Stop Following Jesus. Become a Christian again.

24 Sep

Back in 2002 when I was living in Sudan, I first began to experiment with changing terminology about my relationship to my faith. I was tired of the preconceived ideas of the judgments that came with the term Christian, so I decided to self-identify differently. 

Muslims understand that their Confession clearly identifies them as muslims. “There is no God but God, and Mohammed is his prophet.”  After some work, I came up with my own confession of faith.  “There is no God to God, and Jesus is the savior of the world.”

A few weeks later, I found myself sitting at in event with some Sudanese friends. A gentleman sat down beside me that I didn’t know. Seeing my Sudanese attire, he turns to me and a very typical fashion asks “Are you a muslim?”  

“Here’s my chance!” I think.

I begin using my confession “there is no God but God…” and before I could finish he exclaims, “You are a muslim!” Smiling I said “wait. There is no God but God and Jesus is the savior of the world.”

“Oh,” he says in a dejected voice. “You’re a Christian.”

In recent days, fewer and fewer people are identifying with the labels that are associated with traditional religion. The rise of the “nones” has religious people all worried. And among young people it is never been more in vogue than it is now to say “oh, I’m not a Christian, I’m a follower of Jesus.” 

Here’s the problem.

Language is dynamic. In the early 2000s, I could claim to be a “follower of Jesus”  and know that I could create meaning and add meaning to unused terminology. Today a person can have 5 million followers, 10 million "followers." Their Instagram Facebook, Twitter or Snapchat could exceed that of the population of certain nations. Especially if you are a celebrity,.

Selena Gomez has 133 million followers on instagram.

Katie Perry has 103 million on twitter (https://friendorfollow.com/twitter/most-followers/)

But followers aren’t reserved to music celebrities. Pope Francis has nearly 18 million “followers” on twitter and Barak Obama tops over 100 million.

(The real power lies with the social media networks, who get to determine how many posts are shown to whom. Having followers doesn't guarantee influence or access to all of them. That is controlled by the networks.)

Obviously, in a social media world, being a “follower” has changed meaning. Words from Gay, to the old English for a donkey, to a single cigarette, to this list, the meaning of words changes, sometimes rapidly. 

Is it any surprise, that followers of Jesus are mere observers, sitting watching music being played, listening passively to a speech, and then going back to their lives? Similar to following someone on social media, our current culture appears to promise a faith that says “come and watch.” Following Jesus is a minimal level entry, requiring little more than the occasional showing up on Sunday morning to FOLLOW along as others sing, and FOLLOW along someone special delivers a speech. Occasionally, “influencers” challenge the followers to get behind a project, and they give money. 

Jesus didn’t say “Come follow me.” He said come follow me, AND.. 

Following was the first step to becoming something totally different. 

What I was attempting to do in 2002 was to express something that captured more than a religious category, “Christian.” I wanted a word to express something I felt was not captured by the label “Christian.” But for my muslim friend, Christian was simple enough.  My life would be the final measure defining me. Not some fancy mantra I created, or my new personal brand. 

Maybe we should stop following Jesus. Maybe we should become Christians again. But rather than letting others define the word, let our actions and beliefs and behaviors literally come to mean once again what the word originally means. “Little Christs.”

“Come, follow me, and I’ll make you evangelists for the Christian faith.”(fishers of men.)

Come, follow me, and leave everything behind.” (He who does not leave mother and father, family and friends, is not worthy of me.)

Come, follow me, suffer humiliation, rejection and shame. (take up your cross)”

Or just unfollow me. 

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