I’ve noticed, actually for several years now, that many believers have eschewed the label “Christian” in favor of “Christ-Follower”.
Now, there are some valid reasons for wanting to distance oneself from a label that has taken on too much baggage. In the earlier half of the 20th century, those who wished to define themselves as faithful to Scripture as the inerrant, inspired Word of God called themselves “fundamentalists”; yet today that term is used almost as a slander, even by Christians. The term “evangelical” seems to be moving in a similar direction: it has become so broad as to mean very little, and now you have churches whose name (or even whose denominational name) includes the word “evangelical” who are actually the very antithesis of what the word was/is supposed to mean, and some folks talking about being “post-evangelical”.
But this new shift-- from “Christian” to “Christ-follower”-- is different. And maybe even a bit dangerous.
On the one hand, there are many in the Gospels who are called “followers of Christ” who, in fact, were not Christians; instead, they followed Jesus because they wanted to be a part of the masses who followed Him, or because they misunderstood His role as Messiah (and they wanted a military or political leader), or because they found the trappings of this world too great for them to take up their crosses as He called them to do. Jesus Himself seems, at times, to distinguish between being a “follower” and a “disciple” though this distinction is somewhat ambiguous.
And that’s a big part of the problem: when we simply talk about being a “follower” of Christ, where is the boundary drawn? Those who align themselves with His movement? Those who appreciate His philosophies and moral teachings? Or those who are regenerate, who have saving faith in Him because of the Holy Spirit? All three of these categories are, at different times in the Gospels, called “followers of Christ”.
On the other hand, when we decide that the term “Christian” is something to abandon, we must realize that we have abandoned a Bible word, not just a convenient label. Acts 11:26, Acts 26:28, and 1 Peter 4:16 all employ the word “Christian” to describe those who, in faith, are saved by grace through Christ alone. This suggests to me that God, through the inspiration of His Word, intends His people to be known as Christians (among other labels that He Himself gives, like believers, the Body, etc.)
What does it suggest when we decide that a Bible word no longer “works”? Should we do the same for sin-- why not just talk about “mistakes”? How about salvation-- should we call it “life-change”? Both of these have the same net effect as the rejection of “Christian” for “Christ-Follower”-- positively, they replace a term with a lot of history (and therefore a lot of baggage) with a more contemporary, less heavy-laden term; but negatively, they introduce ambiguity where the Bible word is clear.
Now, those who promote the “Christ-Follower” monicker will say that Jesus Himself appealed to the 12 Disciples with the call, “follow me”-- and that there is therefore good precedent for using that label. And that is true-- but Christ also called others with the same words, who did not answer the call. And I’m not one of those 12, and neither are you, and those guys fulfilled a very special and particular role in the early church, so we have to be careful of how much we extract from their experiences as normative for us today.
Besides, I’m not saying we shouldn’t consider ourselves followers of Christ-- not at all! My point is this: we aren’t merely “followers” in a sense that Christ is our great leader, and He will take us down the path we should go. If we have saving faith in Him, then our identity is much more than that-- we aren’t just followers of Christ, but are His adopted brothers, co-heirs, and are being re-made into His image. That’s why the label “Christian”-- which some have suggested literally translates as “little Christs”-- is fitting.