Contend Earnestly: How Should We Label Ourselves? Christian? Followers of Jesus? Part I

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

How Should We Label Ourselves? Christian? Followers of Jesus? Part I

After watching the video from Christianity Today and The Lausanne Movement entitled, “Following Jesus” I was quite struck by the titles that were used within the video by those who we would call “Christians” in the West. Instead of calling themselves “Christians” it was obvious that they were being purposeful in using the term “followers of Jesus” instead. Now, being a Westerner myself, I first thought to myself that this seemed as though they were trying to hide something. It seemed as though they were being a little dishonest in who they truly were. But, I enjoyed the video and saw that these in the video truly were following Jesus to the best of their ability, but I still had some issue with this denial of the term Christian. It should also be noted that I posted this video on my blog and had some of the same reactions from others. But, others were not so forgiving and went to the extreme to say these “followers of Jesus” were in sin for trying to hide their true identity. The obvious verse that popped up in our conversations was simply this:

“They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”
Luke 12:53

Those that had issue with the silence on the term “Christian” used this verse to show that the silence was so that they would not be ostracized for the sake of Christ. This, at first, sounded like an interesting view point. So, I did what I always do when something like this is brought up: I went to the Scriptures. Not only this, but I also sought out the reason why the Muslim didn’t use the term “Christian” post conversion. But, even with a logical argument, the practical usage of this verse didn’t make sense, because I don’t know any Americans who would tell their fellow American to forsake (meaning leave and not associate with) their family, country and culture for Jesus, if it wasn’t necessary for their spiritual well being.

Why not use the term Christian as a Muslim?

This was my first question. It was obvious that the silence and abrogation of the term Christian for the sake of “follower of Jesus” was very intentional. But why? After doing some study on the term and what it meant to the Muslim, I could see why the term came with much turmoil. For the Middle Eastern, the term “Christian” does not mean “follower of Jesus” but really means, “a Westerner, a Zionist (protector of Israel), Colonizer and hater/killer of everything Muslim.” Actually, because of this definition, Jesus and the Bible have been put to the side in the Islamic faith even though the Qur’an has much praise for Jesus (mentioned approximately 100 times, all positive ), the people of the book and the Word of God. But, “Christians” have always done things in the name of Jesus to suppress and war against those in the Middle East. So, when a Muslim hears the term “Christian” it has little to do with Jesus and more to do with the politics and religion of the West that is very individual, self focused, prideful and boastful. Whereas, the Muslim is taught to be in community, hospitable and to keep integrity within the group/clan/village/community at large. Very little attention is given to the individual and his individual accomplishments. Instead, the individual is part of a community and his actions either greatly increase the integrity of the community or defame it. So, if one from a clan calls himself a “Christian” that means that he is now a Westerner, in as far as, politics, protection of Israel and colonization of the East into everything that is west. Which, in turn, means the destruction, at whatever the cost, of everything East. I quickly saw the issue that came up for the new convert to Jesus in calling himself/herself a “Christian.”

Is the term “Christian” Prescriptive?

After I had done some research on the subject , I could see how problematic this term was for the Muslim. But, I also wanted to understand whether the term “Christian” was prescriptive. The reason is that if it was prescriptive, then no matter the turmoil it might cause, it must be used. So, I went to the Bible to see what those who were among Christ and who wrote about Christ called themselves. The results were shocking. What I am going to put forth is every verse that puts forth “Christian” and every verse that puts forth some sort of understanding of “following Jesus.” With the term, “follow,” or “akoloutheo” in the Greek, the term has a two fold meaning.

One meaning is simply: to follow one who precedes, join him as his attendant, accompany him.

I tried to discern these and leave these out. So, when it says in Matthew 4:25 that, “large crowds followed him…” I knew that this was not necessarily speaking of believers, or the elect of God, but merely those who were following Jesus like he was a circus act. I have omitted these types of usage of the verb “akoloutheo” so that we can see the true meaning and usage of the term when speaking of the elect of God.

This brings us to the second type of usage of the verb, which means: to join one as a disciple, become or be his disciple. 2a side with his party.

This meaning struck me right away and put my mind straight on the “Great Commission” when Christ tells us to: make disciples of all the nations. There seemed to be a connection of one who follows Jesus and being a disciple of Jesus. Also note that to “make disciples” is prescriptive and normative for all cultures and all time for those who call themselves followers of Christ. Before I show every instance when “Christian” is used and when the term “akoloutheo” is used, I want to point out other terms that are associated with “followers of Jesus” or “Christians” .

Here is the format: English Term (Greek Term) (amount of times term used to denote one who follow Jesus or is a Christian): Strong’s definition (I left out the definitions of “bride/wife” and “sheep” as they are cross cultural and need no further explanation of their actual definition)

Disciples (mathetes) (269): a learner, pupil, disciple

Church (ekklesia) (114): an assembly of Christians gathered for worship in a religious meeting. 1d2 a company of Christian, or of those who, hoping for eternal salvation through Jesus Christ, observe their own religious rites, hold their own religious meetings, and manage their own affairs, according to regulations prescribed for the body for order’s sake. 1d3 those who anywhere, in a city, village, constitute such a company and are united into one body. 1d4 the whole body of Christians scattered throughout the earth. 1d5 the assembly of faithful Christians already dead and received into heaven

Elect/Chosen (eklektos) (18): chosen by God,. 1a1 to obtain salvation through Christ. 1a1a Christians are called “chosen or elect” of God. 1a2 the Messiah in called “elect”, as appointed by God to the most exalted office conceivable. 1a3 choice, select, i.e. the best of its kind or class, excellence preeminent: applied to certain individual Christians.

Sheep (probaton) (17)

Bride/Wife (numphe/gune) (6)

As one can see, with just the above study, there are numerous ways that the “followers of Jesus” labeled themselves. Overwhelming though is this thought of “disciple” which is very closely related to the term “follower” (akoloutheo). Even before we list the times that the terms “follow” and “Christian” is used in the New Testament one should know a pretty interesting fact. The term “Christian” (Christianos), as defined by Strong’s, means: Christian, a follower of Christ. How amazing is that?! If one desires to define what it means when one asks, “What does Christian mean?” They should follow up with the definition that it means to follow Jesus! So, even before we look to each instance, the case is close to closed as to whether using the term “Christian” is prescriptive or if “follow of Jesus” is an allowable description of oneself. But, let’s still take a look, which we'll do fully in the next post.


Anonymous said...

Do you think that it's ok with God if I follow a man?

After all, I'm a follower of your blog.

God bless you

Seth McBee said...


I think my wife is laughing at you for following someone like me :)

hahaha...I hope you're well.

Thanks for reading. I pray that the blog will be a blessing.

Darlene said...

You said, "But, "Christians" have always done things in the name of Jesus to suppress and war against those in the Middle East."


It is easy to go to extremes defending one side against the other. If one looks at the history of the Middle East, we can see that wrongs have been committed by many, not just "Christians."

The Muslims came into areas such as Constantinople and over-rode and killed thousands of Orthodox Christians. They took over their churches and made them museums. Just look at the Hagia Sophia. Even today there are few Christians in Turkey because they have been persecuted severely. And this area was settled by Christians before Islam even existed.

I suggest you look at the recent video on YouTube interviewing Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. This video addresses the reality of what it has been like to be able to worship Christ freely in a country that is 99% Muslim. It does not bode well for Islam. I lived in a Syrian and Lebanese neighborhood, most of these neighbors were Orthodox Christians in their country before coming to the U.S. They were so thankful to be able to worship freely in the U.S., having come from an area in the Middle East where Orthodox Christians (and other Christians as well), were mistreated.

It doesn't matter to me if one wants to call themselves followers of Christ, or Christians, or Orthodox, or Converted Jews, or followers of Messiah, or Messianic Jews. The real issue is if they/we are truly committed to Jesus Christ and willing to suffer for Him.

Seth McBee said...


Where did I say that? I can't find it, because if I did...I will make sure I ammend that kind of comment as it is truly hyperbolic.

Darlene said...


You said it in the 7th sentence under "Why not use the term Christian as a Muslim."

Now, it may be perhaps that you were merely expressing what Muslims think and not actually giving assent to this kind of thinking. In that case, I can understand the context more clearly. Because, of course, we as Christians know this is wrong thinking.

Seth McBee said...

Thank you for pointing that out and yes, that is what I was getting at...thank you for noticing. To them, that sentence is very much correct...albeit one sided.

For us, we should seek to balance our understanding and be gracious in their understanding.

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