Friday, February 27, 2009

Christ-Followers: Does Changing Our Name Change Our Reputation?

It has become popular among some who have chosen to center their lives on the teachings of the Bible to call themselves “Christ-followers” rather than “Christians.” I have yet to hear a strong explanation for this relabeling (if you have one, please share it in the comments!), but I can understand the desire to distance oneself from the connotations associated with the word “Christian.” Christians have gotten a fairly bad reputation as hypocritical, unloving, and out of touch. (The Barna Group has put together a book on this subject, called unChristian; it’s worth a read if you are interested in this topic.)

As a language lover, I can also understand the desire for a new word to distinguish a group of believers who take their faith seriously from a broader cultural group of “Christians,” meaning non-Jews who have been raised in the Judeo-Christian tradition, as opposed to coming from a Hindu or Muslim or other background. A huge difference exists between a person with a vague belief in God who goes to church on major holidays and someone who lives out the precepts of the faith (even imperfectly) on a daily basis.

Nevertheless, I am not convinced that relabeling ourselves as “Christ-followers” will make a positive difference. It would be more beneficial to start living in a way that is consistent with what we say we believe. If we don’t improve our lifestyles, the negative connotations of the word “Christian” will simply be applied to the new term of “Christ-followers,” which is so similar linguistically that I doubt many people outside the faith would grasp the difference.

I am also concerned that in an attempt to distinguish themselves, those who insist on using the term “Christ-followers” create yet another division in a church that is already characterized by far too much disunity and schisms over such minor matters as musical preferences and building styles. The video parodies most frequently cited in the debate over terms are funny, but mocking your spiritual brothers in a forum as public as YouTube is not a good way to improve family relationships.

Having a more precise term for people who are serious about following God might be nice, but we don’t need to change our name as much as we need to change our reputation.

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