To Be Called By His Name

Christian or Christ-follower?

I seem to remember being taught by my Mother to not say words or repeat things I didn’t understand. So truly I had no excuse to have picked up and used the words “Christ-follower” to describe “who I was”.  Fortunately, that fit was very short lived as I found out what that phrase meant exactly and who coined it. (Yes, Emergent Church warning…)

I am very happy and content to be called a Christian. It is an honor and I will never again go seeking after another cool or hip phrase to be called by. It is enough to be called by His name.

This is an excellent article on that very thing from Lighthouse Trails Authors —(yes, think – Beth Moore, Richard Foster, Basil Pennington, Henri Nouwen, Rick Warren, etc, etc…the gang’s all there!)

Christian or Christ-follower?

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 series on YouTube.com called “Christian No More” (by Christian Community Church) 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. One contemplative advocate, Rick Warren, had the term throughout his former pastors.com website. Lee Strobel refers to it in his book Case for Christ (Student Edition), and Wesleyan pastor David Drury has a Christ-Follower Pop Quiz on his web site to help determine if you are really a “Christ Follower.”

This theme of anti-”Christian” sentiment is not going to disappear any time soon. In emerging church leader and labyrinth promoter Dan Kimball’s book called, “They Like Jesus, But Not the Church,” the idea is that you can go for Jesus, but you don’t have to identify yourself as a Christian or part of the Christian church. This concept spills over into some missionary societies too, where they teach people from other religions that they can keep their religion, just add Jesus to the equation. They don’t have to embrace the term “Christian” (see The New Missiology).

So what’s the problem? So what if you want to be a Christ follower instead of a Christian. Well, the problem, when identified, will show you why the Spiritual Formation movement (which is promoted by Purpose Driven, Willow Creek, the emerging church, etc) is so dangerous and misleading.

Let us explain. If you have researched the teachings of contemplative authors, you may have noticed a common message. That message says: If you want to be like Christ, then practice these certain disciplines and you can be like Him. Chuck Swindoll bought into this when he wrote his book, So You Want to Be Like Christ: Eight Essential Disciplines to Get You There. But Swindoll exalts one particular discipline – the silence. In fact, he goes so far as to say you can’t become a deep, meaningful Christian without it. Beth Moore, in the pro-contemplative film, Be Still, says: “[I]f we are not still before Him [God], we will never truly know to the depths of the marrow of our bones that He is God. There’s got to be a stillness.” And this is what contemplatives teach. The one common thread woven throughout spiritual formation teachings is that the silence and being a Christ follower are practically synonymous. You can’t have one without the other. And of course, this silence is induced through meditative practices such as centering prayer, lectio divina, etc.

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. Richard Foster teaches that anyone, not just believers, can practice contemplative prayer and become like Christ.

Now here lies the difference between a Christian and a Christ-follower. A person who is truly born-again has Jesus Christ indwelling him. Jesus lives inside that person. And it is His life in him or her that gives the power to become progressively more like Him (sanctification), as Paul said in his address to Corinthian Christians: “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord” (II Corinthians 3:18). The believer draws his strength and power from Jesus Christ (who indwells him), and he realizes his salvation and any good thing in him is from Christ; as the Scripture says: “Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:9).

But being born again or having the indwelling of Jesus Christ is not a prerequisite for the Christendom of today. Spiritual formation can be practiced by anyone. Jesus becomes a model or an example who can be followed and mimicked. For example, Ken Blanchard, says Jesus is a perfect model to follow. That’s why he talks so much about leading like Jesus would lead. But Blanchard has shown time and again that he believes meditation is a key factor in becoming like Jesus.

While Jesus was and is a model, that wasn’t His primary mission. And when people refer to Him as a model, it is often because they see Him as a model for higher consciousness rather than the unique Son of God, Emmanuel (God with us) who came to die for us and be our Savior. And that’s what you find across the board in contemplative writings. Contemplative icons Thomas Merton and Henri Nouwen saw Jesus in this manner. This is why Nouwen said it disturbed him when he heard people say Jesus was the only way. He said it was his mission to help people find his or her own way to God (see Sabbatical Journey). That’s also why he saw India as a source for many spiritual “treasures” for the Christian. 1 In an eastern religion like Buddhism, Buddha was a model where his followers were imitators of him. But in Christianity the Spirit of Christ indwells us through faith. So Jesus becomes more than a model; He is a living presence in us. “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” (Hebrews 11:6).

This is actually the heart of the whole spiritual formation movement. It supposedly teaches you how to be like Christ, but the power to do this doesn’t come from Jesus Christ living in you (in fact that isn’t a requirement, according to Richard Foster) – but the power to change has to come from somewhere. Where? It comes from meditation! So anyone at all, from any walk of life, from any religion, can be a “Christ follower.” But this does not mean they have Jesus Christ in them. The contemplative prayer movement is misguiding millions into believing that if they practice certain disciplines they can be like Christ, thus securing their spiritual well being. They may come to believe that they have a christ consciousness and are Christ like, yet they do not have the actual power of Christ within. That power can only come from the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.

But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name (John 1:12).

For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek (Romans 1:16).

For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God (I Corinthians 1:18).

This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come … Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof” (II Timothy 3:1,5).

The man who virtually wrote the book on the subject (Centering Prayer), Basil Pennington, made the point of what we are trying to say when he penned these words:

It is my sense, from having meditated with persons from many different [non-Christian] traditions, that in the silence we experience a deep unity. When we go beyond the portals of the rational mind into the experience, there is only one God to be experienced.

Another majorcontemplative promoter stated:

The new ecumenism involved here is not between Christian and Christian, but between Christians and the grace of other intuitively deep religious traditions.–Tilden Edwards

These two men have both been leaders of the contemplative prayer movement for decades. And it is important to note that evangelical leader Richard Foster endorsed Edwards’ book, Spiritual Friend, from which this last quote came (see back, Celebration of Discipline). Both Pennington and Edwards would call themselves Christ followers, following in the same spiritual path as Jesus Christ followed. But as you can see, both Pennington and Edwards do not accept the view that believing the gospel is a vital prerequisite for having a relationship with the living God. Otherwise they would not have said the above. With this mindset, the message of the cross is rendered useless. And so the question that we must ask ourselves is this: Will we, who have Jesus Christ living in us, call ourselves Christians? Let those of us who name the name of Christ, stand and say, yes, we will be called Christians.

For a complete analysis and documentation of contemplative spirituality and its infiltration into Christendom, we encourage you to read A Time of Departing.

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21 thoughts on “To Be Called By His Name

  1. Mkayla – this was a very interesting post to me. I tend to stay away from all these guys and gals instruction/teachings listed. Don’t care for the influence in my life and cling to the pure Word of God. So I wasn’t aware of the connection between their sideways beliefs and the term Christ-follower. Perhaps a good reason to pay a bit more attention 🙂

    HOWEVER – what I see happening in the Christian community – how far it is from the Word of God and truth, what Christians have modeled – it has made me want to distinguish myself apart from that somehow – because the label Christian carries so much that I don’t believe – not the true gospel, but what it has come to represent as man’s religion. So what do you call yourself? I feel if I say Christian – I need a lengthy explanation to explain where I’m coming from. But perhaps that’s an opportunity . .

    Anyway, I really appreciate you shedding light on this topic. I haven’t prayed about this – but it’s a good one. Thanks for the prompting.

    Rachel

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    • Hi Rachel.

      I understand your feelings toward the word “Christian” and what it can imply these days. I keep thinking of the scripture that states believers were first called Christians at Antioch. I believe I’ve heard it taught that it was not the believers themselves that came up with it, but the public. It can only be the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives and our conduct that can separate us from those who are not true believers regardless of what we are called or what we refer to ourselves as. Who knows. Maybe one day soon those who are not true to the faith will begin to call themselves something completely different. Most of them think they are becoming gods anyway in one form or another.

      Thanks for the great comment.

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      • Thanks for your feedback . . . I was praying about this today – and I felt God was telling me not to worry about the label – but just let the actions speak for themselves. People will always be doing something we don’t agree with – we can’t change every time that happens! He reminded me of Paul and how wayward some of the early Christians were but that didn’t change who he was – he identity. I took that as not worrying about the label. And to use the opportunity when asked to share more of the truth.

        Again, thanks for bringing this up because I talked to God about it for the first time and have a “peace” and understanding about it I didn’t have before.

        Rachel

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  2. I don’t like the term “Christ-follower” because it means that you can follow Christ while remaining in another religion; that’s the reasoning of many who use the term.

    Also, “Christ-follower” carries a connotation, so prevalent in evangelicalism today, that Christianity is what one does, rather than what one believes.

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  3. Hello!

    Wanted to make a comment, as you are writing something about a book that is not accurate. I assume you have read not actually read the book “They Like Jesus But Not The Church” due to what you wrote about it.

    If you read it, you will first find the “THEY” is not Christians, but people who aren’t Christians (yet). You also will read it uses the term “Christian” and never says not to use that term. Also the main thrust of the book it that if someone is a Christian, they are part of the church and that Jesus loves the church as we are His bride. It is a totally pro-church book.

    It also has a whole chapter about Jesus being the only Savior and why all paths don’t lead to the same God. So you had that part incorrect too about what you were inferring.

    So not sure where you got your information about the book, but it was the opposite of what you mentioned here in this post.

    Wanted to clear this up, as that isn’t what is in that book. Thank you!

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    • Hi Dan.
      Fair enough. I didn’t read the book, but I also didn’t write this article and is why at the beginning I stated it was from Lighthouse Trails. They do quite a bit of research into these areas. The article isn’t just about the one particular book, but about the Emergent Church morphing Christianity into something other than what it truly is. Many are being deceived in this process as they are trading in bible reading and study for book reading and following after these misguided teachers.

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      • Dan, you said –
        It also has a whole chapter about Jesus being the only Savior and why all paths don’t lead to the same God.

        This is good, but does the rest of the book reflect the true Jesus, and the bible as a whole, the infallable word of God? Would the rest of the book reflect the true teachings of the bible?

        Oftentimes the problem is found in what is not being said, the difference between what is right and what is almost right.

        Be careful. 🙂

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  4. Perhaps this is one way of putting it? To be a “Christ Follower” anyone can say. Just as anyone can say a “buddah follower” or whatever. Still it does not make one Buddah for one can not have the spirit or “life” of buddah, whereas one CAN have the Spirit of Jesus within them by being born-again. Therefore, that makes a Christian.

    Anyone can say they are a “Christ follower” by doing one good deed. But… is he born-again? Has he repented? Has he been washed anew by the blood?

    But to be “Christian” is to actually be born-again AND believing the scriptures in all things.

    Then there is the definition of WHICH “christ” does one follow. As we know, there are many who will come in His name but He warns us of them. Therefore the “christ” they follow, is one made in the image of man or devils.

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  5. Welcome back! Great post and full of truth.

    “They may come to believe that they have a christ consciousness and are Christ like, yet they do not have the actual power of Christ within. That power can only come from the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.” I recently heard a Pastor say we just have to “PLUG INTO” the Holy Spirit. Made me crazy.

    Gal 2:20 I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ LIVETH in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.

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    • The power they “plug into” or call to “come” (as in the older days) is not the power or presence of the Holy Spirit. If He is indwelling, why would we need to call for Him? Good points my friend!
      🙂

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  6. Those who like to use the term “Christ follower” often use it to mean that you can follow Christ while remaining in another religion.

    Also, the term seems to imply that Christianity–make that “Christ followerity”–emphasizes what you do, rather than what you believe.

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  7. Trust that all is well with you. I call my self a born-again believer. To-day its amazing what they call a christian one just shakes there head. Now we have this again changing the name Christ follower. Far as I’m concern these people are forever changing you can’t keep up to it all. As the scripture says “Satan roams seeking to whom he can deavour.”he never sleeps. I’m glad for sites like this and Moriel,RH, and Lighthouse trails. To enform us what is out there and to help keep us on our guard. No matter what you can not get away “One has to born-again” in order to see the kingdom of God. It does not say Christian.

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  8. “Christian or Christ-follower?”

    Every industry has to keep updating its product line. The christian industry is no different. They have to come up with new gimmicks to keep the sales going.

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  9. I read this and smiled. No problem on this end. I’ve always told whoever asked that I’m a believer. A believer in my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

    Christ follower? Try a grafted into the family, child of the King of Kings and the Most High God. Saved ONLY by His sacrifice – which He did strictly because of His love for me.

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  10. Kind of reminds me of the 70’s when Christians were being called “Jesus Freaks” as if that was cool or something… something better to follow than Christianity itself, which IS JESUS. “Christ follower” could come to mean any “christ” that comes along and one would not have to adhere to the doctrine of christianity. That way, EVERYONE could be a “christ follower” when the anti-christ shows up pretending to be the true God/Jesus.

    I bet cha oprah is a “christ follower.”

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  11. Sorry for more or less saying the same thing twice. I forgot I already responded. LOL! My memory is not what it used to be!

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  12. To follow Christ Jesus is a biblical term. According to Vine’s it is used 77 times in the Gospels as “following” Christ. So I say to all the true believers, disciples and followers of the Lord Jesus, use the term every chance you get. Use it and let your life and doctrine verify the biblical meaning: To follow Him, adhere to His teachings, believe He is Who He says He is, and obey Him.

    I’m tired of the New Agers hi-jacking all things Christian and twisting it into something else.

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