By Frank Ellsworth Lockwood: A religion blog on the ever-changing gospel of Jesus Christ

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Are you a follower of Christ?

 (Revised/edited May 10, 2015)

“Are you a follower of Christ?” (I was asked this loaded question today.)

Of course, I am ... Aren't I?

In the olden days, I would not have paused before replying. "Absolutely I am a follower of Christ. Jesus Christ is the center of my life!"

What is different now is that I understand more of what may be implied, and I understand the obscuring filters -- the opinions, fears, prejudices and superstitions -- through which people ask such questions.

What gives me pause in answering the question is that I have learned more. I have now followed Christ for fifty years. That is how I got to where I am, spiritually, mentally, philosophically: by following Christ.

So am I, are you, a Christian? The answer is something of a study on what it does NOT mean to be a “follower of Christ.”

"Following Christ" has led me through a process, asking and sometimes answering questions about the significance of things, of what and who I believe, and what and who other people believe, people who consider themselves “Christians.”

What do Christianity's commonly used terms imply?

Following Christ caused me to wonder such things as, “What does it mean to be a Christ?” (Yes, you read that correctly. Many people believe Jesus is the Christ but have no idea what it means/meant to be a Christ or Messiah.) And is that relevant now? Are dictatorships really the way to go? Does my power come from the point of a sword, or from processes to more accurately determine truth?

How does Christianity's central meaning change?

How did historical events shape the definitions of the terms "Messiah" and "salvation," for example? Does, the word “Christ” even mean the same thing to us now as it did to the earliest followers of Jesus of Nazareth? Does any of this matter? For example, does it matter if the gospel of James the brother of Jesus is different than the gospel of the apostle Paul? Is Paul correct, that the apostles' knowing Christ "in the flesh" is no advantage over Paul's knowing him "in the spirit"?

Inescapable what-ifs

What if the word “faith” is a process word? A noun, yes, but a noun that implies a process, even if this process leads one to the opposite opinions of my Christian peers?

What if the important thing, after all, is not whether I am a Christian, but whether I am a human being in the fullest sense of the word?

What if the word “God,” is not a noun? (Is God a person, place or thing? (My mind suggests otherwise.)

And persistent questions

In the economy of God, how many points do we get for getting the name right? Is Allah the same as God? Why or why not? Is “Jehovah” the magic word that will open the keys to the Kingdom? Not “Yahweh?”

Names, or the Reality behind those names?

Is it the name that matters, or the substance behind the name that matters? But wait: Is it correct to think of God as a substance? I think not. So we are discussing something that is not a "thing," but if not a thing, then a what?

Senseless arguments

We argue about God without really defining God, possibly because we cannot define what we mean by the term, or we cannot agree on a definition, even among ourselves.

Concepts versus realities

Is God a concept? Which concept? If a concept, how clear are you on your concept? Or is God rather like a Reality that is above and beyond conceptualizations?

God-concepts versus religious clubs

Following Christ has led me to believe that most people have no concept whatsoever of who or what they worship. Being a “Christian” for some, has come to mean identification with a certain club, defined by certain exclusive buzz words.

Confusing God with Power Politics

Is God a Republican? Must I be a Republican to be a Christian? As an old Baptist friend once answered, “It may not be necessary (to be a Republican) but it sure seems to work out that way.” In other words, yes, Christians are Republican in principle. (Not all would agree.)

If I were to define Christianity the way many of my friends do, I could not claim to be a Christian at all, No. Nor would I want to be. 

For many of my friends (in some cases, former friends) being a Christian means all or most of the following:
  1. I support all American military actions, however unwise, foolish or ineffective they may be.
  2. I vote a Republican ticket.
  3. I could never oppose a policy or action of the nation of Israel.
  4. I oppose any and all gun control legislation.
  5. I oppose any and all government funding for social programs.
  6. I oppose a government run Social Security Program.
  7. I oppose national health care.
  8. I support privatization of any and all services including police, fire departments, jails, schools, electrical utility companies.
  9. I oppose any and all labor unions.
  10. I support “states rights,” hidden meaning slavery and its modern counterpart, free market wages and salaries.
  11. I oppose any and all minimum wage laws, laws requiring health insurance, reasonable work hours, health benefits, maternity leave, restriction of work hours, or requirements for days off.
  12. I oppose any and all government funded programs such as postal services.
  13. I prefer white people over Blacks in positions of power (often implied)
  14. I resent dialing one for English
  15. I oppose leniency for children seeking refuge in the United States.
  16. I hate to hear people speaking other languages than English in public places.
  17. I think that Americans had a right to conquest of Indian lands due to some kind of Divine Right.
  18. I oppose taxes of any type for any reason whatsoever.
  19. I would like schools to be run as they were during the forties.
  20. I believe that hitting a child is God's method of training children.
  21. I denounce anything cutting edge in education, including holistic instruction, whole language.
  22. I oppose Situational Ethics (though I have never read up on the arguments for it.)
  23. In my view, if something is new in education, it must be bad, therefore: No new math, no new reading approaches, no new testing/assessment methods (Pen and pencil tests are fine and prove that our educational system is failing).
  24. Secular universities and colleges and colleges are tools of the Devil.
  25. Science is subject to religion and not the other way around.
  26. I believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God (even though I have not read it in its entirety), and is authoritative on all matters including science, physics, cosmetology.
  27. There are zero contradictions within the pages of the text (the bible) because it is, in effect, written by God.

Well, I could probably go on like this for another round but you get the idea, and if this is what Christianity really is, then no, I cannot enthusiastically claim to be a Christian. Not at all.

There are, of course, other ways to look at Christianity, but most of my "Christian” friends are not really interested in looking into them. 

The result is that, many thinking people are hesitant to identify with the label "Christian," as the term "Christianity" itself has come to be a buzz word with many implications that simply did not exist until recent years. Back to my opening statement: A thinking Christians may well find himself/herself wondering what is meant when someone asks: "Are you a Christian?" or "Are you a follower of Christ?"

My answer is: "Yes, I am a Christian and a follower of Christ, but possibly not in a way that would satisfy your cultural stereotypes, dogmatic notions and sociopolitical assumptions."



Author's parting note: The meaning of the term "Messiah," along with all it implies, has changed over the centuries.The meaning of the Kingdom of God has gone through a variety of reinterpretations, historically, by members of "the church."  The notions of a "Kingdom of God" had relevance in a day when kings, kingdoms and empires were assumed to be the inevitable means of governance. Is the notion of self-governance dead altogether? Since the takeover of the American religious and political systems by certain right-wing types, one has to wonder, however the above article does not attempt to address that issue.


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