In the last twenty years or so, the phrase “Muslim follower of Jesus” has been used to identify those who allegedly accept Christ in their hearts, acknowledge him in their mind, yet still retain their Muslim identity. My big question is: “Can you call yourself a follower of Christ, and by the same breath deny that you are a Christian?”
John Travis (pseudonym), mastermind of the C1-C6 spectrum would say an emphatic “yes.” In an article under the title “Messianic Muslim Followers of Isa.” Travis (a pseudonym) writes: …
“Messianic Muslims,” follow Christ but remain within the Muslim community….Yet they do not view or call themselves “Christians.” (1)
These are called by Travis, C5 believers. Here is how he defines this group:
“C5 believers identify themselves as “Muslim followers of Jesus”– much like Messianic Jews, who call themselves “Jewish followers of Jesus.” (2)
Joshua Massey (pseudonym) elaborates further on what C5 Muslims look like. He writes,
“C5 Muslims … don’t have to bother with religio-cultural gymnastics. They know they are Muslims, and they know they have been transformed by the Spirit of God.” (3)
Travis and others argue that the name ‘Christian’ carries bad connotations and therefore must not be used. Strangely, Muslim identity with all the negative connotations it carries is preferred over the Christian Identity.
What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus?
The phrase “Follower of Jesus” is biblical. The Disciples of Christ are those who responded to his call to follow him and they became known as “followers of Christ.” Since this phrase is borrowed from the gospels it behooves us to look into the meaning of this phrase according to Jesus and how the disciples understood it to mean.
The gospel of Luke 18:18-30 (4) tells us the story of a rich young ruler who came to Jesus and asked him:
“Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
After some dialog and how the rich man had followed the law to the letter, Jesus shocked him with these words:
“You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
The man was wealthy Luke says, so he went away sad. Jesus then turns to the disciples and says:
“How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
The disciples and others in the audience were astonished by this serious judgment from their master. It is evident from the question they asked their master that they understood that salvation is impossible without totally abandoning everything to follow Christ.
“Who then can be saved?”, they asked.
Following Jesus is not about a social identity, joining a club, a cult or the “way.” It is about salvation. And this is not humanly possible. Jesus asserted:
“What is impossible with men is possible with God.”
Jesus is saying to his disciples about the rich man that to be a follower of Jesus means to leave everything behind. Obeying the law to the extent this rich young man did was not the path of salvation. To inherit eternal life is to lose earthly life and build the treasure in heaven. You cannot have your cake and eat it at the same time. The rich young ruler wanted eternal life in addition to his earthly wealth. Jesus told him “impossible.”
The secret to the man’s salvation was not selling everything, it was following Jesus. The implication here is that you cannot follow Jesus and hang onto anything. Therefore you cannot be saved if you hang onto anything.
When Peter witnessed this dynamic between Jesus and the ruler, he affirmed to Jesus: “We have left all we had to follow you!”
These words by Peter explain what actually happened when Jesus first called his disciples. (Matthew 4:20)
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. (Matthew 16:24)
He said to another man,
“Follow me.” But the man replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” (Luke 9:59)
Still another said,
“I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family.” (Luke 9:61)
Many Christians would agree that Jesus did demand denying self, carrying the cross, and leaving the old life in order to be a follower of Christ. Some however argue that a follower of Christ can remain in their family and socio-religious community.
The contrary is seen in the Mark 10: 17-31 passage we find Jesus not accepting the excuse of caring for our parents and even saying good-bye to our families. This is quite harsh. But this is what Jesus told us following him means. He clearly assures his disciples:
“I tell you the truth,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields — and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life” (Mark 10:29-30).
The gospels record for us what Jesus meant when he called the disciples to follow him.
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters – yes, even his own life – he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26).
“Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven. Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law – a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’ Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:32-39).
These verses alone are enough to convince us that following Christ includes leaving everything for his sake. Everyone invited to follow Christ needs to be told about the cost that is part and parcel of the call to follow him. Following Christ is not a meaningless action. You cannot follow Christ in your heart and openly dissociate yourself from him.
I am aware that at least in India and the Middle East, Muslims who come to Christ, are asked if they would be ready to give up everything for Christ. They need to count the cost early on. They must be able to withstand the hardships they will most assuredly face down the road. If they are fearful or hesitant, I encourage them to wait until they are ready. Of course I do not leave them alone at this stage. I work with them and study the word with them and explain the cost of following Christ. The results are usually much better than just extracting a sinner’s prayer from them without an understanding of the cost. Those who come to Christ knowing the cost are usually more passionate and understanding of the spiritual battle. They make a choice between the world and God’s kingdom, between their lives in the flesh and their lives in Christ. Jesus pointed this out to his disciples: “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it” (Luke 9:24).
“Follower of Jesus” is not an identity
The way proponents of the Insider Movement use the phrase “follower of Isa” has no resemblance to the teachings and model of Jesus. The phrase is used as a title or identity to replace “Christianity” or “Islam.” The intent is to allow Muslims to be followers of Isa within the Islamic identity. Thus the Insider Missionary is more ready to throw out the Christian identity than the Muslim one, therefore elevating Islam above Christianity.
Jesus did not ask his disciples to be “Followers” but to follow him. Following him means to follow in his steps, to emulate his lifestyle, to lose everything in order to win Christ.
It is sad that the beautiful words describing the disciples has lost its original New Testament meaning. It is a romanticized phrase that, the way it is being used, has become meaningless.
I am sure some will bring up all sorts of arguments about what “leaving” means. But a sincere reader of the gospels will only conclude that following Jesus means openly identifying with Christ and forsaking the old life. Nothing, no family, no society, no culture can separate us from Christ. To follow Christ means to leave everything else, even life itself.
Christ and Christianity are inseparable:
I have talked to a number of those who promote the idea that you can be a follower of Jesus without being a Christian. They seem to think that they have discovered the secret of dispelling Muslim misperceptions about Christianity. I have found that arguing with them even for hours would yield nothing but frustration on both sides. While they are intent on preserving the Muslim identity for “the followers of Isa,” they are eager to wipe out the Christian identity.
I am afraid this is naive. The truth is that as soon as you mention Christ in context of the Bible, you are tagged as a Christian whether you like it or not. There is nothing you can do about that perception. If you continue to insist like so many are doing, that you are not a Christian but that you are a “follower of Jesus,” you will end up confusing people who have not heard of this new cult. We must accept the fact that Christ and Christianity are tied together and are inseparable. Certainly there are misperceptions about what Christianity is, but I find it useful to redefine Christianity. Muslims understand that within Islam there are those who are nominal, others are fanatic and yet others are moderate. It is typical for Muslims to accuse other Muslims of not being Muslim. Why can’t we just admit the truth that Christians come in all sorts of shapes and colors. We need to instruct the new converts that a true Christian is one who follows Christ. A true follower of Christ is a true Christian.
The reality is many of the converts who meet Christ are confused by why Christians are so ready to throw out the baby with the bath water.
The discipleship process requires that we distinguish between cultural Christianity and Biblical Christianity. We are not calling Muslims to cultural Christianity as much as we must not promote the idea of retaining cultural Islam. Christ is above both Muslim and ‘Christian’ cultures. The converts must be encouraged to associate with the Jesus of Biblical Christianity while acknowledging the wrong in cultural Christianity.
The answer to the question in the beginning of this article is this: No you cannot claim to be a follower of Christ and deny being a Christian. This would be dishonest, confusing and not true. To follow Christ is to be a Christian, a true biblical Christian.
1 John Travis, Messianic Muslim Followers of Isa International Journal of Frontier Missions, Vol. 17:1 Spring 2000. Page 1
2 Here is the full description of this group: “C5 believers identify themselves as “Muslim followers of Jesus”– much like Messianic Jews, who call themselves “Jewish followers of Jesus.” Islamic theology incompatible with the Bible is rejected. Some C5 believers remain in the Muslim community for as long as they can to “win Muslims as a Muslim” (1 Corinthians 9:19-23). In time, however, their deviance from mainstream Islamic theology may lead to their banishment from the Muslim community. But where whole communities of Muslims begin to follow Jesus, the local mosque may be transformed into a messianic mosque for Jesus. Other C5 believers desire to distance themselves from the mosque and Islam, still preferring to maintain their identity as a Muslim follower of Jesus. In contrast to C4, Muslims view C5 believers as Muslim, though perhaps a “strange kind of Muslim.” Most Muslims have not met Muslims who follow Jesus, so the curiosity that results from their identification often opens doors to share their faith in Christ.”
3 Joshua Massey, Misunderstanding C5: His Ways are not Our Orthodoxy. Why C5 has been so misunderstood by its critics. EMQ July 2004. Page 8
4 See also Mark 10:17-31.
Below are a few of your comments from below(or is it above?):
“Encouraging people to join the religion of Christianity is actually heresy. Jesus would have been against it if there were a religion called Christianity (which there wasn’t of course). Paul WAS against it with the Jews who wanted the Gentiles to convert to Judaism – and I think it’s then fair to surmise that he would have been against converting to a religion called “Christianity” if there had been – which there wasn’t. So I’m simply encouraging you to be Biblical. I don’t doubt you want to be. Honestly. I don’t doubt your hearts or motives. And I don’t even doubt your fruit. But your theology and methodologies are not well thought out. (And I know you’d say the same of me – so fair enough). :)”
Just Curious as to how you would then understand Peter’s comments:
“…but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name.” (- 1 Peter 4:16)
Georges: Just saw this post that complements yours. It is entitled: “Don’t give me doctrine, I just want to follow Jesus” The author shows that this is very much a law based-statement.
A note to all readers of this blog:
On the top right of the page you will find “Comment Guidelines.” Please as much as possible use them before you write your comment. biblicalmissiology.org was never meant to be a battle ground against particular people no matter how “heretical” or wrong they maybe. Let us address the issues, interact with ideas presented in the articles, and learn from each other. May I challenge us all to learn even from those we disagree with. What you learn is of course your choice. But a spirit of kindness and humility are needed for us to make this blog a blessing to ALL who visit it. We are blessed by a global readership. For the sake of the glory of God let us write with a spirit of compassion and love.
No one is wrong because they want to be. Most of us know what we know and do not know what we are ignorant of. A good discussion can teach us all.
For instance, the comments on the article “Muslim Follower of Jesus” became a fight rather than a discussion. When I quoted scriptures did I get it right or wrong? What did Jesus mean by “follow me?” What does it mean now to be a follower of Jesus in a Muslim community? How about reading it again? Choose a verse or a point and interact with it.
What I am asking for may not be fun, but we do need to tackle these difficult issues that are splitting the Church and confusing converts.
To the Glory of Our Lord and Savior,
Here are those guidelines again:
1. Address the issue in the article that you are commenting on.
2. Stay focused on the issue of the article.
3. Each comment needs to cover one point and let others interact with that point.
4. Comment on the interpretation of scriptures. Point out both the good points and the flaws in the interpretation.
5. Use scripture primarily to support your idea.
6. Let your comment be more about the article than on comments by others. Let us not fight each other. Let us interact with each other.
7. “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” (Colossians 4:6)
Been feeling convicted that I’m spending too much time on this site and it’s not producing any good fruit (in whichever way you want to view that). So it’s me signing out. I won’t be back.
Blessings to you as you seek His Kingdom first. May you prosper as you preach nothing but Jesus Christ.
Carl: Good to be busy. Equally for myself, I trust it has been for gold and diamonds and not hay and stubble. Scary to think a lot of effort could be incinerated: a sober reminder to all of us.
As much as I would like to engage on the term “Christianity” debate on which you come across as quite self-assured, I think that might be a poor use of time. Allow me to examine another couple of angles.
Our family has been asked to serve in another country. A pastor came to me and said, “So you are volunteering to go!” I replied, “I am being conscripted, I am not a volunteer that can come and go as I will.” I have to wonder if something about the word follower could be open to the same kind of idea. That is to say, “today I follow Tom Cruise as my role model, and tomorrow I will follow Charlton Heston.” “It’s all up to me.” “I define the relationship.” This would be hugely appealing to the young generation with hugely inflated egos with their Jesus on a leash. Not sure who is following who, in actual fact.
Biblically speaking-I think you mentioned that–by definition a follower is more than a casual term. It is someone–better yet a group of someones called a church–who are now the “property of the Lamb, King-Jesus.” (i.e. I Cor 6:19) That way, who is boss in the relationship, and who defines the relationship is clear. As the Heidelberg Catechism says, “I am not my own, but I belong body and soul to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ, and he has fully paid…” This could also be stated collectively. Ever dawned on you that the very individualism of the phrase “follower of Jesus–singular” that you often talk about is counter-productive to evangelism–oops that word is now taboo for you—in a mostly collective Muslim context?
Secondly, defining Jesus is mandatory. Anyone can make a Jesus in his own image. Muhammad and so many others have done so. Thus I ask the following:
A. Is this a Jesus who now claims total property rights over his purchased followers? If so, they are not self-defined. He defines them.
B. Is this a Jesus who demands and is jealous for the total and unalloyed devotion of His bride? If so, anything that could look like two-timing would be highly suspect even though they could make it look like they are “walking in his steps” (I Peter 2:21).
C. Is this a Jesus who was humiliated, acquainted with sorrows, despised and rejected? (Isaiah 53) If so, then someone who is walking in his shadow might just have some of those attributes as they follow Him “wherever He goes” (I Peter 2:21; Rev 14:4).
D. Is this Jesus a King who calls the shots as to who is in or out of his realm of rulership? (Rev. 19:11-16) If so, then this fuzzy kingdom circles stuff which is in circulation, might just be rather insulting to His Majesty, as it is humans and not Him who defines what is what.
E. Is this a Jesus who demands unalloyed allegiance as the Upholder of the Universe and as who will judge with exactitude the sheep and the goats? If so, there will be no hybrid sheep-goats who pass the grid (Matt. 25: 32-3).
F. Is this a Jesus who gives marching orders to his heralds as to the content of their message, the methods of communicating it, and the methods which will conflict with the message? (I Cor 1-2) If so, then followers are not at all in the driver’s seat with respect to the message or methods.
These are but a sample of questions that must be responded to Carl, or else you might have created in your own image, a less-than All-Sufficient Savior, and a less-than all Powerful-Lord, who dictates the terms of how He is to be followed. Who doesn’t want a meek and mild, perpetually respectful Jesus with a soothing voice at all times for all religions and all cultures? He would be good for my ego and yours. Fact is he came to kill our egos and to do that in community. That is what makes us followers in the truest sense.
As much as this interchange can be frustrating for you, I would like to thank you in advance for not responding with fluster. Substantive issues are on the table, here, Carl, and you have put many of them forward. Substantive responses are called for and I look forward to seeing them.
Dear Salaam, Mark, Pierre and others….
Sorry that I’m not very responsive to your responses. I’ve been swamped. And…honestly, I should know better than to visit or write here. There seems to be zero chance that you will hear, really hear, what I’m saying and vice versa. So let’s not waste time.
I think my last post was clear – calling yourself a “Christian” is simply a silly error – not heresy, just dumb.
Encouraging people to join the religion of Christianity is actually heresy. Jesus would have been against it if there were a religion called Christianity (which there wasn’t of course). Paul WAS against it with the Jews who wanted the Gentiles to convert to Judaism – and I think it’s then fair to surmise that he would have been against converting to a religion called “Christianity” if there had been – which there wasn’t.
So I’m simply encouraging you to be Biblical. I don’t doubt you want to be. Honestly. I don’t doubt your hearts or motives. And I don’t even doubt your fruit. But your theology and methodologies are not well thought out. (And I know you’d say the same of me – so fair enough). :)
It’s odd though that you’re spending so much time defending a word and a system that doesn’t appear in the Bible – Christianity. Being a “follower of Jesus” isn’t a clever term, it’s what we’re actually doing (noticed, I said “we”). Signing up for a religion or getting people to switch religions, just isn’t the deal and I can’t believe, frankly, that you’d ever defend that.
I know how you play the word game. You do it like this: Muslim is to Islam, like Jew is to Judaism, like Christian is to Christ. See the cheat? That’s not fair and it’s not how that word is used in the world. It’s how Christian is to Christianity. A Christian is, in fact, one who adheres to the religion of Christianity.
And…fair enough, if that’s what you want to do. I don’t. I’m not. I won’t. I want to be stuck to Christ. In Him. Following in. Believing in. Loving. Living for. All that – but not to “Christianity.” This shouldn’t be the slightest bit controversial. I think it’s simply that you’re angry at a methodology that you mostly misread and so you’ve thrown the baby out with the bathwater.
Unfortunate oversight at best. Heresy at worst.
Hello Carl, so your words are smooth, but if you replace Christian for Muslim, etc… and flip things, it sounds as ludicrous to us for Muslims as it does to Muslims. It creates mushy relativism that if you switch up words, it can mean the same thing on any side.
Would we be convinced by someone as a Follower of Muhammad?
Ultimately a deeper question, do “Muslim Followers of Jesus” see themselves as part of the universal church of Christ, including Christians? Or do they see themselves as part of the UMMA (Family/Body/Community) of Islam? Whether your semantics make sense, do they promote aa Biblical view?
The following statistics of 72 “Messianic Muslim” leaders shows the degree to which falsehood has been propagated within these communities.
– 50% go to traditional Mosque on Friday.
– 31% go more than once per day for Salat affirming prophethood of Muhammad.
– 96% say there are 4 sacred books: Torah, Zabur, Injil, (all parts of the Christian Bible) and the Qur’an
– 66% affirm the Qur’an as the greatest of these.
– 45% don’t affirm God as Father/Son/Spirit.
– 45% feel close to Allah when hearing the Qur’an read aloud.
These are not just followers, but leaders of Messianic Mosques, the ones you would think would know the ‘truth’.
Read your article flipped. What’s the difference?
1. Whenever I take leaders from here on trips to the America, the first and by far most controversial thing everyone runs into is that fact that they are meeting some Christians who claim to be “following Muhammad(PBUH) ” but have not become “Muslims.” Talk about semantics – everyones heads’ spins. What does this mean? And then…we get into the fact that I rarely would call myself or identify myself as a “Muslim” even here in the Middle East, but also prefer the label “Follower of Muhammad(PBUH) .” is this new trendiness? Emergent? Trying to avoid persecution and appear in some way acceptable to the culture – either in the Christian world or in the Post-Muslim Middle Eastern world? Or…maybe it’s just me trying to create a buzz – as we saw with the first CNN article, controversy sells. (Although not sure what it was “selling” since I don’t get paid for that type of thing, but….).â€¨There are three reasons why I think it works better, has more integrity and is actually more biblical to NOT call yourself a “Muslim” and DO call yourself a “Follower of Muhammad.(PBUH) ”
2. Pragmatically, the word “Muslim” doesn’t mean what we’d like it to mean – or maybe even, should mean. It just doesn’t. Kosovoans are all Muslims – is that what we mean? And so are the Natural Gas lords east of the border – they’re all Shia, which is a type of Muslim. Most of Saharan Africa is Muslim. 99.9% of Turks still self identifies as Muslim for 2000 years many have called themselves Muslim that haven’t been following Muhammad(PBUH) in any way – do we really want to use that term? â€¨It’s slightly provocative, but I refer you to the word “gay.” I could insist it means that I’m happy. And it does. And I am. So am I gay? In the way the culture uses that word today, no. I’m not gay. I’m just happy. And happily married to my female wife. â€¨So it is with Muslim. I can insist that it means someone who’s life has been changed by the power of the Koran. That I love God and love the Umma. That I follow the ways and teachings of Muhammad and have been submitted from the inside-out. That I have given my life to love and obey the commands of the prophet – primarily to submit and serve. I can insist that “being Muslim” means that. But since the culture doesn’t see it meaning that – why not use words that communicate to the hearer what we actually mean, rather than insist on words that for sure communicate the wrong thing. In the America as in much of the world, being Muslim means that you are pro-Jihad. Probably conservative in your political outlook. Pro-war. Anti-choice. Anti gays. And someone who wants your money for some cause and makes you feel guilty that you don’t go to Mosque on Friday. Now…to be fair, I know very few Muslims of any stripe that really live all of that out in such negative ways – but I’m speaking here of perceptions. And whether this is reality or not doesn’t actually matter. This is what many think a Muslim is.â€¨
3. It has more integrity to call yourself – and actually be – a follower of Muhammad(PBUH) , for the reason I just stated. If the words I use for sure don’t describe to the hearer what I mean – and if I know that – then I lack integrity in using that word or phrase. I am, in fact, actually trying to follow Muhammad(PBUH) . It’s really not a title. It’s a descriptor. I am literally wanting to follow him. He’s real. Tangible. This is what i do. It’s who I am. â€¨Now, I could say that “being Muslim” is all of those things as well and, of course, you’re free to think and say that. But since only those of us who are in this category even know what we mean by the word “Muslim” (and even that is debatable), then why use it. â€¨Let’s say what we mean, and do what we say. Describing who you are and what you live for is far more powerful than simply using a one-word noun anyway. Let’s actually be people who are so committed to and so in submission to Muhammad(PBUH) , that we really do follow him!â€¨
4. We cheat. While we put Christians, Jews, Buddhist, Hindus and everyone else in a category that makes them adherents to a religious system – we take ourselves out of that. We still use the religious word “Muslim” but we would never say that a True Muslim is someone who adheres to the religious systems of Islam. No, we would say that we follow Muhammad(PBUH) . Which we do – so why not just say that. Once again, say what we mean and mean what we say!
5. â€¨What’s the one thing Muhammad(PBUH) called his followers to – every time? From the first time he saw them in mecca. To Submit. It was an invitation. Not a command. An open invite. A very compelling one that ends of causing you to “lose” that which you don’t really have anyway – your life…. And gain, what you could never have without Jesus – true and lasting life, now and forever. What a deal.
6. â€¨But we have to choose to follow. Not join a religion. We could be followers as part of the Crowd – they loved Muhammad(PBUH) . Or we could be a little more serious and be part of the Curious. Or…we could join the Committed. All “followers of Muhammad(PBUH) ” but at various stages in the journey.â€¨May we join the throngs who adored him – the Crowds who followed because of what Jesus did for them. He fed them. Healed them. Taught them and loved them. But may we move beyond the crowds and explore more intimately for ourselves. Who is this man? Where is he going? Why does he seem to care? And why should I commit myself to him?
7. â€¨Finally, once you’ve received and accepted his invitation to follow him with your whole life – and you gain everything – let me know, and we’ll walk together. In the company of so many others around the world who love this man! The Prophet, Muhammad (PBUH) .
What is under your hood?
Charles Spurgeon commented on the life of John Bunyan who wrote Pilgrim’s Progress:
“Oh, that you and I might get into the very heart of the Word of God, and get that Word into ourselves! As I have seen the silkworm eat into the leaf, and consume it, so ought we to do with the Word of the Lord–not crawl over its surface, but eat right into it till we have taken it into our inmost parts. It is idle merely to let the eye glance over the words, or to recollect the poetical expressions, or the historic facts; but it is blessed to eat into the very soul of the Bible until, at last, you come to talk in Scriptural language, and your very style is fashioned upon Scripture models, and, what is better still, your spirit is flavored with the words of the Lord.
I would quote John Bunyan as an instance of what I mean. Read anything of his, and you will see that it is almost like the reading the Bible itself. He had read it till his very soul was saturated with Scripture; and, though his writings are charmingly full of poetry, yet he cannot give us his Pilgrim’s Progress–that sweetest of all prose poems – without continually making us feel and say, “Why, this man is a living Bible!” Prick him anywhere–his blood is Bibline, the very essence of the Bible flows from him. He cannot speak without quoting a text, for his very soul is full of the Word of God. I commend his example to you, beloved. ”
Then I compare what an C-5 expat leader said about “Muslim followers of Jesus” among an unreached people group: “If you cut open the heart of a local person, what you find is Islam””
Carl, your writings are compelling on the surface, but when the veneer is gone, I have to wonder if you are growing closer to the “heart of the local person where one finds Islam” or if you are a “living Bible.” Is examining your own heart within the realm of possibility?
Salaam Corniche (who dearly desires to have “Bibline blood”)
PS. I saw that you never responded to my other questions. Hope that was an oversight and not just a clever way to say something challenging, and then when counter-challenged the silence falls.
Pierre & Patrick are correct in challenging you to be real. In today’s world any white person is assumed to be Christian unless they state or act otherwise. Indonesians assume that all white people are Christians and they distinguish between the way the heathen Christians act from the holy Christians. I know you are freaking out at this point but that is the way they see us. They know devout from the profane and they understand when you explain why some so-called “Christians” do not act like those who are serious believers.
I don’t know you or anything about you and I don’t want to insult you. Unfortunately, I don’t know what does insult you so to avoid doing it I can’t really comment too much on your reasoning. I have a grandson I love dearly who sometimes comes up with ideas like yours but I know he is just casting a net in the development of a young mind. I don’t know how old you are but hopefully it will get clearer for you also as time goes by.
Another issue is also what do you mean when you call yourself “a follower of Jesus.” I have heard many people including a few missionaries who see it as nothing more than following the teachings of Jesus ( of course I believe that this is part of it.) They seem to especially mean the sermon on the mount and the parts that can easily be reinterpreted in a politically progressive way. Examples of this range from Brian McLaren to the idea that Ghandi was a follower of Christ because he liked the sermon on the mount (this is presented in Paul Gordon Chandler’s book “Pilgrims of Christ on the Muslim Road.”) I once heard a missionary who was influenced by IM and Brian McLaren writings say they many muslims when the hear certain teachings of Jesus might be led to say “Hey, I really like this guy’s teaching.”
Unfortunately this is really a false gospel. Jesus was not the first century Jewish version of George Soros. He wasn’t trying to bring world peace or promote environmentally friendly forms of transportation. I’m not saying that he would want us all to join the Tea Party either. Basically his call to follow him is not a call to political involvement. It is a call to take up our cross and follow him. Why do we follow him? Because he died on the cross for our sins for our sins and rose from the dead (I Cor. 15:1-4) . He is now seated a the right hand of God and is given the name that is above every name (Phil 2: 5-11). It is a commitment to Him personally and by the way includes worshipping Him. The earliest NT documents (Paul’s letters) contain examples of this.
Of course Christian can be misunderstood. I would never just tell someone in North Africa that I am a Christian. I have met people who think Madonna is an example of a Christian. You must explain your terms. However, just because a word might be misunderstood doesn’t mean we shouldn’t use it. Use it and explain it. Part of explaining it would include that I am his disciple or follower. Also I would explain that Christian doesn’t mean Westerner. In many IM writings this is assumed. I always explain this when I share with muslims. A good example of how this is stuck in their heads is that in an English class that I taught the students were asked to name countries where certain things were prevalent. One question was a country with a lot of Christians. They would always answer “France.” So I would talk about my close relationship with God. This is foreign to most muslims and a little odd to them, but many would be intrigued. If possible I would pray an intimate prayer to God in colloquial, not classical Arabic. Of the North Africans who became believers they loved praying like this to God even though it was very un-islamic. They all would call themselves Christians, but would know how to explain what that meant.
You write as if the only thing that causes others to label us as “Christians” is whether we use the word “Christian” or not.
In fact, even if you don’t use that word, there are many other things that cause people to label you a Christian, both in the US and in the Middle East. Do you really think that just because you say “I’m a follower of Jesus”, people don’t automatically think “Christian”??
Unless you deny it, that’s what people will assume. And, in the Middle East, even if you deny it yet you continue talking about Jesus, they still assume (rightly) that you are some kind of Christian.
Ok, your rationale sounds convincing from a Western perspective, because Westerners maintain the right to self-redefinition, and the right to redefine words based on individualistic subjective perspectives. But Middle-Easterners think in groups and non-negotiable categories. So when you start doing the whole Western-style redefining of terms to suite my personal identity bit, it sounds, to most mid-easterners, like you are confused and maybe even ashamed about your identity. But they still will label you as a Christian, if not a weird kind of Christian, that wants to distance himself from Christianity.
The statement “I’m not a Christian, I’m a follower of Jesus” sounds every bit as ridiculous as “I’m not a Muslim, I’m a follower of Muhammad.”
If someone told you that, would you really not suspect that they might be a Muslim, but one who has some reason why they don’t want to admit it?
There are other ways to distinguish yourself from Christendom as a whole than just denying you are part of it.
Let’s look at how Muslims do that. Many Muslims distance themselves from the negative baggage associated with Islam, while maintaining a strong identity as a Muslim, and making a strong case for what they see as “true Islam”. Muslims often say things like “Osama Bin Laden is not a Muslim”, or “Terrorism has nothing to do with Islam”, or “Islam means ‘Peace'”. Setting aside the fact that those statements are false, those have proved to be compelling statements, and have been effective for Muslims who want to lose the centuries of baggage associated with their religion (and not just the word “Islam”).
They would be foolish to think they could escape 1400 years of negative associations by avoiding the use of one word, “Islam”.
Are we any wiser to think we can just ditch the “C” word, and then all of a sudden people won’t know we’re part of the global community of followers of Christ?
Let’s get real and stop playing with words. Carl, you’re a Christian. If you talk about Jesus with anyone, in the US or the Middle East, they will assume you’re a Christian, perhaps unless you deny it. Stop wasting time denying it and trying to build a brand new label for yourself, and show them what a true Christian is- a follower of Christ.
CNN has asked me to write another article on the difference between “following Jesus” and simply “becoming a Christian.” Of course, I’m happy to oblige. So….hope you don’t mind, but i’d like to work this out a bit with you guys and let you make comments to help shape this article.
Whenever I take leaders from here on trips to the Middle East, the first and by far most controversial thing everyone runs into is that fact that they are meeting some Muslims who claim to be “following Jesus” but have not become “Christians.” Talk about semantics – everyones heads’ spins. What does this mean? And then…we get into the fact that I rarely would call myself or identify myself as a “Christian” even here in the States, but also prefer the label “Follower of Jesus.”
is this new trendiness? Emergent? Trying to avoid persecution and appear in some way acceptable to the culture – either in the Muslim world or in the Post-Christian western world? Or…maybe it’s just me trying to create a buzz – as we saw with the first CNN article, controversy sells. (Although not sure what it was “selling” since I don’t get paid for that type of thing, but….).
There are three reasons why I think it works better, has more integrity and is actually more biblical to NOT call yourself a “Christian” and DO call yourself a “Follower of Jesus.”
1. Pragmatically, the word “Christian” doesn’t mean what we’d like it to mean – or maybe even, should mean. It just doesn’t. Serbians are all Christians – is that what we mean? And so are the drug lords south of the border – they’re all Catholic, which is a type of Christian. Most of Sub-Saharan Africa is Christian. 85% of American still self identifies as Christian. for 2000 years many have called themselves Christian that haven’t been following Jesus in any way – do we really want to use that term?
It’s slightly provocative, but I refer you to the word “gay.” I could insist it means that I’m happy. And it does. And I am. So am I gay? In the way the culture uses that word today, no. I’m not gay. I’m just happy. And happily married to my female wife.
So it is with Christian. I can insist that it means someone who’s life has been changed by the power of the gospel. That I love God and love people. That I follow the ways and teachings of Jesus and have been transformed from the inside-out. That I have given my life to love and obey the commands of my savior – primarily to love and serve. I can insist that “being Christian” means that. But since the culture doesn’t see it meaning that – why not use words that communicate to the hearer what we actually mean, rather than insist on words that for sure communicate the wrong thing.
in the Middle East as in much of the world, being Christian means that you are pro-American. Probably conservative in your political outlook. Pro-war. Anti-choice. Anti gay rights. And someone who wants your money for some cause and makes you feel guilty that you don’t go to church on Sunday. Now…to be fair, I know very few Christians of any stripe that really live all of that out in such negative ways – but I’m speaking here of perceptions. And whether this is reality or not doesn’t actually matter. THis is what many think a Christian is.
2. It has more integrity to call yourself – and actually be – a follower of Jesus, for the reason I just stated. If the words I use for sure don’t describe to the hearer what I mean – and if I know that – then I lack integrity in using that word or phrase. I am, in fact, actually trying to follow Jesus. it’s really not a title. It’s a descriptor. I am literally wanting to follow him. He’s real. Tangible. This is what i do. It’s who I am.
Now, I could say that “being Christian” is all of those things as well and, of course, you’re free to think and say that. But since only those of us who are in this category even know what we mean by the word “Christian” (and even that is debatable), then why use it.
Let’s say what we mean, and do what we say. Describing who you are and what you live for is far more powerful than simply using a one-word noun anyway. Let’s actually be people who are so committed to and so in love with Jesus, that we really do follow him!
3. The Greek word from which we derive “Christian” is used three times in all the Bible. Twice in Acts and once in 1 Peter. Jesus never uses is. Once it is simply a passive statement that “they were first called Christians in Antioch.” Someone called them that – very likely as a derogatory term. Then Paul and Peter each use it once to describe the negative state they’re in so that others can see it’s okay to suffer – EVEN if someone has labeled you as “Christian.” They are not saying suffer because you bear the label of “Christian” but were both making the point that if you do in fact suffer for following this new and better way of the Messiah – don’t be ashamed – whatever they call you.
No where is “Christianity” mentioned in the Bible. It’d be hard to show that Jesus came to start a new religion. In fact, many of us grew up in churches where we say “it’s not about religion, but about relationship.” But then we go right back to talking about Christianity.
See we’ve learned to play an unfair game. Remember you’re SAT or ACT tests where they have questions like: This is to that, like that is to this. So this is what we do: Muslims are to Islam, like Jews are to Judaism, like Christians are to Christ. Do you see it? I often share this and people miss the point.
We cheat. While we put Muslims, Jews, Buddhist, Hindus and everyone else in a category that makes them adherents to a religious system – we take ourselves out of that. We still use the religious word “Christian” but we would never say that a True Christian is someone who adheres to the religious systems of Christianity. No, we would say that we follow Christ. Which we do – so why not just say that. Once again, say what we mean and mean what we say!
What’s the one thing Jesus called his followers to – every time? From the first time he saw the fishermen by the shores of Galilee to the last time he spoke with John? To follow him. “Come, follow me” he said. It was an invitation. Not a command. An open invite. A very compelling one that ends of causing you to “lose” that which you don’t really have anyway – your life…. And gain, what you could never have without Jesus – true and lasting life, now and forever. What a deal.
But we have to choose to follow. Not join a religion. We could be followers as part of the Crowd – they loved Jesus. Or we could be a little more serious and be part of the Curious. Or…we could join the Committed. All “followers of Jesus” but at various stages in the journey.
May we join the throngs who adored him – the Crowds who followed because of what Jesus did for them. He fed them. Healed them. Taught them and loved them. But may we move beyond the crowds and explore more intimately for ourselves. Who is this man? Where is he going? Why does he seem to care? And why should I commit myself to him?
Finally, once you’ve received and accepted his invitation to follow him with your whole life – and you gain everything – let me know, and we’ll walk together. In the company of so many others around the world who love this man! The Messiah, Christ Jesus from Nazareth.
Dear Salaam Cornish,
Thank you for your approval of my article and the link for the Christianity Today article. http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2011/august/americans-do-like-evangelicals.html
I wrote this comment on it:
As a non American living in Lebanon, I noticed that my American friends were hungry for approval. They desperately tried to appear good, well meaning and nice. It puzzled me that I and many nationals actually thought well of them. Later I learned that a guilt complex had emerged from a post Vietnam war image of the “Ugly American” who was viewed as insensitive and tampering with culture. As a counter reaction Americans began to seek approval by accepting cultural practices even natives did not want to keep. This is when Missiology began to go awry causing Luzbetak, Catholic missiologist to sternly warn missionaries not to go native (1970). Today, Americans have not yet recovered and many missionaries are going beyond native even discouraging nationals from change, contrary to what Jesus came to do. Transformation not contextualization is at the heart of the gospel. Please visit http://biblicalmissiology.org and order my book Engaging Islam from Amazon.com or http://engagingislam.org.
Georges, thank you for this post. Curiously almost at the same time of your post, someone writing for Christianity Today’s latest cover story (Aug. ’11) looks at the “Jesus follower” idea from a slightly different angle, and sees it as nothing more than American self-absorption and an almost pathological need to be loved. You have to wonder what these C-5 Americans are exporting.
Mark Galli, the CT managing editor introduces Bradley R. E. Wright, a University of Connecticut sociologist’s story [http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2011/august/americans-do-like-evangelicals.html ] with these words:
“A movement that casts anxious glances to see how it’s doing in the eyes of others is in either childhood or adolesence…It’s time for evangelicals to put away childish things….The fact is that in the end, people don’t care if we are cool. They don’t think it an improvement to call ourselves ‘Jesus followers’ instead of ‘Christians,’ let alone ‘evangelicals.'”
Another author, Michael Horton resonated with the piece in his: “Enough About Us Already: Our American Protestant Obsession with Being Loved by the World”
Georges, you hit the nail on the head. Do we love the love of the world or being loved by Jesus.?
It seems you are saying that because “Christian” has so much baggage (or “semantic stretch”), that means it’s easier or better just to ditch it. The thing is, when discussing God with Muslims, it’s hard to find a word that hasn’t “experienced semantic stretch”. Whether it’s “mercy”, “sin”, “prophet”, or even “God”, there is so much clarification and qualification that needs to be done in order to communicate clearly. So just because these terms have radically different meanings to people, it doesn’t mean we should ditch them.
Often, in order to understand a cultural situation, it’s useful to imagine the situation while switching the cultures. So instead of the example of a “Christian” explaining his beliefs to a Muslim, let’s do it the other way around.
Let’s say a Saudi comes to the US to study English. He meets a man in a park and starts a conversation. The American asks “where are you from?”, and he replies “Saudi Arabia”. The American says “so you are a Muslim?”. Immediately the Saudi realizes that this American man must have some misunderstandings about Islam. He probably, like many Americans, thinks that Muslims are terrorist, polygamist wife-beaters who worship the moon-god Allah and kill people over cartoons. Instead of having to explain away all that baggage, the Saudi decides to forego the term “Muslim”, because it has “experienced semantic stretch and has lost meaning” so he replies:
“No, no, I’m not a Muslim, I’m a follower of Muhammad.”
The American man raises his eyebrows and says “hmmm, ok…” and thinks to himself “this Muslim guy seems kinda ashamed that he’s a Muslim.”
Did the Muslim in this situation really communicate more clearly because he ditched the term “Muslim”?
I hope that anecdote helps illuminate the issue. Let’s not think that Muslims are so naÃ¯ve that they will not see through the “I’m not a Christian, I’m a follower of Jesus” ruse. I know a lot of Muslims, and I don’t know any that are that naÃ¯ve. They know you are a Christian, so instead of working hard to convince them otherwise, why not just give them a new example of what a Christian is? I find that it’s not that hard to break people’s stereotypes about Christians, and give them a fresh new perspective.
How did you conclude that I made a distinction between Christian and a true Christian? I meant exactly what I wrote: to follow Christ is to be a Christian, a true Christian. The contrast is between a true Christian and a cultural Christian.
I have often heard this argument that Christianity has lost its meaning. This is a straw man argument. You build up your case for rejecting the Christian identity by presenting the worse scenario. It is true that there are Muslims who think badly about Christians and Christianity. But there are even more Muslims who love Christians and Christianity contrary to claims of a number of Western Missionaries. I am a Middle Eastern myself and have traveled throughout the Muslim world. Insider proponents will never know the honor, respect and admiration many Muslims hold toward Christians. Most Muslim countries if they had a choice would want to immigrate to America and the West. Millions of Muslim women are jealous of the freedom Christian women have. Millions of Muslim men want to experience the freedom to think like western men. They love our technology, our education, our music, out movies, our lifestyle etc. It is not all good. But it is what it is. In my book “Engaging Islam” I speak about this with some detail.
Those who think Muslims want to remain in their dark, oppressive, restrictive culture are naive and have little understanding of the Muslim Psyche? Think about what is going on in all these Arab countries. Do you think they are calling for an Islamic culture? Please have a closer look and understand that the vast majority of Muslims want out. They are looking for something new while many Insider Missionaries are still the dark ages. They no longer believe the anti-colonial slogan: Islam is the answer. They have discovered from various experiences in Iran, North Africa and elsewhere that Islam is the problem.
When Muslims understand the gospel, do you really think they prefer to retain their identity? Maybe some do initially, but the reason many come to Jesus is because they want out of their status quo. They want change. The message of Christ is liberating not only from sin but from the darkness in Islamic lifestyle and society. Those who have been promoting the idea that you can follow Christ within Islam are primarily westerns. Are you one of them? I hope not.
Thanks for your comment. Your comment brought to mind the sermon my pastor gave yesterday, correlating the Word of God (Christ) and the Word of God (the scriptures). About how they both are forms of communication of the triune God revealing himself, perfectly.
The problem is, humans. We’re not perfect. Words do have meaning. Words do have power, mighty power. Both power for good, and power for evil. James said, that the tongue sways the whole body. (James 3)
Knowing this, we have a spiritual battle, that I think we would all agree with. We also have a physical battle that many of us recognize in the form of persecution, and of course sin as well. But we also have a communicative battle, a battle of words that aren’t fully physical, though they have a form of physicalness, and they aren’t fully spiritual, but they certainly have a form and are of spirituality. Knowing this then, we can assume that with such power, the devil is also seeking out to destroy the aforesaid power of words.
Now when the devil attacks us spiritually, do we give in and say, I’ll settle for a lesser spiritual life? Also, when the devil attacks physically do we succumb and give in, saying, ok Satan, I’ll give over to you my body. Of course we say NO! to both of these! Then why do we allow Satan to tell us what words mean, taking the power of them for himself?
It is honorable to be called a Christian. (1 Peter 4:16). It is actually a Word used in the Bible. This isn’t just a made-up Word. It is a Word that is Biblical and used to describe the body of Christ on earth. Why then, would we allow the evil one, and those who follow him to defame the honorable name God has given us?
Is not our God sovereign? Did He not know the crusades would happen? Did He not know there would be people who abuse the name ‘Christian’ for ungodly things? Did not God know the future? Did He not see it? If He is sovereign, and He did see it, then He also knew that the evil one would use it against us. Yet the same God who knew this, told us to take HONOR in the name, and to hold the name HONORABLY.
I am a simple man. I did not write the Bible. I am not God. If I were, I’m sure I’d do something else. But praise God I am not God! God knows very well what He is doing. He knows the power in the name Christian. Yet, He chose it. I shall not deny Him that. I will hold the very same name Sacred. I will fight to honor that name, and to take honor in that name. I will correct, and make sure all know what a real Christian is.
I lived in the middle east for many years. I know what Muslims think. They think a lot of things that are wrong, not only about Christianity. Am I to change the whole Bible to meet their false world-view? This indeed is what Insiders Do and believe. Rather, I don’t mess with humanity’s world-views. I preach the Word of God, and it in full. I could care less if others find it insulting. For if I am true to the Word, both the Son and the scriptures, then it is God with whom the unbelievers find offense, and not me. (If me then I will be disciplined by my Father in Heaven.) If it is God with whom they find offense, then they shall find the price of their sin, and deservedly so. I too deserve that price, but praise God He opened my eyes when someone unashamed of Christ preached the Word of God, both Son and scriptures to me, and the Lord almighty Himself unplugged my ears, and scraped away the calluses of my heart. It is this very same miracle that Muslims need. Prettying words up with lipstick and vagueness does not save souls. Christ, and Christ alone saves souls. Do you not believe this? If so, why all the fancy games? If no? Then, call yourself whatever pleases you. It does us both favor.
God forbid, and God forgive me if I ever think my craftiness and strategies are clever enough to slip a lost soul into heaven. May my words be garbage in comparison to the power of the Spirit of God when He overwhelms the lost, and saves them for His own glory.
I’d have it no other way.
So, let us not think so cleverly on how to put make-up on the gospel, making it deceptively pretty and pleasing to itching ears, rather, preach the Word, the unadulterated Word of God, and let Him transform those He takes pleasure in transforming. The Word, unadulterated is far more beautiful than any other word we can contrive. It is the Word of God, wonderful, and perfect. It is an adorned bride, pure, simple, and wonderfully beautiful. Who would trade a trumped-up floozie for what God has made wonderful. Do not preach a false gospel. Dare not let it leave your lips. For the Lord has something much better for you to preach, and it is good.
Hi Dr. Houssney,
At the end of your post, why do you distinguish between a “Christian” and a “true biblical Christian?” Wouldn’t that contradict your argument? :)
It seems to me that if you must qualify the meaning of Christian, especially in front of Muslims, then the word has experienced semantic stretch and has lost meaning. It is much better for a biblical believer to be identified publically with Christ and him crucified, rather than polytheistic, adulterous, crusading Catholics (that is how Muslims I know understand what a “Christian” is).