Christian or Christ-follower – the difference


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Acts 11:25-26

25 Then departed Barnabas to Tarsus, for to seek Saul: 26 and when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.

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Controversy is escalating, in the world and the Church. It’s easy to get upset. The use of the term ‘Christ-follower’ has bothered me so I looked into it. The results may surprise you, especially if you’ve been using this term with the best of intentions.

Thinking about controversy, and this one in particular, has made me feel as though I were living in the pages of E.H. Broadbent’s book, The Pilgrim Church. On page 265, there is a helpful quote by the Baptist pastor John Bunyan:

I will not let Water Baptism be the rule, the door, the bolt, the bar, the wall of division between the righteous and the righteous…The Lord deliver me from superstitious and idolatrous thoughts about any of the ordinances of Christ and of God…Since you would know by what name I would be distinguished from others, I tell you I would be, and hope I am – a Christian, and choose, if God should count me worthy, to be called a Christian, a believer, or other such name which is approved by the Holy Ghost.

The case can be made that Christ-follower is not approved by the Lord, as the following article explains, since anyone may be a Christ-follower by trying to become like Him.

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Christian or Christ-Follower – Two Terms with Different Meanings

By Lighthouse Trails Editors

So what we are witnessing is countless teachers, authors and leaders telling people they can become like Christ through a method that can be learned.

“Christian or Christ-follower. It’s a distinction that is being made more and more today, and often the latter term, Christ follower, is replacing the former term, Christian. Even many Christian leaders are making the switch. But just what does it mean? Emerging church leader, Erwin McManus says his “goal is to destroy Christianity as a world religion and be a recatalyst for the movement of Jesus Christ.” In McManus’ book, The Barbarian Way, he talks about being “awakened” to a “primal longing that … waits to be unleashed within everyone who is a follower of Jesus Christ.” McManus says that the “greatest enemy to the movement of Jesus Christ is Christianity [i.e., Christians].” A video on YouTube.com called “Christian No More” (by Christian Community Church) [link broken] exemplifies this view by portraying those who call themselves Christians as shallow church-goers who wear suits and ties, have Christian bumper stickers on their cars and prefer the King James Version. This belittling video is evidence that it is increasingly more popular to call oneself a Christ follower rather than a Christian.

“Interestingly, most of the leaders who seem to be downplaying the name Christian and promoting the appropriation of the term “Christ follower” are contemplative spirituality proponents….”

Finish reading at Lighthouse Trails…

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If you’re into mysticism, why aren’t you content to walk by faith? Isn’t it true that without faith it is impossible to please the Lord? Why are you going beyond the doctrine of Christ?

Hebrews 11:6

But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.

Why are you ashamed to be known as a Christian? Do you hope to win the lost by distancing yourself from folly or worse in the Church?

We will always be maligned. We need to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ though disgrace falls upon us and be grateful for the name He has given us.

1 Corinthians 15

15 Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; by which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: and that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: after that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time.

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39 thoughts on “Christian or Christ-follower – the difference

  1. I recognize this ‘movement’ more easily now but at first, I was very confused by language like mine but with a very different meaning. This ‘movement’ encompasses many smaller movements, and individuals who share the same intent of destroying the church, as they believe she has failed, and then replacing the church. Those I’ve talked to and read their writings, identify as the new Israel, and believe they replace the Jews and traditional Christians as the true children of God. Some, even espouse violence as a method to accomplish this vision. Books of the OT such as Joshua, which I consider Jewish history with spiritual truths that I personally, apply, they regard as a game plan for taking America and Israel ‘back’. What I find disturbing is the intent toward traditional Christians and Jews that isn’t loving but hateful. I think many have been hurt by the church and have legitimate gripes but make the mistake of painting all traditional Christians with a broad brush. I’m trying harder now to look beyond the words of Churchese and see the intent behind them. It takes time and each person must be given individual consideration. These are confusing, deceptive times. I think it is part of “the great falling away”.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Pam, are you referencing the groups you did once before? It sounds like you are – thank you, because we still needed to talk about this.
      As Tom noted, there are Christians who use the term Christ-follower for a follower of Christ, a Christian, and so it does become confusing. About those who are not using it to mean a Christian but something different, with the intent of destroying Christianity as we know it: it’s true that they believe that the Church has failed. The question becomes, how can that be when Jesus promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against the Church and that He would be with it always?
      There is no new Israel but only one – believing Israel (descended from Abraham, the father of all who believe) made up of first of Jews and then Gentiles grafted in.
      So these groups you’re referring to want to succeed – that is, conquer the world for Christ – through violence? But always there has been simply a believing remnant that has suffered oppression and not inflicted suffering! Admittedly this is a vast number as witnessed in Revelation but still the few, the remnant, His children.
      At least one player in this aggressive, prideful, and carnal movement is a knight of Malta, which is an honorary in both Freemasonry and the Church of Rome.
      So good to talk with you! If in anything I misstated what you believe, please correct me.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I think we believe pretty much the same, Maria but get tangled up on terms. In my creative writing, I try to be Biblical but use terms that non-Christians can understand. Maybe, I’ve developed my own brand of Churchese in the process. I also, embrace the teaching in Romans regarding the relationship between Jews and the church. I should re-iterate that some extreme portions of this ‘movement’ I’m trying to understand accept violence as a way to promote their agenda. I don’t think everyone is like that but still, the over-all theme is taking back America and Israel, as they believe the church has failed. They are anti-Catholic but also, embrace replacement theology and have a crusader mentality. I believe there is the organized institutional church and the universal church made up of genuine believers in Christ. My form of church is independent and local. Even though, I’m struggling to find that kind of church in my area. I believe the tares and the wheat grow together until the harvest. I believe God will sort the wheat from the tares but those who embrace this newer theology seem to see themselves as instruments in that process. They do want to destroy the traditional church by changing foundational teachings and then ridding it of those who won’t convert to the new theology. They also, believe that the church must be perfect before Jesus returns. Some believe in the Rapture but many don’t. Many are also, non-Trinitarian. It easily encompasses many cults. I could go on about the details of this forever. I’m still trying to understand some things. The internet has changed many things. Who is the “knight of Malta”?

        Liked by 2 people

        • Hi, Pam! It’s clear that you’ve been thinking and praying about all that’s happening around us, distressing things that send us back to the Word of God.

          Rick Joyner is a Knight of Malta by his own admission. I haven’t read this very lengthy piece:
          https://www.morningstarministries.org/about/questions-and-answers/knights-malta-rick-joyner#.VqwEZJorIdU

          Will the Church be perfect before Jesus returns? For one thing, He told a parable in which both believers and unbelievers were sleeping when the Bridegroom returned, the wise and foolish virgins. He also asked if He would find faith on the earth at that time,

          Luke 18

          18 And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint; 2 saying, There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man: 3 and there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary. 4 And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man; 5 yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me. 6 And the Lord said, Hear what the unjust judge saith. 7 And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them? 8 I tell you that he will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?

          He will always set us straight.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks, Maria but I humbly and politely disagree. There are certainly many more who call themselves “Christian” who are far outside of orthodoxy than those unorthodox who use the term, “Christ-follower.” So should we then also jettison the word, “Christian”?

    The definition of the Greek word Χριστιανός (Christianos) literally means “follower of Christ.” It makes perfect linguistic sense to use “follower of Christ” or “Christ-follower” in place of “Christian.” I won’t stop interchanging “follower of Christ” or “Christ-follower” with “Christian” just because some unorthodox like Rick Warren and emergent mystics use the terms.

    I understand “Christ-follower” may be unsettling to some who are only used to hearing “Christian” but “Christ-follower” actually conveys the meaning of “Christianos” more fully in the English than “Christian” does. I certainly respect your personal decision not to use “Christ-follower” but I a don’t agree with suggestions that using it is ipso facto an indication of bad theology.

    Thanks for “listening” to a different viewpoint.
    Your brother,

    Liked by 1 person

    • Tom, yes, a Christian is a follower of Christ. So why not say that instead of Christ-follower? Yes, using this term isn’t wrong in itself, that I know of, however in English word order brings nuances. Is there anything in the use of a compound noun in English, something that is red-flagged when compound nouns are used? This should be researched. I checked just a bit and the compound nouns used as examples placed the essential item second, such as, Boy Scout, Girl Scout – the Scout is the more important thing, Not the best example – it’s worth investigation. You’re a creative writer, right? Me too – Pam also. Word order and compounds and tense, etc. – it all subtly alters meaning. Plus, what pleases our English speaking ears? For me, Christ-follower is not that great. When I saw a use of it in one of your posts, I was a little disappointed but thought that this term is becoming more common if I can find a true Christian using it. I know what you believe!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks, Maria. I’m certainly not advocating a wholesale switch from “Christian” to “Christ-follower” but I like to use the more literal translation of Christianos now and then. “Christian” has become such a generic term and it’s often spoken or written without much, if any, thought behind it. As you know, millions claim to be “Christian” while at the same time denying they need to be saved by Christ. Using the literal translation, “Christ-follower” of “follower of Christ,” at least slows the listener or reader down for a second or two to consider what Christianos actually means. How can it be wrong to use the literal translation of a word? This strikes me as splitting hairs to the nth degree.

        Again, I respect your decision not to use “Christ-follower” but it’s a mistake to lump everyone in with heretics who may also use the term now and then. As I stated before, they also betray the word, “Christian.” Some of the other comments in the thread, that using “Christ-follower” is an attempt to be “rad” and “cool” and somehow slights those who use “Christian” exclusively is personal opinion that paints with a very wide brush. Sherry’s sarcastic comments below are meant to insult and it’s unfortunate the discussion went there. So, let’s agree to disagree on this. This is a matter of personal preference, not orthodoxy.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Tom, yes, there are those who call themselves Christians who have dishonored the Lord and made the name odious to some people. But this name is mostly associated with all that is holy and loving.

          It is never good to paint with too broad of a brush, unfairly generalizing. It is good to have you as part of this discussion, but I pray it doesn’t leave you a little unhappy. Forgive me if I’ve done wrong here.

          Continue to do the work of an evangelist, my brother! Lord bless you!

          Liked by 1 person

  3. I am reading a book from the early ’90s and this term is used. I’ve known of this term for some time and, even though “Christian” means “follower and disciple of Christ,” I’ve always seen it as a method to re-image following Christ Jesus as something “cool” or “rad.” Christian=bad. Christ-follower = good. Well, in an attempt to distance oneself from those horrible legalistic Christians they have now, today, been about the business of rescuing Jesus from the Church! They want you to look at Him as the Teacher He is, not so much as the Savior like those uppity Church going Christians do! Christ-followers want to give Jesus a makeover so that He will be more palatable. Bring out the blow-up “Jesus” doll with his wink and a thumb up! Kewl!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sherry, thank you for your insights, which I really enjoyed, and for letting me know that this term is at least as old as the 90s. Yes, it is perhaps kewl and rad in the eyes of some people. (I’ve seen the INCREDIBLE HIDEOUS image you referred to.)

      I’m so surprised at how many Christians despise the Church. I despise what I left. It’s so true that we are flawed, but He is returning for a bride who will dress in white. He is in charge. The gates of hell have never and will never prevail. Rescuing Jesus from the Church – a good way to put this. (Tom, we’re not picking on you truly!)

      For myself, some of this desire to distance ourselves from the Church comes from a low view of what the Lord ordained and a high view of sinners who we must coax in by saying – we’re not like those people. But we are like them, faulty and flawed, but Jesus has sanctified us, set us aside for Himself and His purposes, and we are full of His life – He will change us.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I’ve blogged about that, but not with quite the same perspective. It’s a really good article. I’ve merely talked to it as dumbing down / changing biblical language to appeal to the young and cool, as has been said. . Also, I can be a follower of anybody. It reduces Christ to a moral model and not a lot more. I’m glad to say I am a ‘Christian’. It means so much more!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Dan, so good to have you comment! Since you have blogged about this, would you put a comment here giving us the link?

      I agree that this term has appeal, such as to the young who want to distance themselves from our errors and failures, however this is about how language works, and the term does reduce the Lord to a moral model as you said. A follower of Christ is better but still misses the mark, as Sherry said, by omitting the fact that He is our Saviour.

      Yes, as John Bunyan said – who was glad of any term for us that was approved by the Holy Spirit – I love to be called a Christian – it is a blessing. We are the brethren, Christians, Christian brothers and sisters.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Nice post Maria. I think we can get too wrapped up in words, as sometimes what they mean to me might not be what they mean to you. We come from different backgrounds and many other things. But in the context of how many use it, the term Christ follower is used a lot by people who want to say the church has failed and Christianity as well. Therefore I am not a “Christian” I am a Christ follower. That’s bad news. There are people who make that claim who have no other guide they use other than what they feel like Jesus told them over coffee this morning.

    On the other hand, Tom has a point too, many claim the label of Christian who are as bad, or worse.
    In fact, I bet Satan gives a good belly laugh when we all get to arguing over words when In actuality we are all more or less saying the same thing. You say potaaaaaaaaato I say potahto..something like that right?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi, dear Wally! Listen – you’re right that we shouldn’t wrangle about words – the Word of God forbids this. However, discussing them is an important part of study and fellowship. Of course there are people who claim the name of Christian who are very bad – very very bad. So do we invent a new term for those who bring honor to the name? Or simple recognize tares.

      That is an old song my Mother who loved to sing used to sing – potaaaaaaaaato I say potahto? But are you really thinking of Veggie Tales?

      :0)

      Liked by 3 people

      • Would you believe I have never seen veggie tales?

        Yes, we should talk about words. They matter a lot. And this conversation has been great, as it has been talking and not arguing. The way it should be.

        Liked by 1 person

        • This is a song from my childhood when there were many old films on tv that I watched. I remember singing it – my Mom sang, and she sang this and lots of songs I remember. Thanks, Miguel!
          However…. hmmm, I’m not sure that this discussion is like that, though to be frank, very few people benefit from arguments. That is why preaching the Gospel is so much better – infinitely better – than apologetics. Please forgive me, anyone here who does this. It is a ministry too but of a different kind, watering the imperishable seed?

          Liked by 1 person

          • No, I did not insert the song as a sample of my opinion (this I say should the content of your reply be meant to see my intent like that). I like what appears to be your ministry….
            Strong, controversive, challenging, in your face, winningly, steadfast, standing your ground yet self effacing without compromise. I threw the song in due to all the mentions relative to the song. And I understood the conversation to say that it could be attributed to “Veggie Tales”, which I’m sure for lack of material they would sing it without stating whence they got it from as so often happens nowadays kids sing old stuff thinking it to be original and new.
            I consider myself an Apologist who makes no apologies (for the record). I explain patiently ( I know you employ kindness and patience), point out the understanding, IE that I can see why they are turned off, yet then in elucidating what I think are more comprehensive observations, I make no apologies. Thanks Maria

            Liked by 1 person

  6. I often point out how that Christians are responsible more than non Christians for turning people away from Christianity, but this observation does not give me a excuse to not call myself a Christians. In fact at times I write Christians with quotes to raise the question as to whether they really are Christians who foolishly do hurt the cause of Christ. It’s nonsense for any one to give just cause for making this distinction based on authenticity. And yes, a Christ follower I would tend to picture as a pre Cross, pre crucifixion follower, not approaching the Plan of Salvation but instead being prepared in faith for the need of the Crucifixion. I’m aware there are countless more objections. Great work thou restless woman (lol).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Miguel, yes, perhaps this is a term for some who are not yet there, at the Cross, and so they are pre Cross. But some who use this are true believers.

      About Christians being a bigger stumblingblock to unbelievers coming to the Lord than unbelievers are – this was not my own experience, for one thing. The Christians I knew were so wonderful, shining His light. And though we fail – sometimes BADLY – I don’t think this is true for a couple of reasons. Biblically, according to the Lord’s words those whom the Father gave to Him will come to Him. They can’t come to Him unless the Father draws them to Him. Also, to think we are usually the reason why people don’t repent seems like an accusation of the Adversary.

      Thank you for all your comments and encouragement! May the Lord direct you!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Maria,
    Thank you for sharing this. I have a difficulty with the term Christian because it is used by so many who are false, Catholics, Orthodox, Liberals, Mormons, nominal Christians, etc. I prefer to call myself a believer on Jesus Christ. That is what I am. I have believed on Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, Who died on the cross for my sins and rose again from the dead for my justification. I have faith that everything that God tells me in His Word is true, most especially true about His Son Jesus Christ, Who is the ultimate subject of the Scriptures. Amen!

    Liked by 1 person

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