And who are these so-called “Christians” anyway?
Quite obviously, the term “Christian” means different things to different people. I’ve found it can mean one set of things where I live in the buckle of the US Bible-belt and another in Portland, Maine. Travel to other places in the world outside the US and you’ll find that the variations become even more diverse. In Turkey, I’ve found that many locals think of a “Christian” as any westerner. And these western Christians want to destroy their culture. They remember the Crusades from the Middle Ages!
Doing a bit of amateur Bible study, I was surprised to find that the word “Christian” is used in The Bible only three times:
1) The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch. Acts 11:26
It was not the disciples who were first calling themselves Christians. It was other people! Many theologians believe that “Christian” was first being used as a derogatory term – a put down – to categorize the followers of Jesus as a means to better identify them for persecution.
2) Then Agrippa said to Paul, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?” Acts 26:28
And Paul does not say that he is trying to persuade Agrippa to become a Christian, but, instead, to become what he (Paul) is.
3) However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. 1 Peter 4:16
This passage could be interpreted in many different ways, but I think it’s saying something like, “If you are being called this derogatory name Christian and being persecuted by the name-callers, just take the label and the suffering for Christ’s sake.”
I personally feel compelled to define a Christian as anyone who calls themselves a Christian. Who am I to say they are wrong? If I were to meet someone who calls themselves a Christian, and I don’t think they should be using that label, all I am saying is that their definition does not match mine. That they should be more like me if they want to call themselves a Christian! I can’t imagine that conversation going well. Life’s too short to expend any energy trying to change peoples’ word definitions to match mine. There are better things to do.
People who call themselves Christian today represent a very segmented and varied bunch. Much of what I see from Christians seems to have very little, or nothing at all to do with Jesus the Christ. As disappointing as that may be to many people, it’s not a huge deal-breaker to me. Yes, I want to see lives surrendered to Christ Jesus. But the label’s not that important. Encountering Jesus as Christ is important. Lives changed – surrendered to His Lordship – is important. In many cases it seems, the term “Christian” creates a huge hurdle for people. A barrier that need not be there.
I am encouraged by this: Jesus never asks anyone to become a Christian. He does not ask us to assume any sort of correct label or banner to describe ourselves. He asks us to recognize Him as Lord. He asks us to come to Him and drink (John 7:37). He asks us to lay down ourselves (Matthew 16:24) and, in so doing, allow Him to flow into us and through us (John 7:38). He describes the fruit that flows from us as the indicator of the change that has happened. And the fruit is the fruit of the presence of God Himself!
I don’t mind if other people think of me as a Christian, but it’s not a term I resonate with personally and I do not easily use it to describe myself. However, if I have to use a term, I am a follower of Jesus the Christ. I am a disciple of Jesus. But using finite language will always fall short of describing the wonder, mystery and awe of the God/human transaction. Like any defining terms we might try to use – even one as scriptural as “disciple” – there will be problems.
Put simply, a disciple is a follower or student of someone – usually a teacher, leader, or philosopher. But Jesus is more than just a teacher, leader, or philosopher. He’s God! It is possible to be a follower of the teachings of Jesus, and think of myself as His disciple, yet not actually be surrendering my life to Him – His risen, present Lordship. In the end, it seems, it’s not about finding the right words in our limited English language to correctly describes what we think we mean. It’s about swimming into the mystery – individually and corporately – of oneness with God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
I’d rather just let the fruit of my life surrendered at the foot of The Cross point to Jesus. I just want to get out of the way and have His life flowing through me.