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In the last several years, I've noticed a trend of people who reject the label "Christian," and instead prefer to use terms like "Christ follower" or "follower of Jesus." (Not to be confused with people who just follow the jesus tag on SE).

What is the impetus behind this relabelling, and is there historical or scriptural justification for this?

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As this is a refection of peoples opinions of Christianity and how they follow the Savior personally I don't think that there is a clear cut answer that fits the SE profile. I think this is an interesting question but I think it will collect to much opinion and might need to be closed because of that. –  ryan Feb 23 '12 at 6:56
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reminds me of the time I changed my religion on Facebook to "Universal Church of Jesus Christ" and my best friend thought I'd joined a cult. –  Peter Turner Feb 23 '12 at 15:26
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Reminds me of the time that Donna Noble (Doctor Who) goes to Pompeii, and tries to speak Latin. The universal translator takes her Latin, turns it into Gaelic, making it incomprehensible. Guess the same thing happens when you translate 'catholic' into English... –  Affable Geek Feb 23 '12 at 15:52
    
I'd like to point out that using the term "follower of Christ" doesn't have to mean that one doesn't use the term "Christian". –  Shathur Feb 24 '12 at 9:41
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@Shathur indeed; the question is asking, though, about those who use the term in place of the term Christian –  Marc Gravell Feb 24 '12 at 20:01
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3 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

To some extent the trend stems from the 2007 book unChristian. The authors surveyed young American adults (late teens to early 30s) and found that the words this group most commonly associated with "Christian" were:

  • judgmental
  • antihomosexual
  • hypocritical
  • too political
  • sheltered

The book challenges Christians to move away from behaviors and activities that reinforce these stereotypes, but throughout the book the authors use the term "Christ-follower" instead of Christian because of these negative associations.

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FYI, wish I could have accepted all three answers :) what I like about this one is the referenced material, but trust me, I could have accepted all three, guys. Great work! –  Affable Geek Feb 28 '12 at 1:11
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It seems the definition of Christian, at least in America, has become so broad as to include so many disparate teachings that it really fails to distinguish a devoted Christian from one who rejects the Bible and most of its teachings. "Follower of Jesus" is, perhaps, a way to make this distinction. "Followers of Jesus" are not Christian in name only, but also follow the teachings and life of Jesus.

From an international ministry perspective, the word Christian is loaded with prejudice and hatred. Jewish people often associate "Christians" with the Holocaust, since Germany was a "Christian" nation. Many Jews have a good deal of animosity towards "Christians" because of this, even though true Christians were appalled and died in opposition to what Hitler and Nazi's did. Nonetheless, when Jewish people come to realize that Jesus/Yeshua really was and is the Jewish Messiah, identifying themselves as "Christians" is very difficult emotionally. Even referring to their Messiah as "Jesus" is difficult, so many prefer the Hebrew form of Yeshua instead. This is a name that they are familiar with anyway, as "Joshua" was Moses' successor in Israel's history. Calling themselves "followers of "Yeshua Hamashiach" (Jesus Messiah) is much easier to do.

For Muslims, the word "Christian" often embodies all Western countries. Christians are, rightly or wrongly, blamed for aggression in the Crusades. When Muslims come to recognize that Jesus is really the Son of God and that the Bible is really His word--and Muhammed was not a prophet of God--they also have great emotional difficulty identifying as the hated "Christians". Indeed, there is also great danger in identifying as a Christian in many Muslim countries. There are some who consider themselves Muslim Followers of Jesus--Muslim culturally, but Followers of Jesus spiritually.

Hindus sometimes face a similar reaction from their own families as do Muslims, so there are Hindus who consider themselves "Hindu Followers of Jesus", meaning they are Hindu culturally, but have rejected Hinduism spiritually and recognize Jesus as the Son of God.

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The claim of a Judaism cross-over surprises me; most Jewish people I know personally don't blame Christianity in any (direct) way for the Holocaust (although some feel it could have taken more of a stance, earlier). Unfortanately, I doubt that asking on judaism.SE would be well-received. –  Marc Gravell Feb 23 '12 at 14:33
    
@Marc. Well, the anti-Semitism in Germany that Hitler tapped into did have definite Christian origins. (Luther himself was a notorious bigot.) –  TRiG Mar 28 '12 at 17:52
    
@TRiG The Bible is explicitly pro-Jewish. Christianity began with 1 Jewish Man and 12 Jewish followers. The gospel is to the Jew first. True followers of Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, would be anything but anti-semitic. Hitler's racism actually has its origins in evolutionary theory, which supports the idea that one race is superior to another--an idea that the Bible flatly contradicts. –  Narnian Mar 28 '12 at 17:56
    
@Narnian oh, but parts of Christianty have, over history, exacerbated anti-semitism, I be sure. Catholicism in the middle ages in particular. Biblical or not, anti-semitism has, at times, been very popular in Christianity. –  Marc Gravell Mar 28 '12 at 18:00
    
@MarcGravell Yes, there are and have been (and will be) people who claim to be Christians who are anti-Semitic. Yet that is inconsistent with the teachings of the Bible. So, any Christian who is anti-Semitic is living contrary to true Christianity in that aspect. It doesn't mean Christianity is anti-Semitic--far from it. It only means that there are Christians who have aspects of their lives that are still not in line with true holiness--something true for all of us in one area or another. I, being from Mizzou, hate Kansas Jaysquawk basketball a little too much, among other things. –  Narnian Mar 28 '12 at 18:05
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Not really sure it is enough for an answer, but feels too long for a comment; as with here, it primarily seems to be people who feel that the label "Christian", regardless of it's origin and literal meaning, has too many associations (perhaps more in the people they interact with than themselves).

As an example, there are phrases often used in media and politics such as "Christian values", "the Christian thing to do", "the Christian view", etc. As is demonstrated daily on this site, there is no such thing as a single definition of "Christian values", or "the Christian thing to do" - it is a huuuuuuuuuge spectrum.

Hence my interpretation of this is that these people are believers who are very happy to follow the teachings of Christ, but for whom the term "Christian" has become loaded; while it represents positive things, the same term is also used on their behalf, and without their consent to (mis?)represent them, or to form assumptions about their view on things simply from the label "Christian", when simply asking them could be more helpful to all parties.

An interesting feature of this, for example, is in politics - where "Lobbyist X" who happens to be Christian, cites some Christian head-count number, and uses that argument to support their case. However, it is not true to say that just because someone is Christian means that they agree with the view being presented by the lobbyist - it is false representation. Without trying to walk head-first into another label, lobbyists using such tactics tend to be trying to push through Christian-right/conservative perspectives. As a current example, some Christian-right folks are currently getting very worked up about the thought of proposed US laws relating to contraception and employer obligations - somewhat ignoring the fact that the vast majority of Christian women have used contraception (this is meant as an example only, so let's not get overly distracted on that).

Labels aside, I doubt you (as someone who is happy to identify as "Christian") would have any important belief differences. In terms of opinion differences - that is entirely the point: you'd need to ask them, as forming an opinion (of either party) merely from the label "Christian" can be very very misleading. As such, though, it seems a little bit implicit that a "follower of Jesus" / "follower of Christ" is probably not overly conservative in their views. The irony here is that avoiding one label ("Christian") seems to imply another ("liberal") - but that might just be me.

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I think this is a really balanced answer. +1 –  warren Feb 23 '12 at 8:00
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I recall reading an article about how the broad use of the "Christian" label in the US is a somewhat more recent thing, possibly due to lobbying, and that using denomination-specific labels used to be much more more common in the past. Ubforntunately, I can't seem to find it, but perhaps someone knows what I'm talking about? –  hammar Feb 23 '12 at 11:28
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+1. Far better than my initial reaction, getting crotchety and shouting: "It's because people have no respect for language anymore! Darn whippersnappers!" –  cwallenpoole Feb 23 '12 at 12:19
    
@cwall: of course, you'd shake your walking stick at dem dere whippersnappers while shouting. ;-) –  Jürgen A. Erhard Feb 24 '12 at 5:41
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