Why I'm Still a Christian (and not a "Christ Follower")

It has been somewhat of a fad, or trend of late, to mess with words. Now I happen to like words, and think the change of meaning that comes over time affects some words but not all, and  certainly not at the same rate of change anyway. So in the current time words and their meanings are overturned with an increasing rapidity, and this bothers me, especially when it comes to how we speak of God, Jesus Christ, Salvation, His church, etc.

One example is the popular play on words, “Christianity is a relationship (with God, or Jesus) not a religion!”

Oh really? Does the Bible speak this way? The English Standard Version (ESV) and the King James Version (KJV) do not use the term “relationship” even once. The New American Standard Bible (NASB) uses it once to describe husband and wife. The New International Version uses it 5 times, but only two of those in reference to God. On the other hand, Eugene Peterson’s The Message uses the term “relationship” 25 times, and uses it especially in Galatians in opposition to another misunderstood word, “religion.”

The phrase that sets “relationship” against “religion” is not really helpful. If one takes a look at how the word “religion” gets used in the Bible, it will be seen that the word is sometimes in a positive light (James 1:27), sometimes negatively (Colossians 2:23), and sometimes almost in a neutral sense (Acts 25:19). Interestingly, at least for those of us who count such things, The Message uses the word “religion” 171 times, only one of which is in a positive light! To compare, the ESV uses it 5 times.

All this is to illustrate: we must be careful that our Bible translating, and our reading, do not create issues that the Bible doesn’t, and thus create straw-men to knock down. I believe the popular “religion vs relationship” thing is like this. It is a false dichotomy, and it sets up a great line of attack from atheists, who already believe we Christians are subjective, squishy thinkers. This keeps us from getting at the nonsense that is atheism, but that’s another post.

Now don’t go burning your copies of The Message. It is an informed translation of the Hebrew and Greek by a working Pastor. But we need to keep in mind that it is an introductory Bible, not a study Bible. It is a starting point for anyone who has really found the Bible inaccessible; but Christians need to move on.

My greatest problem with The Message is that it is a sort of “boutique Bible,” which, I fear, is a product of our time. We like our religion (excuse me, relationship with God) as we like it. It becomes a sort of “have it your way” faith.

And that’s the problem. In attacking “religion” at almost every opportunity, Peterson fails to distinguish between true and false religion, or hypocritical religion. I know full well that that was not his intention, but I cringe every time I hear that phrase without the understanding that needs to go behind it. It is glib and easy to say, and is dangerous because so much of anti-religion is simply a mask for anti-authority. We bring our rebellion to church, baptise it, and take an “only God can judge me” stance (or tattoo).

Christians or Christ Followers?

So what does this have to do with being a Christian rather than a “Christ follower?” Well, for one, is that the name of those who belong to Jesus? Even The Message only uses it one time (Ephesians 4:12, generic for “saints”). The Good News version uses it one time in 1 Peter 4:14, “Happy are you if you are insulted because you are Christ’s followers; this means that the glorious Spirit, the Spirit of God, is resting on you.”

So look at all the times  Christian is is found in the New Testament (not being found in the Old Testament at all):

Acts 11:26: and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.

Acts 26:28: And Agrippa said to Paul, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?”

1 Peter 4:16: Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.

Just three times! So you might wonder, why I care so much to be called a Christian, but not a “Christ Follower.” Here are two reasons:

First, the argument against being called a Christian runs something like this: “So much evil, so much stupidity, has been done in the name of Christianity, that we need a new word to describe ourselves; we follow Christ, and since we want to be like Him, we want to be known only as His followers.” Noble intentions. Summarized, though, it seems that we are embarrassed to be called Christians. We are ashamed of the religion of Christianity, although not ashamed of Christ. But remember that being called a Christian in Nero’s court could bring a lot more upon oneself than ridicule. The world will never really like Christians, and especially that name.

A second reason I call myself a Christian is the better of the two: Look again at Acts 11:26:

“and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.”

It’s that word, “called” that needs to be unpacked. It isn’t a common word, like “named,” or such. The world “call” in English occurs 304 times in the New Testament. But “call” can translate several different Greek words. In Acts 11:26, that Greek word is χρηματίζω (chrematizo). The usual Greek word is καλέω (kaleo), φωνέω (phoneo), προσκαλέω (proskaleo), and others. I think kaleo is the most used, however, and no, I didn’t look it up.

But in Acts 11:26 we find a word that occurs just 9 times out of the 304 listed above. That word is χρηματίζω (chrematizo). See how it is translated:

[Disclaimer: If you don’t read Greek, it will look like the words I boldfaced are not consistently the same. This is because the spelling of Greek words change as they are used differently in a sentence. The “root” of each of the words is the same one word, χρηματίζω (chrematizo). Ya gotta trust me on tis one.]

Matthew 2:12

καὶ χρηματισθέντες κατʼ ὄναρ μὴ ἀνακάμψαι πρὸς Ἡρῴδην, διʼ ἄλλης ὁδοῦ ἀνεχώρησαν εἰς τὴν χώραν αὐτῶν.

And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.

Matthew 2:22

Ἀκούσας δὲ ὅτι Ἀρχέλαος βασιλεύει τῆς Ἰουδαίας ἀντὶ τοῦ πατρὸς αὐτοῦ Ἡρῴδου ἐφοβήθη ἐκεῖ ἀπελθεῖν· χρηματισθεὶς δὲ κατʼ ὄναρ ἀνεχώρησεν εἰς τὰ μέρη τῆς Γαλιλαίας,

But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee.

Luke 2:26

καὶ ἦν αὐτῷ κεχρηματισμένον ὑπὸ τοῦ πνεύματος τοῦ ἁγίου μὴ ἰδεῖν θάνατον πρὶν [ἢ] ἂν ἴδῃ τὸν χριστὸν κυρίου.

And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.

Acts 10:22

οἱ δὲ εἶπαν· Κορνήλιος ἑκατοντάρχης, ἀνὴρ δίκαιος καὶ φοβούμενος τὸν θεόν, μαρτυρούμενός τε ὑπὸ ὅλου τοῦ ἔθνους τῶν Ἰουδαίων, ἐχρηματίσθη ὑπὸ ἀγγέλου ἁγίου μεταπέμψασθαί σε εἰς τὸν οἶκον αὐτοῦ καὶ ἀκοῦσαι ῥήματα παρὰ σοῦ.

And they said, “Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and to hear what you have to say.”

Acts 11:26

καὶ εὑρὼν ἤγαγεν εἰς Ἀντιόχειαν. ἐγένετο δὲ αὐτοῖς καὶ ἐνιαυτὸν ὅλον συναχθῆναι ἐν τῇ ἐκκλησίᾳ καὶ διδάξαι ὄχλον ἱκανόν, χρηματίσαι τε πρώτως ἐν Ἀντιοχείᾳ τοὺς μαθητὰς Χριστιανούς.

and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.

Romans 7:3

ἄρα οὖν ζῶντος τοῦ ἀνδρὸς μοιχαλὶς χρηματίσει ἐὰν γένηται ἀνδρὶ ἑτέρῳ· ἐὰν δὲ ἀποθάνῃ ὁ ἀνήρ, ἐλευθέρα ἐστὶν ἀπὸ τοῦ νόμου, τοῦ μὴ εἶναι αὐτὴν μοιχαλίδα γενομένην ἀνδρὶ ἑτέρῳ.

Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress.

Hebrews 8:5

οἵτινες ὑποδείγματι καὶ σκιᾷ λατρεύουσιν τῶν ἐπουρανίων, καθὼς κεχρημάτισται Μωϋσῆς μέλλων ἐπιτελεῖν τὴν σκηνήν· ὅρα γάρ φησιν, ποιήσεις πάντα κατὰ τὸν τύπον τὸν δειχθέντα σοι ἐν τῷ ὄρει·

They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, “See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.”

Hebrews 11:7

Πίστει χρηματισθεὶς Νῶε περὶ τῶν μηδέπω βλεπομένων, εὐλαβηθεὶς κατεσκεύασεν κιβωτὸν εἰς σωτηρίαν τοῦ οἴκου αὐτοῦ διʼ ἧς κατέκρινεν τὸν κόσμον, καὶ τῆς κατὰ πίστιν δικαιοσύνης ἐγένετο κληρονόμος.

By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.

Hebrews 12:25

Βλέπετε μὴ παραιτήσησθε τὸν λαλοῦντα· εἰ γὰρ ἐκεῖνοι οὐκ ἐξέφυγον ἐπὶ γῆς παραιτησάμενοι τὸν χρηματίζοντα, πολὺ μᾶλλον ἡμεῖς οἱ τὸν ἀπʼ οὐρανῶν ἀποστρεφόμενοι,

See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. 

Look at each of these passages! Matthew 2:12 and 22, “warned in a dream;” Luke 2:26 “revealed;” Acts 10:22 “directed by a holy angel;” Romans 7:3 “called” (by the law of God);  Hebrews 8:5, “instructed;” Hebrews 11:7, “warned by God;” and Hebrews 12:25, “him who warns.” Who is it that warns, reveals, directs, calls (as in naming), and instructs? Each of these are Divine actions. Save that thought for a moment.

On of the myths about Acts 11:26 is that the name “Christian” was attached to the Jesus movement by its enemies; it was a term of hatred, scorn, and derision. But how does that square with the way the word is translated throughout the rest of the New Testament? Well, it doesn’t, actually. While the name Christian has been, and will be, a term of ridicule and rejection, it is also the name God chose to describe the disciples. It would not be inaccurate to paraphrase Acts 11:26 something like this: “And in Antioch the disciples were first divinely called Christians.”

All Christians are Christ-followers; it’s what we do! But we are named by God, and names matter!