There was a time when the Christian label was more representative of those who wanted to be like Jesus. As a whole they reflected what He stood for. They were initially referred to as “Followers of the Way,” and were first labeled “Christians” in Antioch. I have a hunch that it may have been a derogatory label, much like the phrase,“Jesus clone,” would be today. But they wore it as a badge of honor because they truly wanted to imitate Jesus with their lives.
Sending Mixed Signals
Increasingly the Christian label sends mixed signals that mean different things. For some it is a symbol of genuine faith, and we celebrate that when it occurs! But more and more, the Christian moniker is colored with overtones that stir up division and hate. For example, the KKK claim to be a Christian organization.
The idea that God, guns, and country represent the “holy grail” of the American Christian spirit is offensive to the gospel narrative. Scripture teaches that God’s Kingdom focuses on peace-making, and is about uniting rather than dividing people. Nationalism and nation worship is foreign to God because He values each person alike—regardless of their country of origin, race, or ethnicity.
“For God so loved the WORLD that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16, NIV).
“Faith in Christ Jesus is what makes each of you EQUAL with each other, whether you are a Jew or a Greek, a slave or a free person [black or white], a man or a woman” (Galatians 3:28).
When God looks at the world, He doesn’t see race, gender, economic status, or national borders. He views all of humanity as an integrated whole. We are the product of His ingenuity and power.
Those who ignore, or refuse to acknowledge this view of God, miss experiencing a dimension of living that is impossible to explain. Yet many who don’t profess a religious faith of any kind manifest more civility and kindness than some who claim to bear Christ’s name. Why is that?
Millions of “Christians” today wrestle with how to be identified in a culture that has dramatically changed. The last thing we want to do is use a label that has the potential to alienate and confuse the very people we are trying to share Jesus with.
“The Barna Group, one of America’s leading polling organizations focused on religion, conducted a sweeping survey of non-Christians aged 16 to 29, in 2007. It found that a new generation had grown skeptical of and frustrated with the Christian faith because of negative personal experience with Christians whose words and actions seemingly misrepresent Christ. A shockingly high number of respondents said they perceived present-day Christianity as judgmental (87 percent), hypocritical (85 percent), and anti-homosexual (91 percent). The study concluded that a concerning number of young non-Christians believe that Christians are, well, ‘unchristian’” (The Atlantic, Jonathan Merritt, April 24, 2020).
“In our most recent research for Faith for Exiles we found that many of the negative perceptions remain, and that those who walk away from the Church are most often struggling with the hypocrisy of other churchgoers,’ Kinnaman said. He added that those who are most resilient in their faith report experiencing a religious community that is ‘emotionally connected to the real-world pressures facing this generation, including mental health, loneliness, anxiety, and depression’” (David Kinnaman, The Barna Group).
“As the writer Ben Howe, author of The Immoral Majority: Why Evangelicals Chose Political Power Over Christian Values, observes, ‘The more he [the President] fights, the more they [some Christians] feel justified, like, he’s our hero because we needed someone to do this for us. Trump’s appeal is not judges. It’s not policies. It’s that he’s a sh..-talker and a fighter and tells it like it is. That’s why they like him. They love the meanest parts of him. So much for turning the other cheek and loving your enemies’” (The Atlantic, by Jonathan Merritt, “Some of the Most Visible Christians in America Are Failing the Coronavirus Test,” Sept. 24, 2020).
As a Jesus follower, when I read stuff like this, I want to distance myself as far as possible from those who have maligned the Christian name. With their lust for political power, they have prostituted the gospel for temporal ends.
Many Christians today believe they are called to build the kingdom of God on earth. A recent Supreme Court nominee reportedly said, “A legal career is but a means to an end. And that end is building the kingdom of God.” Nowhere in Scripture are Christians called to “build the Kingdom of God.” In fact, Jesus said the Kingdom of God is within you, meaning we can be included if we let God establish His principles within our hearts.
Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). If He had wanted to establish His Kingdom on earth, He would have done so some two thousand years ago while He was here.
“Today in the religious world there are multitudes who, as they believe, are working for the establishment of the kingdom of Christ as an earthly and temporal dominion. They desire to make our Lord the ruler of the kingdoms of this world, the ruler in its courts and camps, its legislative halls, its palaces and market places. They expect Him to rule through legal enactments, enforced by human authority. Since Christ is not now here in person, they themselves will undertake to act in His stead, to execute the laws of His kingdom. The establishment of such a kingdom is what the Jews desired in the days of Christ. They would have received Jesus, had He been willing to establish a temporal dominion, to enforce what they regarded as the laws of God, and to make them the expositors of His will and the agents of His authority. But He said, ‘My kingdom is not of this world.’ John 18:36. He would not accept the earthly throne…Not by the decisions of courts or councils or legislative assemblies, not by the patronage of worldly great men, is the kingdom of Christ established’” (Desire of Ages, E. G. White, p. 509-510).
“Men will surely set up their laws to counter-work the laws of God. They will seek to compel the consciences of others, and in their zeal to enforce these laws they will oppress their fellow men” (Desire of Ages, E. G. White, p. 763).
I now understand now why Revelation 18 describes Babylon [apostate Protestantism] as a “home for demons.” She is a hideout for every foul spirit, a hideout for every foul vulture and every foul and dreadful animal” (Revelation 18:2). Scripture predicts that many of those who profess Christ will become the worst offenders of what Jesus embodied. The Apostle Paul predicted the time would come (in the last days) when many of Christ’s professed followers would exemplify all of the qualities of the underworld:
“You should know this, Timothy, that in the last days there will be very difficult times. For people will love only themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful. They will consider nothing sacred. They will be unloving and unforgiving; they will slander others and have no self-control. They will be cruel and hate what is good. They will betray their friends, be reckless, be puffed up with pride, and love pleasure rather than God. They will ACT RELIGIOUS, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. Stay away from people like that!” (2 Timothy 3:1-5, NLT).
This is a description of many today who call themselves, “Christian.” That isn’t to say there aren’t good people in churches, because there are. But many religious leaders today have lost their focus on God’s mission, and in so doing their efforts have become political and offensive. This is exactly what Scripture prophesied would happen before Christ returns.
A Way Forward
I choose to be identified simply as a follower of Jesus. I don’t follow Him perfectly, and each day I ask God to show me how to do it better. But when I say I’m a “Jesus follower,” people understand what I’m trying to do.
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God to save those who believe (Romans 1:16).
Rich DuBose writes from Northern California.© 2002 - 2020, AnswersForMe.org. All rights reserved. Click here for content usage information.