Who’s still a Christian anyway?
Across various social media platforms, people are renouncing Christianity. YouTube videos entice viewers with the tagline, “Why I’m no longer Christian.” Articles and blogs share the same sentiment giving the impression that The Great Apostasy is in full throttle!
According to a study conducted between 2007 and 2014 by the Pew Research Center (2015), the number of those who identified as Christian fell from 78.4% in 2007 to 70.6% in 2014 with the greatest decline in the Mainline Protestant denominations. While the data does seem to support the idea of “a gradual falling away from the faith”, there is a greater conversation to be had among those who call themselves Christians. Therefore, rather than focus on why Christianity seems to be declining, I want to concentrate on why we call ourselves Christians and what is a more accurate description?
Why are we “Christian” in the 1st place?
The word “Christian” started as a moniker given to Jesus’ disciples by Gentiles to either mock the up and coming followers of this new faith or to simply distinguish them from Judaism (Easton’s Bible Dictionary). There are only three instances that the word is found in scripture. The first instance is found in Acts 11:26 where the disciples were first called Christians by the gentiles in Antioch. The second occasion is found in Acts 26:28 and is used of King Agrippa II while speaking to the Apostle Paul. The last occurrence is used around 64 A.D., by the Apostle Peter. Peter is writing to believers scattered throughout the provinces of Asia Minor, to share in the sufferings of Christ and to be happy to suffer for the name of Christ or “as a Christian.” Here we see Peter, perhaps, reclaiming a derisive term and using it as a badge of honor (I Peter 4:16). Almost 100 years later, Justin Martyr, a first century Christian apologists, uses the term Christian in his “First Apology” in 155 A.D. Over time, it became a term that believers adopted of themselves and has been with us ever since.
Following Christ not religion!
Several years ago, I decided I no longer wanted to refer to myself as a Christian. I made this decision because the term has become synonymous with the religion, traditions, denominations, doctrines, and practices of men rather than pure devotion to the Messiah (John 4:21-24). I have since come to identify myself by what Jesus called us…his disciples. Jesus himself refers to his followers as disciples.
John 8:31-32 31 Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, if ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; 32 And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.Matthew 10:24-25 24 The disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his lord.25 It is enough for the disciple that he be as his master, and the servant as his lord. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more shall they call them of his household?
In both passages, while Jesus was speaking to his followers, he referred to them as disciples. Even while Jesus is delivering what we call, “The Great Commission” (Matthew 28:18-20), he is speaking of discipleship not adhering to the religion of Christianity.
Mathew 28:18-20 (KJV) 18 And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. 19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: 20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.
While the King James version uses the term “teach all the nations” the New Living Translation says to make disciples of all the nations.
Matthew 28:18-20 (NLT) 18 Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, [a] baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
The actual word being used here or the correct phrase is matheteuo (Strong’s #3100, GK #3411) which means to make a disciple of, or to train in discipleship. Disciples are simply learners or followers of Jesus and as his disciples, we are instructed to go and make more disciples. Disciples are those who learn from Christ’s teachings by obeying his commandments (Matthew 28:20) and demonstrating his love to others (John 13:34, 35). By doing these two things, we will prove that we are his disciples. This is certainly a lot less complicated than adhering to denominational doctrines or shifting through the various meanings that people ascribe to what it means to be a Christian.
Discipleship should be the focus of who we are as a body of believers. The point is to learn from and be transformed by the redemptive work of the cross and the teachings of Jesus. It shouldn’t be how many church programs we put on, how much church doctrine we can recite, or whether our church has a soccer team. While understandably, many have chosen to not identify themselves as Christian, the point is NOT to deny the Messiah or abandon his teachings. The goal is to shun vain religious practices that distract us from what’s truly important and press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:14)