If you listen to emergent preachers and boosters for any length of time, you can’t help but notice the studied avoidance of Christian and its replacement with Christ follower. A couple of weeks ago I offered a critique of how the church tries to make Jesus famous, but Christ follower is the term that gives me the willies more than anything else the new church says.
Important words mean important things, and the sheer repetition and deliberate care with which emergents use Christ follower suggest that they understand that there’s an important battle of ideas they can win if they can place the term into widespread circulation.
It needs to be resisted. Here’s why.
- It rejects Christianity. Although this is a simple and indisputable point, it is by no means unimportant. Where most believers would use the term Christian, emergents insert the term Christ follower. No matter the arguments in favor of using CF, you are ditching a profoundly important term. Emergents will counter that Christian isn’t really important because it’s only used twice in the KJV Bible. Sure, but how many times does God need to say something for it to be important? When parents tell you their child’s name, do you make a habit of arguing with them?
- It rejects tradition. God’s redemptive story doesn’t end in the last chapter of Revelation, although his revealed Word does. The Holy Spirit continues to act in human affairs through the institution of the church. To ignore all that wise men of God have left us (the creeds, the reformers, the traditions, etc) is to ignore God’s work over the last 2,000 years. The early apostles assumed that the Bible was understood within the context of the church that Jesus left us. When a church tries to untether itself from church history, it rejects godly wisdom and leaves itself susceptible to error.
- It rejects God’s family. God refers to the church in familial terms. We are all adopted. We are Christ’s bride. We are brothers and sisters. You might not like it, but when Christ saved you, you joined the family. When my wife married me, she married into my parents and siblings as well. Just because she’s embarrassed by my brother (I jest, bro, because I care) was not enough of a reason for her to suggest that we change our last name to McSnickenmeister so no-one could connect the dots between her and the rest of my family. When Jesus chooses you, his family comes with him. It’s a package deal. It’s a good deal.
- It rejects grace. Christian denotes a state of being and belief; we are part of Christ’s church. Christ follower denotes a state of action and effort. Being a Christ follower is always a secondary state compared to our status as Christians. I am a Christian because of what Christ did, not anything I did. To be a Christ follower I must do something. In terms of how both terms explain the essential quality of God’s grace in our salvation, Christ follower couldn’t really be more wrong. The consequence of being a Christian is that one follows Christ, but one can never follow Christ before, or without, being a Christian.
- It embraces paganism. Although I argue that you must be a Christian before you can be a Christ follower, and that the first term should take precedence, that’s not necessarily the meaning that emergents convey. Following Christ is about living like Christ and doing things he would like. When you boil Christianity down into terms that suggest that it merely means living well, you remove the offense of the cross and let anyone claim they’re Christ followers if they’re living good lives. There are many pagans who live honorable lives and perhaps demonstrate the values of the Sermon on the Mount better than some believers. How does Christ follower communicate the message of the Gospel to a good-living sinner?
- It welcomes heresy. Rejecting Christianity as a term puts you on the road to rejecting the beliefs that are part and parcel of it. It at least puts you in the company of people who are further down that road than you ever expect you might go. The value of the creeds and of the great traditions of faith is that they act as speed bumps for believers who so easily can lapse into heresies. By rejecting Christians and Christianity, you’re ignoring the speed bumps. We all hope you have skilled drivers.
- It embraces cowardice. For two thousand years believers have been persecuted and killed for declaring that they are Christians. Now, because a bunch of ignorant MTV types think we’re silly, we get our knickers in a knot and flee the term. What fools the martyrs were. All they needed to do was change their label and catch the next bus home.
- It embraces culture. The common reason for adopting the Christ follower moniker is that Christian has too much baggage and makes people think of the church more like Brussels sprouts than pop tarts. The world thinks the church is all about creeds (see #2), is full of old people (#3) and makes you study silly stuff like theology and doctrine (see #4). Tell me when the church or Christianity has ever been embraced by culture. The nature of the cross is at cross purposes with our sinful nature. We will never be loved and accepted. That’s the point of grace. Only with the Holy Spirit’s enabling can I ever hope to love Christ and his church. Besides, changing your terms to chase culture is a fool’s errand. In 20 years you’ll have to change Christ follower to something else more acceptable, perhaps to nice person.
If you’re a Christian, simply say so.