Why I’m Still a “Christian,” Not a “Follower of Christ”

Yes, I know they’re the same. To be a Christian is to follow Jesus. And I like the fact that “Follower of Christ” is more vivid and precise. It’s a great term. But I am not going to rush out and change my Twitter bio. “Christian” is good enough for me.

I understand why many do it. They want to say, “I don’t need chalky, legalistic Phariseeism. Just give me Jesus.” I have no problem with this.

But others do it for another reason: they want to distance themselves from Christians. I saw a Twitter update from popular pastor some months back. He was decrying the political actions of Christians he disagreed with. His embarrassment was obvious, and he used the incident to demonstrate why he no longer called himself a “Christian.”

Look, Christians of all stripes and affiliations have played the moron. Worse yet, some have been hateful and cruel. At such times, it is appropriate to say, “This is not me. This is not Christ.”

But is it right to then throw away the name based on distant association?

Ravi Zacharias said this: “To judge a worldview, philosophy or religion based on its abuse is flawed logic.” We know this is true. It is why our culture goes to battle against stereotypes of all kinds. We don’t judge the Muslim in the coffee shop for an act of terrorism abroad. We don’t pin the crimes of Mao Tse Tong on the college student who is enamored with atheism or Communism.

Neither do we demand that they change their names.

Do I think Christians are always right? Of course not..
Have Christians have done awful things in the past? Some have, yes.
Am I sometimes embarrassed by the statements and actions of men and women who call themselves Christians? Every time I flip past certain TV stations…

But despite the crusades, despite the fact that many self-proclaimed Christians were pro-slavery back in the day, and despite the fact that some have too much eyeliner and ridiculous big hair, I will continue to call myself a Christian.

If I stop, I distance myself further from the historical church. I say “you have all been wrong about everything.” I say “None of you got it, so I am starting over right now.” The church has grown and morphed and fought and split and worshipped and cherished. She has been ghastly wrong and gloriously right. She has given and earned black eyes, but she has also touched with healing hands.

Therefore, I will not throw the church under the bus. I will not weaken my link with St. Francis of Assisi, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, or the Apostle Paul in order to appease a cultural stereotype. I want to honor the memories of Wesley and Wilberforce, Lewis and Tolkien, of the saints thrown to lions, and of my own Grandfather, George Hague, who prayed with fire. I will even remember John Calvin.

Because all of our high-minded blog posts and reinventions would not exist without shoulders of saints on which to stand. We would not be tinkering with our own labels were it not for these men and women. These historical followers of Christ.

These Christians.

17 replies
  1. Donny
    Donny says:

    Good post, Jason. I will keep my label as Christian also. I guess I am one that accepts labels and I am okay with that :p

  2. Jessica Kalashnikov
    Jessica Kalashnikov says:

    Thanks Jason good way of looking at it. I have felt that sometimes thing of wanting to start as if I just found the ultimate answer for all Christians who never figured it out, and I have been humbled to see, how silly I was being. I am so thankful for those who have paved the way for us being able to have what we have today. Love it!

    • jason
      jason says:

      What, you too? Jessica, let me tell you, I used to have ALL the answers for the church. I don’t know what happened….

  3. Tom
    Tom says:

    Jason,

    I appreciate the good fight you are fighting. I am just not sure it is the right fight. The name “Christian” started its life as a pejorative, so I am fine with it remaining pejorative. “Christian” is a designation most commonly applied to self-righteous prigs who wish to tell others how to live their lives. Ironically, this afflicts Christians on both the Left and the Right. Same Jesus, same Bible, but two completely different flavors of self-righteousness. Both sides sure their side is “good” and the other “bad.” Galatians 5 says something about a party spirit, right?

    I would much rather be called a Disciple of Jesus, for that is my aim.

    While I know that the heroes of the faith that you mention were indeed paragons, I also know that they shone as diamonds in the sky against the backdrop of the majority of wicked and self-serving religious leaders of their days. Jesus reserves His harshest criticism for religious leaders, and yet Nicodemus was a religious leader with whom Jesus found fellowship.

    Not all religious leaders prefer their religion to relationship with God. But sadly, most do.

    So very many of today’s religious leaders participate in the very acts Jesus deplored. So many of today’s Christians revere their own religious leaders more than they honor Christ or His specific teachings.

    How can a religious leader honor God when his income depends on his popularity in a crooked and perverse generation? How can such a “man of God” hew to the pure message of Jesus when the congregation just wants to be reassured (btw, in most cases, falsely) that they are “going to go to heaven” when they die?

    I have no doubt that there exist sincere men of God who are serving God with all their hearts. However, they stand on a knife-edge of crisis: too much Jesus and “the people walk away saddened.” Too little Jesus and they have denied Him — they have rejected the Chief Cornerstone. They can console themselves that “at least people’s lives are better,” but how can a Christian leader suppose he can do any good after rejecting Jesus Himself? How many Christian leaders have thus “made a deal with the devil” and are now effectively “post Christian?” How will anyone know? This is not information they publish in the weekly bulletin!

    These are the questions that plague me. Thanks for hearing me out….

    Tom

    • jason
      jason says:

      Tom,

      Thanks for the thoughtful reply. I hear you. I really do. I hear your deep desire to see the church live like Jesus. I hear your frustration with self-righteousness. It’s a real problem. But my friend, I fear your brush is too broad! 🙂

      I have spent my life dipped, immersed, and marinated in the church. I have traveled to many places. I have spent time with believers and leaders coming from almost any country you can think of. And while some of them are indeed self-righteous jerks, the vast majority of them are not. Most of them love Jesus and love their neighbors. They are in process just like you and me, but they are sincere. I am happy to stand with them and call them brothers. Those who are hypocrites will be dealt as such. I will leave that to Jesus.

      Your comment suggests that you’ve had some pretty bleak experiences. I won’t make light of that. But I want to say this with absolutely no snarkiness whatsoever–brother, maybe you should get to know some different Christians. Find a new church or a new circle. Because there are some awesome men and women out there who are both Christian leaders AND true followers of Jesus.

      Thanks again, Tom, and take heart. There is joy on this walk.

      • Tom
        Tom says:

        Jason,

        I am confident that you have had the kind of experiences you describe. I wonder if you can acknowledge that your view of Christianity may be just as skewed in the opposite direction from my (rather obvious) skew? Whereas I have been marginalized by not being “close to the action,” is it possible that you have been “close enough to the action” that it is difficult or impossible to see how some are systematically marginalized? In Greg Boyd’s piece that you linked, he mentions how aging Christians sometimes become curmudgeons. Maybe he and I are talking about the same thing.

        I have noticed that religious leaders sometimes have a society all their own, that is separate and distinct from the community at large. Religious leaders tend to spend time together with other religious leaders, sharing an intimacy and connection that is simply not available to “Christians at large.” Such a society of leaders would experience the kind of skew I referenced earlier.

        I love the scene in “The Prince of Egypt” where Goldblum’s Aaron says to Kilmer’s Moses, “Oh, because you did not… WISH to see. I see. Now that fixes EVERYTHING.” This in response to Moses’ statement, “I’m sorry. I did not see because I did not…. wish to see.” There is a very human tendency to suppose that “my” perspective is objective and real, and that I don’t “skew” reality. This tendency is universal. People of privilege rarely understand the plight of those on the margins. The Hebrew slaves (like any other group of slaves) had a very different view than their Egyptian masters.

        It is not a matter of “self righteous jerks.” Just because one is not a jerk (means well, is intentionally kind, practices humility), it does not mean that one is not self-righteous. Nor does it eliminate “skew.”

        Any of that resonate?

        Thanks,
        Tom

        • jason
          jason says:

          Tom,

          Of course I see that people have been marginalized, and still are in many places by many jerks who happen to be church leaders. I’m sorry I wasn’t more clear on that. To me, it was obvious. We have a lot of work to do. It is also obvious that you’ve been in that category of the marginalized. I think that’s what we’re really talking about, isn’t it? If you lived in Oregon, Tom, I’d love to get a cup of coffee with you, and have you tell me all about it. Even the ugly parts. Because nobody HAS to end up a curmudgeon. 🙂

          • Tom
            Tom says:

            Jason,

            A cup of coffee sounds nice. Thanks for the offer…

            There is a significant and important reason that my marginalized status should be of interest to you. I have been diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome. We tend not to be well received in “socially oriented” systems like typical churches. Those who thrive in church are the socially adroit. Those who are “blind” to socially accepted cues are marginalized. Jerks notwithstanding, the unwritten rule of church is “Be nice. Be inoffensive.” That is not in my makeup. When Jesus says, “insofar as you have done it to the least of these, you have done it to me.” I interpret “the least of these” to include myself, your son Jack, and countless people for whom social graces are lacking for whatever reason. Hope that helps.

            Tom

          • Tom
            Tom says:

            Incidentally, I am no curmudgeon.

            I simply note that economics eventually drives all church decisions. Young pastors may think they are exempt from economic reality, and they may dodge the bullet repeatedly. However, there must come a time when the family income contends with the will of God. At this point, it is inevitable that family income trumps the will of God.

            When Jesus said, “no man can serve two masters,” He was of course referring to religious leaders – who else even *attempts* to serve both God and Money?

            George Müller serves as an example of a man who refused to take a salary, and never asked for donations, but was able to raise, over the course of the last 64 years of his life, the equivalent of nearly $200 million in today’s dollars. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_M%C3%BCller)

            I will grant that most who become aware of the hypocrisy of religious leaders become curmudgeons. I refuse to do so. I simply call religious leaders to renounce a human supplied salary and serve God alone — where God guides, God provides. Where Man provides, Man guides.

          • jason
            jason says:

            Tom,

            Wait, what? I’m sorry… do you mean because I did not respond to your previous comment? Because that’s not marginalization, friend. That’s an instance of a conversation taking a hard left turn and going far afield the original topic. If you want to make harsh generalizations and demands on a specific group of people (i.e., first most of you are selfish pigs and second, you should not get paid), you are either going to get an argument or silence. I disagree with you on a number of points and I could contest them sharply, but I don’t want to descend into bickering back and forth. That’s not really what I am hoping to do here.

          • Tom
            Tom says:

            I never said anyone was a selfish pig. Nor did I imply it. The fact is that men of good will seek to serve God in professional ministry. Period. However, professional ministers in any religion have a degree of power that Lord Acton assures us is a corrupting influence.

            Here is the marginalization, to clarify…anytime somebody starts to notice the inconsistencies between the Bible and the practice of ministry in their local church, there are well known tactics employed to squelch any such thoughts. By the time somebody becomes a “curmudgeon,” the inconsistencies have become glaringly obvious.

            What I offer you is a conversation with a “reasonable curmudgeon.” I would seek to represent the disillusioned, for instance those who are dispirited with their church, but still remain — or their peers who have given up and left the church. What I would hope you would want to represent is the religious leaders who watch dozens of parishioners leave their church every year and never quite know why.

            If you can get over your personal feelings about my very real concerns, you might just learn something. If nothing else, you might come to understand the difference between “you are all selfish pigs” and “family income trumps the will of God.”

            Maybe this is not the best forum, though. I am sure you have my email address. Give me a shout…

  4. Steven Sturman
    Steven Sturman says:

    Jason, very well said. Thank you for the thought provoking piece.

    Take care Brother!

    Steven

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