According to researchers, this seems to be a growing trend in America.
I’m meeting more and more “Christians” who no longer refer to themselves by that title. One lady wrote recently, “I'm not a Christian -- the package no longer fits me. Jesus isn't confined to Christianity -- and in fact, I'd go so far as to say that Christianity gets in the way of truth.”
A man recently told me that he no longer checks the “Christian” box on any forms, choosing to write-in “Believer in Jesus” instead.
In the sense that he remains a follower of the teachings of God’s Christ, Jesus of Nazareth, yes, you would STILL refer to him as such and I’m certain he would STILL check that box on a form, given no other options.
In light of these – and many other – responses to the Religion issue – perhaps there are a few things all Modern Day Followers - Disciples of Jesus - should consider:
Did you know the word "Christian" appears only three times in the New Testament? The New Testament's use of this term indicates that it was a term of derision, a term placed upon Christ's followers by their critics. Not unlike, for instance, the British reference to America’s colonists, “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” A “dandy” was considered a derogatory term for a person with pretensions above his social status. “Yankee” was also highly derogatory and referred to a coward. British troops used it to mock American Colonial militias who, untrained and undisciplined, often broke and ran before the advancing Redcoats. In time, as the tide of the Revolution turned, the young Americans embraced the term and it stuck. In fact, in 1917, George M. Cohan released his hit song “Over there” which featured the lines, “…Send the word, send the word, Over There, That the Yanks are coming, The Yanks are coming…”
I’ve noticed that homosexuals are doing the same with the word “Queer.” Other subcultures have done similarly with derogatory words applied to them by other groups.
We find the term “Christians” in Acts 17:28 (NIV) where King Agrippa, an unbeliever, said to Paul, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?" It is also found in 1 Peter 4:16 (NIV): "However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name." This text indicates that early believers in Christ suffered persecution for being "Christians." In fact, in 1 Peter being a "Christian" seems almost synonymous with suffering (1:6,7; 2:12,19-23; 3:9-17; 4:1,12-19; 5:9).
This thought leads us directly to the third text that uses the term "Christian." It appears in Acts 11:27 (NIV), where we read, "The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch."
This key text tells us two things about those who bore the title of “Christian.”
First, "Christian" was not so much a name that they chose as a name that was APPLIED to them (they were CALLED Christians by others). This is consistent with the observation that it was a term placed upon them by hostile critics.
Next, it was a term that was placed on "the disciples." This helps us to establish the meaning of the term: A Christian is a disciple, a follower of Christ, one who places their faith in Jesus as God’s Christ.
Finally, a Christian is one who is prepared to suffer for the sake of Christ, if necessary. This suffering, as we have seen, is described in detail by Peter. It entails a life patterned after the life and death of Jesus, a life of service to God and others.
Perhaps, like me, you were taught that “Christian” literally meant “a little Christ.” Not so, according to Zondervan’s Bible Dictionary.
It states that the word is derived from the Greek, Christianos. It says, “The Latin termination –ianos, widely used throughout the [Roman] empire, often designated the slaves of the one with whose name it was compounded.”
“Slaves,” not “children.” Not “followers” or “friends,” not “companions” nor “colleagues” or even “brothers.”
The word referred to “Slaves.” Paul referred to himself as a “bondservant” of the Christ. A dictionary definition of a “bondservant” is someone bound to labor without wages. A synonym of bondservant is “slave.”
God permitted people to be slaves under the Old Covenant. But God's Law didn't allow His people to mistreat slaves. The way slavery was practiced in America’s Southern states and elsewhere was/is completely against the principles of the Word of God. In Deuteronomy 15:12-15, God guarantees that slavery, for a Hebrew, is not permanent. It's not for life. The longest time a Hebrew could be kept in slavery was six years, and when he was set free in the seventh year, he was to be released with livestock and food. Why? So he wouldn't have to sell himself again the next day in order to get a bite to eat.
In verse 16, we read: “But if your servant says to you, "I do not want to leave you," because he loves you and your family and is well off with you, then take an awl and push it through his ear lobe into the door, and he will become your servant for life. Do the same for your maidservant.”
A slave could go free at the end of six years of service, but they didn’t always jump at the chance. There would be slaves who did not want to go, those who had a hard time earning a living, for whom the room and board they had as a slave was better than anything they'd been able to find for himself. They might have grown comfortable with their master and his household over the past six years, and could not bring themselves to leave.
In such cases, a slave’s master would pierce the slave’s earlobe with an awl as the slave pressed his head against the door of the house, a very clear statement that the slave was going nowhere and was permanently fixed to this house and this master. It became traditional to put in a gold earring after the awl was removed and that slave could never go free again. He could never be sold, either. He became more than just a slave; he became a servant who was permanently attached -- bonded -- to his master, a bond servant. Such bondservants were usually trusted with more of their master's affairs than a normal slave would be. Although still servants, they often were considered part of the family.
The apostle Peter called himself “a bondservant of Jesus Christ” in 2 Peter 1:1. So did Paul in Romans 1:1 and Titus 1:1 so did James in James 1:1, Jude in verse 1, and John in Revelation 1:1. All these mighty men of God started their letters with a declaration of bondservanthood, thus emphasizing its importance. The word is also applied to Moses in Revelation 15:3.
What did this word mean to them? It meant they had voluntarily given up their freedom to walk away from their Master. They said, "I love you, Lord, and I don't want to leave You." It meant that God had marked them as His servants for life. They couldn't be separated from their master by anything or anybody.
As you’ve already seen, as Disciples of Christ, we are self-proclaimed FOLLOWERS of Jesus, the One who said He came as an example (Jn 13:5). We are to be “imitators of God,” (Eph 5:1) and follow His example through Jesus.
I just searched BibleGateway.com and found over 50 New Testament references (Amplified version) to the phrases, “Follow Me,” “Following Him,” “Followed Him,” or “Follow Him.”
Bearing that in mind, why are “Followers of Christ” so quick to tell people we are “Christians” – with pride, mind you, as if we were declaring allegiance to our high school football team or political party - thereby alienating ourselves, causing prejudices to rise up in others? We’re forcing people to classify us. They’re usually lumping us in with televangelists, wild-eyed preachers overzealous Christian parents, and the most judgmental, hypocritical, venomous, hateful, intolerant, repulsive religious bigots they can think of.
As a Workplace Chaplain, it isn’t long after meeting me that I am usually asked to what denomination I am affiliated. Typically, I gently decline from answering that question, kindly informing them that far too many people will judge me by my answer, thereby eliminating any opportunity for future ministerial assistance.
The individuals who ask generally agree and admit to “getting my point.”
A friend who works with ex-cons said he no longer refers to himself as a Christian. Rather than opening the door to prejudgementalism, he said most people seem better able to handle hearing that he is a “Follower of the teachings of Jesus Christ.” As Bruxy Cavey writes in “The End of Religion, “Muslims see Jesus as a Great Prophet, Jews see Him as a Rabbi, He’s an enlightened one to the Buddhists and an avatar to the Hindu.”
It appears that many religious groups will acknowledge the greatness of Jesus, but it’s Christians, Ministers and The Church with all its “Christianese” to which people seem to have the greatest aversion. As soon as a religious-sounding word like “Christian,” “Baptist,” “Catholic,” “Presbyterian,” church, or some other solely Christian reference is made, an individual’s intellect kicks in, they classify you, and any opportunity to love them, minister and introduce them to “Christ in you, the hope of glory” is, too often, gone.
I had this thought recently as I was waking: A man is abducted by radical Muslim Extremists. With a blindfold on, the man asks his captors why they have taken him and what they plan to do with him. “You are a Christian and we are directed to kill all infidels such as you.”
The blindfolded man pauses a moment and declares, “But I am NOT a Christian. What I AM is a follower of the teachings of Esau – Jesus, the holy man who is named 97 times in the Koran. Are you familiar with His wonderful teachings? You should hear what He said about having a peace that passes all understanding, an unspeakable joy, and having all your sins forgiven! Have you heard? Wouldn’t you love that? His words offer eternal life to all people and can take away our guilt. He showed us all how to love our enemies and live in harmony with the world. Would you like that? No, I am not a Christian, my friend. Just a man, like you, trying to love God the very best way I know how…a way that was shown to ALL mankind by Jesus who said, “…[God’s] commands lead to eternal life; so I say whatever the Father tells me to say,” (John 12:50).
The issue is obviously not so much Christianity as it is RELIGION. The word, according to any dictionary, stems from the Latin re (return) ligāre (to bind), literally means, “a return to bondage.” This is contrary to Jesus who showed that He came to set us free and that there is liberty in the Spirit. He had few good things to say to the religious rulers of His day, defining pure religion as taking care of widows and orphans, NOT one’s adherence to manmade traditions and doctrines in an effort to attain God’s favor or even to express devotion.
Simply put, if Christ is IN US and Christ is IN THEM, whatever we do to them has been done to Him. We will never demonstrate devotion to the Fatherhood of God until we learn to show our love to the Brotherhood of Man. If that sounds “New Age” or “Universalistic” to anyone reading this now, all I can say is, “thank you for proving my point!” Why are we so inclined to categorize people and judge their allegiance and methods as they worship to their Creator?
Not much different than Cain and Able, is it? We’ve all been there. We must ALL repent, change our minds about how we feel about the people God loves and Jesus died for because, frankly, not one of us has attained our full spiritual stature, myself included.
Religion through the ages has always been a source of contention that has led to great amounts of bloodshed. Whether it was the Crusades, persecution of Christians by Christians, murders between Irish Catholics and Protestants, or Hutus and Tutsis of Africa, religion can most always be found as the basis of our feuds.
So, why is it that mankind instinctively tries to “perform” religious duties to express devotion to God? Truth is, we often “do things” that fall under the category of “Worship” to everyone but God Himself, that is (read Isaiah 58:2-8).
The reason we are always striving to express ourselves in various modes of worship, I believe, is that we are programmed to jump through hoops all our lives in an effort to win our competitions. We find value and seek personal identity in our victories and approval by others for doing well. Whether it’s a prize, a gold star, a blue ribbon, a bonus, a promotion, a handshake or public recognition, we are desperate for approval.
God’s grace flies in the face of that kind of thinking. Often defined as “God’s unmerited favor,” His grace tells us, “I love you so much, no matter what, and it was all made possible because of Jesus – the One who ALREADY did all the work.”
Most people find this to be a wonderful sentiment but, with our Religious mindset, it has a flaw: it isn’t in our DNA to receive acceptance without performance, thus explaining why so many Believers are still in bondage to their past, their thoughts and their habits.
According to a March 2009 survey released by The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, those with NO RELIGION, ironically, make up America’s fastest growing “Religious” tradition. In fact, three huge trends were revealed from that survey: (1) the "nones"—people claiming no religion—constitute the only "Religious" tradition that's actually growing in all 50 states, (2) nearly 40 percent of mainline Protestants now also identify themselves as evangelical or born again as a generic form of evangelicalism is emerging as the main form of non-Catholic Christianity in the USA, and (3) the nation's massive Roman Catholic population has shifted from the Northeast to the Southwest, mainly because of the growing Hispanic population.
I contend that it’s not Christianity, Catholicism, Islam, Judaism, Pentecostalism or any other faith-related LABEL that people find so repulsive; it’s Religion itself.
After all, Jesus had nothing good to say to the religious leaders of His own day. Why would today’s religions offer anything different?
Here’s how I see it: Religion is man’s attempt to reach God. People are “wired” to seek after their Creator and, as a result, typically turn to religious institutions to do so. It’s what we do. Once we arrive, expecting to learn more about God or receive a blessing from Him, we are generally reminded how sinful we are, become burdened with guilt, and then learn all the religious “stuff” we must do in order to gain acceptance with the group and, hopefully, with God. After all, we are DYING to be accepted. Once this religious input fails in alleviating our fears, doubts, guilt and bondages, we either look elsewhere or turn to irreligion. Some will stick with it and are eventually rewarded with titles and positions of authority within our group while others – a rapidly-growing number – are turning our backs on Religion in order to continue to seek after God. Sadly, there are those who will cease to believe in God at all after these negative experiences.
Several months ago, as I was sharing with a group of women in a restaurant, I asked the ladies how many of them attended a traditional church. All but one of the groups of about ten. I asked one of the ladies who no longer is affiliated with an institutional church to share her story. She explained that she had never received anything but judgment from the churches she and her family had attended. “They don’t like my piercings, the fact that I attend N.A. meetings, or that my husband has been in jail. On the other hand, these ladies don’t judge me. They know all about me and accept me anyway. I love coming to work every day because, for me, I’m coming to church. These are my sisters.”
The entire table agreed.
As you may know from my writings, my wife and I participate in the growing House Church movement. Millions of Americans each month no longer attend church services as they pursue a more New Testament expression of BEING Church rather than GOING To Church. As I speak, write and teach others on this topic, I am sure to warn them NOT to allow dissension to enter in. The last thing The Body of Christ needs is another "us against them" Spirit to gain access, wedging its way between the Church-Attenders and the House Churchers. What many fail to comprehend is that we are ALL The Church, ALL the time; in a pew, a workplace cubicle, a recliner or a restaurant.
Jesus had this to say to the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law who piled high the religious do's and don'ts upon people who were seeking after God: "...what sorrow also awaits you experts in religious law! For you crush people with unbearable religious demands, and you never lift a finger to ease the burden." (Luke 11:46, NLT). He also said: "... Hypocrites! For you cross land and sea to make one convert, and then you turn that person into twice the child of hell you yourselves are!" (Matthew 23:15, NLT).
As God said to Joshua, "Moses is dead!" The Law-Giver was and is gone forever and yet, we continue employing rules and regs that burden and divide us. In John 5:45, Jesus told the Religious Leaders, “...it isn’t I who will accuse you before the Father. Moses will accuse you! Yes, Moses, in whom you put your hopes." In other words, their own desire to obey the laws of Moses while placing others under that same burden, would keep them from experiencing God's perfect Law of Liberty, the moral instructions taught by Christ, ESPECIALLY regarding love of God and others.
No, the problem isn’t with Jesus; the problem is clearly with Religion. Many believe One World Religion is the answer. Sure, so long as it’s THEIRS! To all those Jihadists for whom world domination by Islam is the goal, or the Christians seeking world evangelization through its many sects – according to the recent Pew Statistics I cited, both parties should take not: NO RELIGION at all seems to be the growing trend and preference of a growing multitude.
Truth is, it’s the popularity of Jesus that seems to be on the rise these days. Just look at the sales of Wm. P. Young's book, "The Shack" and Rick Warren's "Purpose Driven Life" as proof. People of all kinds of spiritual backgrounds seem to be seeking after something more than what’s been made of Him and more than what Religion itself has had to offer. Many are finding it repulsive to hear this group choosing sides against that group over issues such as spiritual gifts, speaking in tongues, women in ministry and carpet colors. They see a different house of "worship" on every street corner and wonder, “Where’s the love?”
As a Workplace Chaplain, allow me to encourage you NOT to share RELIGION with your coworkers. Instead, share the love of CHRIST with them. Let them know how much God loves them, how much He needs them, how much He desires to build His Kingdom with them. At all costs, do not judge them, do not talk about church, do not use religious phrases, do not remind them how sinful they are...they already know all that and it's what they were expecting you to say. Share Christ with them and introduce them to Him. Love them.
Remember, "love" is a verb; an action word.
Do you fit into the group that prefers to no longer refer to themselves as "Christians"?
Are those newly released statistics talking about YOU?
If so, I’d like to hear from you. My belief is that there are vast multitudes of people reading this now who feel this way. Send me an E-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.