After Church – “I Love Being a Christian”, But Not a Disciple

Have you ever met a Christian who’s simply in love with the idea of BEING a Christian?

It’s going to be difficult to convey this concept, so bear with me. I’m not sure whether this train of thought lies exclusively with me, though we we certainly find out quickly.

Of course, we’re not talking about BEING a Christian in the sense of being a disciple of Christ. But, as we know from Acts 11:26 that the early followers of Christ did not have labels until the world bestowed it upon them.

26 and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. And for an entire year they met with the church and taught considerable numbers; and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.

“Christians”, as such, began as more a label and a derogatory terminology than anything else. Subsequently (as these things tend to happen in history), we now bear the name of “Christian” in the popular discourse. Society uses such labels for ease of use and as a weapon of dismissal at the same time. Ever hear someone say “Well, he’s a Christian so his opinion becomes invalid by default”? How many of those atheist/faith debates have I watched where this exact turn of events ALWAYS occurs (who watches them? Me! Because I torture myself). There’s plenty of ways a person eliminates opposition to his/her ideas, and this remains one of the most effective. The mind’s a wonderful but terrible thing, giving us many self-defense mechanisms that we don’t even realize exist until we see how we judge others.

However, and this struck me recently, even the Christian themselves will sometimes take the mantle of “Christian” and use it as a sort of bludgeoning rod for their own beliefs and ideas. I suppose we place Westboro Baptist Church in this vein, precisely because nearly every Church on Earth condemns them vehemently for their hatemongering and otherwise. “God” becomes “what I want”, and the moral pronouncements begin. But there’s a far subtler way that this manifests: the “I Love Being a Christian” style.

We’re embarking on new, possibly really cynical ground here, but follow me and see what develops.

The “I Love Being a Christian” person, well, LOVES the idea of being a Christian. They love the cultural aesthetic, the idea of a supercessionist “special knowledge, the possibility of meeting like-minded individuals, and the involvement in the community. They love “their Church” specifically, taking time to note that other Churches just aren’t like their Church and you should totally go to mine. They don’t like the idea that a Christian navigates a host of social spheres in his/her daily life, and believes that one must stand straightforwardly for Christ in nearly every circumstance. Witnessing happens rather frequently, whether or not the object of said witnessing has checkered history with the Church. Perhaps this makes them reticent to fresh and rude Christians from the outset, not that the witnesser minds – they’re saving people, after all.

Most of all, they LOVE the label. And it is this eros that lands them in a tricky spot. Their brain associates them with a new cultural context – the “Christian” one – and they cannot see past the trees in the whole forest. They’re not a disciple of Christ, but in LOVE with the idea as such. It gives them a license to judge any and everyone, for they believe they are the harbingers of a new Christianity that will lead us all into a new golden age. They don’t say this, of course; that would betray the person of the label, would it not? The concept, then, finds its implementation in other places most insidiously.

We find the label isolates those Christians from society entirely. They betray the old for the new, and burn their bridges without letting anyone else cross along to the other side. What a travesty! The same belief that, in its greatest form, sets us free binds us yet again. Human beings corrupt the content by adopting the form alone. They produce no fruit; such “Christians” show us the useless branch incarnate, blinded by their own co-opting of the Christian message. Everyone knows about them: we see Jesus describe them in Matthew 7:

15 “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? 17 So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 So then, you will know them by their fruits.

21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter22 Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’

These false prophets will always exist, and always continue to do damage. That’s part and parcel of the notion of a sinful world. Yet we must contrast this with a different message, as in Matthew 5:

13 “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men.

Salt preserved food as well as flavoring it. Salt means we do not operate in the cultural model of the world: we accept all. We flavor this world with little pinpricks of light amid a sea of darkness by abolishing those physical and spiritual walls which divide us. Christ bridges the gap so that ALL might have salvation, and that everyone can communicate freely and openly – not so we can seclude ourselves once again! Whatever place we find ourselves, we remain disciples of Christ if not Christians – should we not reflect this in what we do?

14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; 15 nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. 16 Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.

Our allegiance and affiliation should not remain hidden, nor should it bludgeon those around us. Rather, glorify God in what you do and leave the consequences to Him (stolen from Charles Stanley!). We show; we don’t tell. We speak; we don’t remain silent. We remove labels; we don’t place them.

About Zachery Oliver

Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.
  • Yeah. This is why I try to avoid calling myself as Christian. The big issue in our American English is that “Christian” usually means “religious person” to most instead of “one who exhibits Christlike character.” But I still think people get it at a subconscious level even if the linguistic explanation seems like a waste of time. Love an atheist? Get a friend. They might not ever stop believing that “Christian” is a bad word. But maybe they’ll start believing that they’re valued and respected by a believing friend.

    • @Mjoshua Well, I wouldn’t go so far. As far as the thing goes, I am nominally Christian – that’s a fact in and of itself. Still, I can see that using the term does provoke some out-and-out prejudice, but that has been the case in all cultures everywhere (especially for Catholics in many periods and many times).
       
      What I don’t like is people taking the term without knowing/understanding its meaning.

  • “I love being a Chrisitan” — me, ages 12 thru 17.
    “I identify as a disciple of Christ” — me, on my better days, ages 18 to present.

  • Josiah Jones

    I’ve just discovered this website and it looks pretty cool. I know this is an old post, but could you elaborate on this sentence some more?
    “They don’t like the idea that a Christian navigates a host of social
    spheres in his/her daily life, and believes that one must stand
    straightforwardly for Christ in nearly every circumstance.”
    It sounds like you’re saying there are times when true disciples of Christ should put aside their faith and don’t always need to stand up for Christ.

    • Zachery Oliver

      Thanks for the compliment!

      What I mean by that is probably best demonstrated by example. Suppose you know someone who was, at one point, a regular church-going kinda guy. He was a close friend. Bad things happened to him (let’s say parents died, just for hypothetical’s sake), and he blames God for all of it. He becomes an atheist.

      So, do you remain his friends or not? Clearly, he knows that you’re a Christian, and yet your approach to this friendship must change in some respect. If you continue the forthright God talk, when he clearly doesn’t want to hear it, that’s just not very considerate to him. Perhaps he’s just not in the right place of mind and God needs to sort our his heart and baggage. Maybe you just need to be a friend to him, have sympathy for his plight, and see what develops.

      In this context, it’s just not viable to forthrightly state the tenets of the Christian faith, try to convince him, and condemn him for not believing anymore. “Standing up for Christ” is something you do in a debate, not in a relationship. There’s different rules in different contexts that you pick up over time. This is not that time, but perhaps he may be open in the future when you remain a good friend even though you share differences of opinion and belief.

      You’re not putting aside your faith; you are demonstrating it via your actions, not cheap words. Hence the idea of loving BEING a Christian, and not Christ’s follower.

      Hopefully that clarifies things a bit!

      • Josiah Jones

        Okay, yeah, I get what you’re saying now. Thanks for the reply.