Over the past few years, there have been attempts to re-define the word “Christian”. Some people believe that there are negative connotations attached to the word, there is too much baggage; to say that one is a Christian is to paint a picture of judgment and self-righteousness. Tony Campolo prefers to be called a “Red-Letter Christian”; in his mind this is a focus on Jesus’ words and teachings. 200 years ago, the Restoration Movement was founded, its adherents were called “Disciples of Christ” to separate themselves from the denominational churches. What does the Bible have to say about it?
First off, Jesus NEVER told people to be Christians. The word “Christian” was merely an identifier, first used in Antioch (Acts 11:26). According to Frederick Norris’ book Christianity: A Short Global History, “The emergence of this name probably involved a bitter pogrom in the 40s AD, one carried out against the Jews whose circus teams had won a stunning victory in the horse races.” People in Antioch began to loot the homes and businesses of Jews, as the authorities sought to restore order, they needed a name for the new believers who insisted that they were not Jews, so the name “Christian” was used. With that background, let’s look at what Jesus DID say.
Through the Gospels, Jesus called those who would follow Him to be “disciples”. What does it mean to be a “disciple”? The Greek word means “a learner, a pupil, a committed learner or follower”. Jesus’ disciples spent time with Him. They watched Him. They listened to Him. They talked to Him. They did what He asked. We do these things today by reading the Word, when we pray, when we serve. But.
Are we simply going through the motions? I submit that many who wear the name “Christian” are simple adherents to the philosophy of Jesus, and not disciples. They like the whole idea of going to church on Sunday, giving a few dollars, participating in communion, and singing some songs. They don’t drink, smoke or chew, or go with those that do. They talk the talk. They are good people. Moral people. Well-liked, fine, upstanding citizens. They probably even vote Republican. But, they are not disciples. We find ourselves content with “mere” christianity, with the intellectual assent to God without the self given entirely over to Him. We read the Word not for transformation, but for “words to live by”. We don’t have because we don’t ask, and what we do ask for we don’t receive because we ask selfishly. We don’t give because we don’t trust. These things are not the way of the disciple, but the superficial things of religion. And, they are worthless, empty, and only lead to frustration. What is the way of a disciple?
If we put family allegiances before Jesus, we are not disciples of Jesus.
If we do not die to ourselves, and follow Jesus to be crucified with Him, we are not disciples of Jesus.
If our wants and desires are placed before God’s will for us, we are not disciples of Jesus.
If we refuse to give up all we are, and we have, we are not disciples of Jesus.
If we are loved by the world, we are not disciples of Jesus.
It is discipleship that is the narrow path that Jesus talks of in Matthew 7:14. Jesus made an astounding claim to be the Son of God, the Messiah, God Incarnate (you know…the whole “Immanuel” thing). And, if that is the case, then the highest thing we could ever do, the only thing, frankly, that is worthy of our time is being a disciple of Jesus. We are called to so much more than simply having the adjective of Christian. We are called to discipleship.