Christians or Disciples?
Today many people who align themselves with the Christian faith are beginning to identify less with denominational affiliations and more with the identity of Christian. Having spent the last few years with college students, the generation primarily leading the trend, I feel I have an understanding of why this trend is widespread. Many people I have come into contact with feel a sense of confusion. Many don’t understand how or why there need to be different denominations. Almost always the questions come up, “Who is right?” or “Is anyone right?” I think our generation is seeking to just follow Jesus the best they can and wanting that to be the focus of their faith. In this regard, I push back on the statement for everyone to find their commonality in the term Christian and instead seek to be called disciples.
First, I don’t think that Jesus went around making Christians. It may seem weird to say, but I genuinely believe that the majority of the people he impacted were his fellow Jews. Many of Jesus’s followers would not have seen themselves becoming a new religion, converting to a new religion, or anything along those lines. Instead, the apostles and followers of Jesus saw themselves following the teachings of God that had been passed down since Moses. Everything that Jesus was doing they believed was fulfilling the Hebrew scriptures, what we now call the Old Testament. I will grant that Jesus was doing a lot of things new and even taking the scriptures to new places in some sense. However, countless times in the gospels the authors and even Jesus himself explains how in some way, his actions, teachings, or words are fulfilling the scriptures of the Hebrew people. Therefore, the followers of Jesus saw themselves as his disciples and students.
Second, in Matthew Jesus commands his disciples to go and make more disciples. “‘Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”’ (Matthew 28:19-20, NIV) It should be through the lens of disciples that we identify ourselves and gain our sense of mission. In our faithful walk with the help of the Holy Spirit, we strive to be transformed daily to be more like Christ. In our successes and struggles, we hopefully become better disciples. By that I mean we are not trying to live up to a religious standard, but walk faithfully as a person attached by faith to the people of God.
Third, maybe our denominations then begin to show how we live and go about being disciples. Every denomination looks at the same scriptures and worships the same God. However, I truly believe that as we seek to be disciples of Christ, each denomination has grown from the passion of trying to be the best disciple. Each denomination tries to faithfully follow Christ and obey his commands. Some denominations have different stresses and ways of worshiping and following God, but all the differences come from trying to honor and follow God best as disciples.
Calling ourselves disciples of Christ, might be the better option over Christian. There are a lot of religious connotations being called a Christian that aim to unite us but ends up dividing us. However, understanding ourselves as disciples allows for room to explain how we seek to follow Jesus through our denomination affiliation. There should always be room for people to have different perspectives on how to live and worship with God if we are looking at the same scripture and seeking to follow the same, Christ. The questions of “who is right?” becomes less important. If our denominations seek to worship God as they have come to know it, it does not make another denomination wrong. It is more like the idea of many rivers coming together in one ocean. There are many paths, but one God. I believe our struggle as disciples should always be to find ways of being unified under Christ. “‘My prayer is not for them alone. I also pray for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one -I in them and you in me so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:20-23, NIV)
Reposted from January 27, 2016