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11 February 2008

"Christian" and "Christ-follower"

I was made aware last week that my use of the term "Christ-follower" instead of "Christian" (I use the former probably 95% of the time) might be a pet peeve for some.

First, you're not supposed to have pet peeves! At least, in the past I've asked you to consider whether or not the Christ-follower (oops!) should hold onto them. Be that as it may, I really do understand. "So why doesn't he just say 'Christian?'" you may ask.

I think that it's very important for one to say what he means. This is why some of my posts are often longer than may seem necessary (today's post, anyone?) -- I want to be very deliberate in saying what I mean. Surely I miss the mark sometimes, but hopefully it isn't due to a lack of trying. This post is my effort to let you know why I use a few of the words and phrases I use. You probably will not come down on my side of all of them, but that's okay. It's why I've got this little space on the internet reserved for me and my particular penchant for saying certain things.

On to words and phrases...

I used to have a hang-up about using the term "worship leader," and honestly, I still do, but I've accepted that it is now a very common term. Most often I believe it means "one who leads contemporary-styled music at a church fellowship," and I actually use it in speech here and there (though rarely). I think that the term "lead worshipper" is a little more accurate in describing what should be the goal and ministry of someone in that position, though. A person cannot make other people worship (as I feel is implied in the term "worship leader"), but he or she can worship and those who are able to worship can follow. (Either click on that link or have a look at Psalm 24:3-6 in your Bible.)

There are many titles for the person who organizes and leads music and/or other expressions of worship, and this one can really be a show-stopper for many. I believe that it's an important and worthwhile discussion depending upon the situation. Sometimes it isn't.

Next on my list is the word "church." I tend to call a grouping of believers, whether it's one that meets in a large building or in a home or wherever, a "church fellowship" rather than a "church." I believe that offers much more clarity (a church is not made of brick and mortar, or even cheap steel). When I refer to the worldwide body of Christ, I capitalize the word. On a couple of occasions I've used the phrase "institutional church" to refer to a general organizational structure, but for me this does not always necessarily imply "the body of Christ," because an organizational structure can be steeped in business, tradition, procedure, a club mentality, and "stuff" rather than a pure love for Christ. I'm not casting stones, I'm just telling you about my brain.

(UPDATE: I do not use this term to refer to institutions such as the Southern Baptist Convention, the United Methodist Church, etc., etc.)

Now, "Christ-follower" and "Christian." Below in italics are a couple of entries from Wikipedia (granted, not the go-to source for info, but generally accurate on most topics) on the word "Christian." I should also note that these are not the first definitions or descriptions they list.

"'Christian' also means a member or adherent of a church or other organized group within Christianity. As an adjective, the term may also describe anything associated with Christianity, or even remotely thought to be consistent with Christianity, as in 'the Christian thing to do.'"

"Within countries where Christianity is the historical majority religion, the term is also used by some in a casual generic sense to indicate that they are not members of nor affiliated with any other religion – therefore considering themselves Christians by default."

Below is a cartoon that showcases what many "outsiders" may believe to be true of Christianity. Before you become annoyed and dismiss it as being unfounded, I want you to consider the picture that the we may paint for the world. Is this cartoon heavily biased, or is there any truth in it?

Not everyone may agree with me on this, and that's perfectly fine, but in my opinion the word "Christian," in spite of its origin (originally probably intended to be derogatory, but actually a perfect description of a believer in Christ: "little Christ"), has become rather diluted in modern culture. It is my aim to distinguish between a casual Christian and a Bible-believing, no-holds-barred, I-surrender-all-to-Christ kind of person by using the term "Christ-follower" rather than "Christian." I intend for this to mean "a person who models every facet of his or her life after Christ." This is not simply a person who simply attends church services on Sunday.

So there you have it. Again, I'd be surprised if the majority of you agree with my use of these terms, but I thought it would be nice to let you know that there is at least something happening in my head.


Preston N said...

AMEN AMEN! As a matter of fact last night at church (a gathering of believers at our home) we had this exact conversation. We were discussing what to call ourselves these days. We all agreed that the term "Christian" has become so diluted and sadly has a negative conotation (according to the world the term "Christian" and "hypocrite" have almost become synonomous).

I personally like the term "Christ-follower" or I would even suggest the Early Church term "Bondservant of Christ". This term has a unique definition once you dig into why it was used by Paul and Timothy. Although this might sound a little strange in the 21st century, it does allow for an interesting opportunity to start a discussion with someone about the Lord.

The bigger question here is why has the term "Christian" become so negative?

Cecily said...


Jeff M. Miller said...

I completely agree. I'll admit, however, that because of my indie-fundy upbringing my vocabulary is still somewhat stilted, especially if I speak/write before I think. I prefer the term "Christ-follower" for just the very reasons you've listed.

You should have heard the gasp that rippled through our congregation one day when our pastor was preaching and mentioned some of the other churches in town and said something to the effect, "Did you know that there are a lot of true Christ-followers in those churches too? We're not the only ones in town."

As for the "worship leader" issue, I feel the same way, but with a little caveat. I see my role as a "worship facilitator." Since that entails leading as well as teaching and providing the time/skill/opportunity/training/etc. to help others worship, I tend to use the term "worship leader."

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