Only by the name (part 2)

In America, some believers hesitate to go by the name of “Christian” anymore.

It’s understandable. Popular media portrayals of Christians are often anything but flattering. Christians — evangelicals in particular! — are frequently cast as combative, narrow-minded bigots who shun intellectual subtlety in favor of blind faith.

Against the background of such stereotypes (which, sadly, are not entirely without justification), some (especially within the so-called emerging church) prefer the label of “Christ-follower.”

That’s fine. To someone of my generation, “Christ-follower” doesn’t exactly come tripping off the tongue, but it does make a point. To be a believer doesn’t mean being lumped into a static social category. It’s an active life of following Jesus, as Jesus himself called his disciples to do.

I get it.

But here’s the thing. I doubt that the label “Christ-follower” will do anything more than “Christian” to stave off negative stereotypes. Those who have a mind to do so will see the name change as a bait-and-switch. And if the truth be told, a close look at the lives of many supposed “Christ-followers” will show them to be following other masters.

Let’s face it: just as Jesus himself endured opposition during his earthly ministry, so will those who go by his name, whether “Christ-ian” or “Christ-follower.” This is not a terminological issue, but a theological and spiritual one. To be a “Christian” is not to occupy a demographic category. It is to bear the name of Christ.

And the question is whether we’re bearing that name rightly, whether we are loved or hated for the right reasons.

As we’ve seen, when Peter and John were brought before the Sanhedrin, the apostles surprised them by being bolder and more articulate than expected. The council members, in their pride and arrogance, couldn’t explain it, except for this: these guys have obviously been with Jesus.

It’s not until later in Acts that we read of the label “Christian” being applied to new believers (Acts 11:26). Primarily, the term was probably used neither to praise nor condemn, but to explain: Why do these people act the way they do? It’s because of this Christ they keep talking about.

Whatever label we use for ourselves, the point is that we are acting in the name of Christ and pointing others to him by what we say and do. Is there anything about us that would make other people say, “They’ve obviously been with Jesus”? And if so, are they getting to see the presence of Jesus rightly? Or are they getting a distorted image of the one we profess to follow?

It is an honor to be identified with the name of Christ.

Let’s just make sure that our lives honor the name.