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The House Church Network: Dedicated to Kingdom Expansion
  Are You A Disciple or A Christian?

This week's question gets a bit personal: "I know you were ordained in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), but when I hear you speak you refer to yourself as a Disciple. Why a Disciple and not a Christian?"

When anyone asks what faith I claim, I claim to be a Christian -- as opposed to a Muslim, Buddhist, atheist, etc. However, most of the time when I refer to my faith I name myself a disciple of Christ. But my reasoning has nothing to do with my denomination; it has to do with the cultural understanding of a Christian. In today's world there's a vast difference between a Christian and a disciple.

Once upon a time, a long time ago, someone who was a Christian was different from everybody else. A Christian was somebody who embodied the life and the teachings of a man called Jesus the Christ. Christians were loving, inclusive, generous, gracious, and humble. They were expected to reflect the fruits of the Spirit in their daily lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5.22-23). They were seen as strong people, people who stood up for justice and mercy, who didn't back down from doing the "right thing" regardless of the cost. These were the Christians of long ago.

But today it's different. In the words of Leonard Sweet, "I think it's awful that the word 'Christian' is now so greasy from everyone fingering it that it has become so slippery and slimy until one hesitates to pick it up" (Homiletics. Vol. 9:2, p. 43). The media, with very few exceptions, portrays Christians as wimps, unreasonable, uneducated, and inflexible. Television evangelists have portrayed Christian leaders as money-grubbing, power-hungry, dishonest, and immoral. And the reality is the majority of those claiming to be Christians aren't -- at least not by any standard scripture lifts up.

Somewhere way back during the Reformation someone got the idea that "salvation" was available to any who believed in Jesus Christ. I don't argue with that theological point. But belief in Jesus Christ does not make one a Christian -- "saved" perhaps, but a Christian? No. A Christian was once someone who was making an honest effort at being Christ-like. Today, society's definition of a Christian is anyone who goes to church, has gone to church, or who claims some sort of affinity with Christ no matter how loosely.

But a disciple is different. The word disciple means "learner" or "follower." This being so, a disciple of Christ actively studies the teachings of Christ (they read and study scripture, go to church to worship and learn, etc.) and follows in Christ's lifestyle (they actually apply all those teachings). A disciple's life reflects their choice to be a follower of Christ. They find a connection between everything they do and their faith; for instance, the work they do on Monday is a sacred trust -- they believe and behave as if they were "ordained" by God to their job, even if the job is menial.

Which isn't to say a disciple is better than anyone else. But the difference between a disciple and the average Christian is that the disciple has made Christ the priority in their life, above all else, and actually live by that priority.

And so, I am a "Christian" because I believe in Christ. But more importantly, I'm a disciple because I've chosen a way of life as led by the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ.

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