Mar 16, 2009

40 day journey: is there a difference?

A recent Newsweek magazine article begins with this headline, "A Christian by Any Other Name," exploring the shift that many people (including myself) have made regarding what we call ourselves... Christian (old school) vs Christ-follower (new school). The article states:
Christian definitions used not to matter so much. People used to be Methodists or Lutherans, Episcopalians or Baptists. Each denomination had its own culture, its own jokes. A Congregationalist friend once defined himself to me this way: "We're the ones who fold up the chairs after church to make room for the basketball court."

Outsiders could—and did—make assumptions about their neighbors' personal habits and politics based on denomination. The United Church of Christ was left-wing. The Southern Baptists leaned to the right. Methodists, Episcopalians and Lutherans fell somewhere in between.

Then, in the 1980s, as nondenominational churches became the fastest-growing segment of American Christianity, a number of Christians cast off their labels. But with this freedom came a challenge: what should this new generation call itself?
There is something great about a challenge like this - it causes us to concentrate on the core of who we are... versus the clothing.

But naked Christianity in a not-yet-restored world (one where God reveals reality instead of us guessing at it) scares many people. As best as we try to hold theological tensions in their appropriate tensions, as if standing over a line that runs down our middle, we tend to put a little more weight on one side of our stance versus the other... it's impossibly hard to perfectly straddle theology.

That's why words like "born again Christian" or "evangelicals" had a great run. That is, until the clothing seemingly became important again - even independent ideas like Emergent Village have tried to be inclusive but find the concept somewhat hard to implement - it looks like one side is picking on the other.

The thing I see in such "this category" versus "that category" is that both need some work (and both don't often realize it).

Which is why while I think "Christian" does have merit, I see "Christ-follower" as a more definitive swing at summing up authentic Christianity. It seems to be that every other label (including "Christian") is more noun-centered, whereas "Christ-follower" is more verb/action centered. Check this out:
Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch. (Acts 11:25-26)
If you don't know geography, we have cultural Jews entering non-Jewish territory on purpose. In other words, the first time the word "Christian" is used is when a group of people were crossing bridges to pursue people on the other side... not create fences to feel "safe" and "right" in. Before that, Christians were known as followers of "the Way" - in other words, "Christ-followers."
Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord's disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. (Acts 9:1-2)

Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)

As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. "Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men." At once they left their nets and followed him. (Matthew 4:18-20)
Today, Jesus is asking the same thing of you and I - can we follow Him without knowing every detail of what that journey will entail? Can we truly be a "Christ-follower?" There is definitive promise in who we will become, and there is always His presence to guide us.

Maybe that's the secret - maybe we need to stop defining ourselves and letting Jesus do it for us. Maybe restoration is less about how we dress ourselves and more about Jesus changes us from the inside-out.

Something tells me there won't be any Ambercrombie and Fitch stores in heaven.

A gut check for you today as we are but four weeks away from celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ:
  • Do you define your faith by who you don't want to be... or more by who Jesus has invited you to become?
  • Re-read that invite Jesus makes to Simon-Peter and Andrew... if Jesus appeared in your life today in the midst of your activities, what would that look like? What would He say? And what would you leave behind to follow Him?
  • Is your faith more of a noun... or more of a verb? It should be both, but which do you sense Jesus is your responsibility versus God's?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

POINT: agreed

but "Christ-follower" is just as cool as the others were at the time. I think social action, desire to cross denominational lines and being laid back (for a few examples) are what "Christ-followers" are going to be associated with.

And if you are old school and like your denominational lines, I wonder if "Christ-followers" will make jokes about you just like they can make about them. Almost the same as denominations, just more loose boundaries?

idk - thesis: people make labels and institutions. i'm getting tired of the fight against that inevitability. may they just have their point, purpose, power and life in Jesus.