Christians, Christ-followers, and Jesus Freaks

I see a lot of articles, posts, and religious sites as I wander around the internet. And there has been a lot written and shared lately about the word Christian getting a “bad rap.” Many writers and church goers are no longer comfortable calling themselves Christians. They don’t want to be identified with “bad” Christians– hypocrites, political extremists, etc., who loudly and proudly use the label while treating others with contempt, and generally acting like bullies and/or clowns. The growing trend is to use the term “Christ-follower” to describe a lifestyle that seeks to mirror that of Jesus Christ during His life on earth.

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Proponents of this practice point out that Jesus never called His followers “Christians.” Instead, He consistently invited people to “Follow me.” The term “Christian” is associated with the earliest Gentile churches and with the scattering of the persecuted church across Judea, Samaria, and Asia Minor. The term originated in Antioch a few years after Jesus’ resurrection:

19 Now those who were scattered after the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to no one but the Jews only. 20 But some of them were men from Cyprus and Cyrene, who, when they had come to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists, preaching the Lord Jesus. 21 And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed and turned to the Lord. 22 Then news of these things came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent out Barnabas to go as far as Antioch. 23 When he came and had seen the grace of God, he was glad, and encouraged them all that with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord. 24 For he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord. 25 Then Barnabas departed for Tarsus to seek Saul. 26 And when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for a whole year they assembled with the church and taught a great many people. And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch. (emphasis added)

Acts 11:19-26 (NKJV via biblegateway.com)

For a more detailed look, check out this link: http://www.bible.ca/ef/expository-acts-11-19-26.htm

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Christian was not a positive or honorable label for the early followers of Jesus Christ. There are still many places in the world where the label “Christian” invites arrests, beatings, and death threats. There are places where the name “Christian” invites scorn and derision. What has changed (or seems to have changed) in the intervening years is that we see and hear of more and more places in the world where the label “Christian” brings up images of sneering protesters condemning gays or smug white faces spouting self-righteous phrases to justify greed, racism, and/or injustice. “Christians” are not just unwanted or misunderstood by others–Christians are unwanted by their own; misunderstood and misrepresented, at odds and at war with one another.

So what can be gained by followers of Jesus Christ in re-branding themselves as “Christ-followers?” After all, it’s just a name. In the 1960s, many Christians were condescendingly labeled “Jesus Freaks.” Jesus Freaks were viewed much like Hippies. They spoke of Peace and Love and Acceptance. They taught about kindness and unity. They were often young, and generally disillusioned with the older generation and its way of life. They acted a lot like Hippies; they just didn’t do as much experimenting with drugs and free sex. Much like the early Christians, they were labeled by those who dismissed their message and their way of life. They rejected traditional or mainstream Christianity, and were dismissed by many who called themselves Christians. Some were openly critical of previous generations of Christians. Many of those who wish to be called “Christ-followers” now are the descendants (or remnants) of the Jesus Freaks of the 60s. The mind set is very similar– disillusionment with others who have misused or abused the name of Christ, and a desire to “rescue” the reputation of the church.

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There have been other groups across the centuries who have tried to re-brand and re-label their devotion to Jesus– God-fearers, Disciples, Reformers, Witnesses, Saints, Fellowships, etc.. And there is no command in Scripture that we must all call ourselves by a particular label.

But is seems odd to me that the very label, “Christian,” that came about because of persecution, that came about as a derisive, sneering, condescending term, was embraced by those it sought to shame and intimidate. Why didn’t the original “Christians” re-brand themselves to make their cause less offensive? Why has this term, “Christian,” endured over the centuries?

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I think there are a few very good reasons:

  1. “Christians” bear the name of Christ, whatever other name they give themselves. When I say I am a Christian, I know that there are people who will compare me to others who make this claim. But I am not just a member of a group that likes the idea of Christ; I’m not just a Facebook follower of Christ, or a fan of Christ, or a student of Christ. Christ is my Lord; my life; my identity. Christ– Jesus the Christ, the Messiah. Not Joe Smith down the road who also attends my church, or a famous evangelist or Bible teacher, or even one of the Apostles, or Saints. Jesus– son of Mary and Joseph; Son of God and Son of Man. This same Christ was arrested, given a sham trial, condemned to be crucified like a common criminal, and hung, naked and tortured before a mocking crowd. He was humiliated, misunderstood, and abandoned by those who claimed to care the most. THAT is the name I willingly bear.
  2. “Christian” is a label. I can label myself in any number of different ways– “Woman,” “American,” “Caucasian,” “College graduate.” But there are many others who can use those same labels. They may define what I am, but they don’t define who I am. I may be appalled (and I am, sometimes) at things other women do, at things other Americans say, at the history of Caucasians and their interactions with indigenous peoples in other parts of the world, at the snobbery of other college graduates…But I don’t say, “I’m no longer going be an American; I want to be known as a resident of the United States, but I have my own system of government and culture and language independent of those living in Missouri or Idaho or Chicago– they don’t represent who I am.” Of course they don’t represent who I am–they never did. We all, collectively, are Americans AND residents of the United States. I can’t decline to be a woman because I don’t like the way other women behave or speak. And I can’t choose to be “other than” a Christian…all I can do is give it another label.
  3. Finally, who I am is not found in a name or title or label. It is the sum total of my character and the way I live my life. Jesus didn’t tell His disciples that they would be known by any particular name, but He did say they would be known and identified by their love: 34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35 NKJV). That doesn’t mean I have to approve of everything other “Christians” do– in fact, if they use the name Christian and do not have love for others, they prove they are liars– but it means that I must do everything in the name of Christ.
    I am a Christian first, before I am a woman or an American or any other label. That means that I am the co-heir and sister to a young man in India who has been rejected by his family and expelled from his school for being a Christian. I am an ambassador of Christ to the woman I meet in the grocery store whose children are taxing her patience and whose cart is blocking the aisle I want to enter. I am an example of Christ’s love to the young couple who have been victimized by other “Christians” because they are “different.” And I am a Christian in a world of “fake” Christians, and confused Christians, and faulty and very human Christians just like me, who need correction, mercy, justice, and wisdom to follow Christ, to die to self, and to bear the honor of His name. Ultimately, I can call myself a Christian, a Christ-follower, a Jesus Freak–any other label I want. Whether I AM a Christian or not will be determined by how I live, not what I call myself.
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If you are a Christian reading this– how are you bearing His name today?

I Am..

There are many ways to describe who I am (or who you are). I can describe myself in terms of my appearance, my social status, my occupation, age, familial role, or any number of other labels. These labels help distinguish me from other people around me, while also grouping me in with still others. Even my name functions in this way. My surname connects me with my current family; my maiden name with my birth family–my first name distinguishes me from my siblings within the family. However, there are many others in the world with either the same first name, surname, or both!

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I know that I am a unique person, but I am not singular. That is to say that while I am a unique combination of genetic materials, with unique hopes and dreams, I still belong to the human race, to my family group, and to the culture and time in which I live.

Only God can say “I AM!” and not have to add any modifier. God is..God. There is no one like God–no label that can be applied to Him and to anyone or anything else. We use words like “King”, “Father”, “Lord”, “He” even “God”, but none of them convey the fullness, the enormity, the eternity of the great “I AM.” Many ancient cultures worshiped gods; supernatural beings who ate and drank, married and had families, ruled the skies or waters or land or underworld, fought, loved– some even died. But none of them could say they were “I AM”. I AM stands in the face of doubt and unbelief; I AM remains unchanged and unchanging in the face of progress and technology; I AM defeats our attempts to shrink Him into our own limited understanding and our own limited lifespan; I AM is ever present, ever aware, everlasting.

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And this I AM created each of us to BE. Because of I AM, I can say that I am, too! And my purpose is to be, and to become more like He is, to the glory of I AM, and the fulfillment of what I am in Him.

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Lord, Father, and the great I AM– help me to see you more clearly for who you are. Help me to become more like you, and more like the person you created me to be. Help me to reflect your glory in the words I speak and the actions I take today.

He Knows My Name

The Bible is full of names. Some we know well– Adam, Eve, Abraham and Sarah, Joseph, David, Moses, Mary and Joseph, Jesus, John, Peter, Paul, Mary Magdalene. Others are less familiar–Nimrod, Eli, Darius, Deborah, Ezekiel, Jezebel. Some are just unbelievable– Keren-Happuch, Maher-shalal-hash-baz, Basemath, Abishag, Shammuah, Pallu…you get the idea.

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But sometimes, the Bible seems to get carried away with names. Take the lists of genealogies and “begats” found in Genesis, Matthew, and Luke. Endless names of fathers and sons, tribes, and descents. They can be boring to read; even mind-numbing. But there is also important information included in these lists, if you just take the time to look closely. https://christinprophecy.org/articles/those-boring-begats/

Similarly, in places like Exodus and Leviticus, 1 Samuel, 1 Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah, and elsewhere, there are extensive lists of those who were leaders of clans and families, workers who helped build (or rebuild) the temple and walls of Jerusalem, those who served in the tabernacle, and those who were among the heroes of King David’s army. In the New Testament, there are lists of people in Paul’s letters– greetings, rebukes, side-notes and requests meant for various people who are never mentioned again. Why include what amounts to a post-script in Holy Scripture?

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It turns out that many of these names give us valuable clues about development of the nation of Israel– how the tribes settled and spread out; how they interacted with each other and with the surrounding nations. The names in Ezra and Nehemiah help us connect the returning exiles with their ancestors (and confirm the extent of the destruction of entire clans and families in the fall of Jerusalem). The names in the New Testament show a picture of the early Church– how it spread, who joined the early believers, and where they came from.

What does all this mean to us hundreds of years later? It show us:

  • God’s plans are detailed and inclusive–The Biblical writers did not have to include so many names– they could simply have condensed the story to say that Abraham had hundreds of descendants; that the tabernacle was built; that many people returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple and walls, and that the early Church grew rapidly. But God wanted names included (even the strange ones) so generations of readers would see the scope and detail of God’s unfolding plan. These were real people– individuals–cherished by God and worth including in the Biblical narrative.
  • The Bible is more than a series of mythical adventures or allegories. Many of the names (of people and places) in the Bible have been confirmed in historical and archaeological records– even those that were thought to be “wrong.”
  • God’s plans are universal. The Bible lists include names from various nations and cultures– Jewish names, Egyptian, Ethiopian, and Babylonian, Roman and Greek names, the names of tribes and clans that spread throughout the Earth. God knew them all. God watches over us all.
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  • Each of us has an important role to play in the ongoing story of God’s grace. Our names may not all end up in the pages of Scripture, but our names can be in the Lamb’s Book of Life. God knows the name of every person who has ever existed! He doesn’t call us by the name of our younger sister, or get confused by our nickname or birth/adopted name– He knows us intimately like no one else ever will!
  • Names are important. None is more important than the Name that is above all Names– Jesus. Messiah, Christ, Savior, Immanuel. His is the Name that saves. Let’s call on Him today!

Hello, My Name Is…

Have you ever been to a conference for work, or a large meeting or convention, where you were required to wear a temporary name badge?  It might be a simple sticker with a space to write your name, or it might be a pre-printed card set inside a clear plastic pouch attached to a lanyard or a safety pin.  It may have a stripe or box in a bright color, and/or an introductory word or phrase, such as “Hello..” or “My name is…”
Perhaps you’ve had to wear a name tag for work on a daily basis, or you have to carry an ID tag pinned to your shirt, lapel, or around your neck or waist.

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Such tags serve a purpose; they are functional, if boring, and even if they are also annoying, they are temporary.  Some of them give a little more information, such as where you are from or what company, or plant, or building you represent.  Name tags make it easy to identify someone and put a name to a face.  But a name tag cannot reveal much beyond a person’s name.  Sometimes, a name tag doesn’t even meet that simple criterion.  I have a simple name, Lila, that is commonly misspelled and misspoken.  I have had people look right at my name tag and call me, “Lisa,” “Lily,” or “Leah.” Wearing my name on my shirt or hanging from my neck may (or may not) make me identifiable.  It does not make me knowable or known.

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When we come before the Throne of God, we need no name tag.  God not only knows our name, He knows us intimately– our thoughts, our attitude, our fears, our hopes, our weaknesses and strengths. He has numbered the hairs on our heads, and knows the words we will say before they reach our tongues.

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This knowledge might cause us apprehension– there can be no hiding from God–even if we can lie to ourselves about our actions, motivations, and feelings, we can’t lie to Him.  But this intimate knowledge should also ease our every fear– God knows all about us, and loves us unconditionally.

Prayer can be many things– joyful, contrite, needy– but it never needs to be small talk!

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