course, is in harmony with our original calling (see Romans 8:28 – 30).
We Actually Have to Follow
But let’s be honest: a new label is only valid if it truly testifies to the lifestyle of the one who wears it. A follower of Jesus must actually follow Jesus. That means the only way we can legitimately wear this label is if we are fully and faithfully living in the Reign.
What do you think of this new label? Do you agree?
2 thoughts on “We May Need to Change the Label”
I typically describe myself as a Christ follower, a follower of Jesus, a believer in Jesus, or some-such. I realize this causes confusion in many people, but the generic term, Christian, carries so much baggage that I don’t use it with younger people — only with those of , say, my mom’s generation (and she turned 81 this week).
Your comment brings up 2 very important points:
1) The Christian label is not bad in and of itself. It’s the baggage that goes with it that’s the problem. Unfortunately people normally think of the baggage when they hear the word.
2) Labelling yourself as a follower of Jesus may indeed be confusing to some. I don’t necessarily see that as a bad thing. It may mean people have to stop and think about what you mean, which may lead to further dialogue with them. Bonus!
As always, Cindy, I appreciate you sharing with us. 🙂