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Jesus Wasn’t A Christian

Have you ever wondered who founded Christianity? The dictionary says it was Jesus Christ. Christ = Christian, right? A couple of thoughts on that and why it matters that we have it right…

First of all, Jesus’ last name is not “Christ.” He was Jesus of Nazareth, or Jesus, the son of Joseph and Mary. His title may have been “the Christ” or the “anointed one”, but that was not his name. His name was/is Jesus.  (Joshua or Yeshua).

He was a Jew by religion/culture.

But he was for sure not a “Christian.” There were no “Christians” then. And he wasn’t the first, as he did not come to start a new religion. He came as truth and grace. He came to show us the Father. He came to explain the way. He came to give life. But he surely did not come to start a new religion – as if the world needed one more religion!

So why does this matter? Is it simply semantics? What difference does it make? Let me suggest three reasons why it makes a ton of difference that Jesus wasn’t a Christian and wasn’t the founder of Christianity:

  1. It sets us free to not have to defend all of the 2000 years of misdeeds done in the name of Christianity. We can simply apologize and move on. We don’t need to own it.
  2. It sets us free to not take sides in the current “culture wars.” We can step out of the “Christians versus _________” debate. There is no debate. We can simply figure out what Jesus did in similar circumstances and what we think he would want us to do today.
  3. We don’t have to feel the pressure to convert people to Christianity – which is a lot of work and doesn’t seem to be very effective. We can simply love them in the name of Jesus and pray that GOD would convert them to himself.

This actually changes everything. The way we live. The way we talk to others and the way we interact in the systems of the world. Think about it. Push back a little. Thoughts?

Comments

  1. thesauros says:

    And Jesus said, “Go and make followers of Me (disciples) in all the nations . . . teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

    What did Jesus teach? “I Am the way the truth and the life. Whoever believes in Me is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the Name of God’s one and only Son.”

    Whether we like it or not it IS a Christianity versus the rest debate.

    1. Unashamed to be called Christian says:

      (1 Pet 4:16 NIV) “…if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.” Followers of Jesus are commanded to boldly call themselves Christian–to courageously suffer under that label. Who are you to place your ideology over the truth of God’s Word? This is what happens when the cultural implications of Biblical truth take greater meaning than what the Word of God actually teaches. Disregard this heresy and boldly call yourself Christian but let your life identify you with being a Christ follower and not religion.

      1. NotTrappedInABox says:

        I appreciate what you’ve contributed Thesauros and Unashamed. I think that you both bring some interesting thoughts to the table. Unashamed, you are correct that the word Christian is used in one of three texts in the entire bible.
        1 Peter 4, Acts 11, Acts 26

        Acts 11 is of important note …

        “…and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.”

        Apparently it’s not until years after the ascension of Jesus that disciples are called Christians, which by all historical and theological accounts was a 1st century insult. It was a way to mock from a secular perspective, and say “You little Christ…”

        It’s important to understand that it was an insult and that it is only used three times in all of scripture.

        First, it’s important to understand it was an insult, because well, that is what it is.

        Second, the fact that it only is used three times may make us ask, what about other terms that were attributed to these first followers of Jesus, “The Way,” “Disciples” “Saints,” “Members of a new Priesthood,” and many more. I guess they could have just as easily been called

        Way-ians, Disciple-ians, Saint-ians, Priesthood-ians, etc, but Christ-ian was a bit more offensive in its use, so it stuck. I think that it’s healthy for us to challenge the term Christian and Christianity and to consider them in their original, historical, and existing context.

        My question to you Thesauros and Unashamed is this, “What is Christianity?” I’d love if I could see you both simultaneously, because I would wager your answers would vary. My challenge to you is to do a survey. Go into a restaurant, coffee shop, bar (gasp), and ask 10 people “What is Christianity?” or What does it mean to be a “Christian” ?

        After you have a chance to do that, please post your results here so that we can see if the answers are unanimous or not. Why do I keep rambling? I keep rambling because the truth is that the term Christian and Christianity have lost their meanings.

        Moreover, if you ask people what it means to be part of Christianity, and if you ask them what Jesus is like you’ll also get a whole array of answers.

        Thank you for challenging the thesis or motivation in the original post, but I think I’ll have to side with the author on this one for now.

        1. NotTrappedInABox says:

          Oh, and P.S. the term Christian as understood by most people in the world is a political term.

        2. Cassie says:

          No, actually, the couldn’t have been called disciple-ians. They didn’t follow the disciples, they followed Christ.

          Is the term “Christ” offensive? It comes from the Greek cristos, and means the same thing as the Hebrew “Messiah.” Anointed One.

          Jesus is the Anointed One. The Chosen. The Son of God and God Himself.

          I follow Him. Thus I am proud to be called by His title. “Christ”ian.

          “ian” as per wikipedia is Latinate and means ‘follower thereof.”

          I am a Christian. A follower of Christ. As are all who follow Christ. Even if they don’t say they are. Even if the rest of the world doesn’t understand what that means. Etymologically speaking…we are Christians. (At least those who are reading this who are saved.)

          Of course the unsaved don’t understand! And they won’t understand us because they didn’t understand Him. Not without a direct impartation of Holy Spirit will anyone ever come to Christ.

          Therefore I tell you that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit. ~1 Cor. 12:3

          1. Matthew says:

            You are missing the point that Jesus’ name was not Christ it was Jesus. If you have such a strong desired to be labeled you can call yourself a Jesusite or a Jesusian.

            From Carl: First of all, Jesus’ last name is not “Christ.” He was Jesus of Nazareth, or Jesus, the son of Joseph and Mary. His title may have been “the Christ” or the “anointed one”, but that was not his name. His name was/is Jesus. (Joshua or Yeshua).

          2. Cassie says:

            Actually, Jesus is the latin name of the Hebrew Yahshua (or Yeshua) (Greek Joshua, contracted form of Hebrew Yehoshu’a) meaning Yahweh is salvation.

            As for Christ not being his last time, no I get that. It was, however, His title. What He was called. The Messiah. It is also who He WAS. (And I hope you’ll agree that, no matter what you’re called, it’s who you are that matters.)

            So while I would not mind being called Yahshuaian (which, I suppose, would mean “one who follows Yahweh is salvation”) I also have ABSOLUTELY NO shame in being called by Christ’s title.

            And actually, what’s the difference between a name and a title?

          3. Cassie says:

            And actually, God is not God’s name, either. His name is Yahweh. God is a title. Just like Christ.

  2. Sara says:

    If this was on Facebook, I’d be clicking the “like” button for sure!

  3. Valerie Lumsden says:

    Hmmm…good thoughts. I have never liked saying that I am a Christian, mostly from the reference that it sounded so weak to me. One of those people that clings to a religion cause they can’t really hack it in the real world. The word “Christian” comes with so many bad things, stereotypes and judgements. Most of them correctly given, sadly.

    I think your reasoning has validity, but I want to know more. How do we truly separate Jesus from “Christian”? Your points were a great starting point, but how does this play out in a real life conversation? Give me some more please.

  4. Dustin says:

    Carl,

    I like where you are going with this. Jesus was (and is!) about relationship not religion. But too often people go too far and in disconnecting themselves from Christianity they distance themselves from Christ’s church – his people who have historically called themselves Christians (of course lots of others have also falsely called themselves this).

    It isn’t the religion that I want to keep intact, it is the relationship we have with all the believers in Jesus Christ from every place and every time.

  5. Jim Folsom says:

    Hi Carl,

    No Push back here. In fact, Jesus employed these same principles. He did not own everything done by Jews just because He was Jewish. I think we are all aware that loving people in the name of Jesus can get us attacked, but I believe you are right that this way keeps us out of the culture wars that are always going on. I was brought to Jesus by people who loved me in that way, so what you are saying sounds really, really good to me.

    I am reading Tea With Hezbollah right now, 2/3 done, and enjoying it. So, thanks for that too!

  6. Mike Todd says:

    One of the very first people to follow Jesus had this to say:

    “If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. By no means let any of you suffer as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; but if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not feel ashamed, but in that name let him glorify God.” (1 Peter 4:14-16)

    That bears reflection.

    1. NotTrappedInABox says:

      Mike,

      It certainly does call us to reflect. My question for you is this. What does Christian mean now in our culture? What did it mean then?

  7. Hi Carl,
    I’m with you 100%. After just a few years of living and loving in Pakistan I saw it was very clear that we, as lovers of Jesus, need to break free from this tendency to follow Christianity. We follow Jesus!

  8. bruce says:

    You can call yourself whatever you want, but if you say you are following Jesus, then you cannot stop from being joined together with others who also say they are following Jesus. Most of those people call themselves Christians and are called Christians by everyone else in the world. Not everyone who calls themselves a Christian follows Jesus, but everyone who follows Jesus will be called (whether they like it or not) a Christian. To disassociate from the title (no matter how offensive it is) is to disassociate from brothers and sisters who also claim to be following Jesus. Jesus doesn’t it when his followers try to isolate themselves from each other.

  9. bruce says:

    That last sentence is supposed to say, “Jesus doesn’t *like* it when his followers try to isolate themselves from each other.” I will add that I think repairing the damage done by “Christians” to the label “Christian” needs to be done through stereotype-busting relationships rather than by running from the label “Christian.”

  10. Cassie says:

    I think you are playing with semantics.

    Some people don’t understand what the word Christian means. It simply means “one who follows Christ.” I follow Christ, therefore I am a Christian.

    1. Many who never followed Christ called themselves Christian (crusaders, etc). THEY are the liars, and I do not own nor feel guilty for anything THEY did, nor should I.
    2. Christianity is fundamentally different from every other belief system in the world. While it is not a religion, but a relationship, it is often compared to other religions. And other religions are found lacking. All other religions are about what mankind can do to reach God. Christianity is about what God did to reach mankind.
    3. I agree that God/Holy Spirit is the only one who can reveal Himself to a person. But we are called to make disciples and plant seeds. I will not be ashamed of Christianity.

    If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. ~Luke 9:26

    Why are so many ashamed to call themselves by the name of Christ? For Christ, while not his surname, is His Title. His Title given to Him by Yahweh the Father Himself.

    Own it.

  11. Kristina says:

    Cassie,

    I believe you are taking this the wrong way. He is not saying to deny your Christianity, but only that Jesus was not a Christian. When we call ourselves Christian, it puts us in a position of being judged based on the actions of evil christian leaders that did things “in the name of the lord” to advance themselves in goverment and riches. Christians are looked at as hypocritical, dillusional, ill-founded people because of the wrongs that people have done before us. Things that Jesus Christ never taught.

    I love this quote:
    “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians, they are nothing like your Christ.” -ghandi

    Nothing could be further from the truth. We, as followers of Christ, should be more like Christ, and make a better name for His glory. If we don’t, then we are just like every other “christian” that claims to follow Jesus.

    It shouldn’t matter what we call ourselves. As long as we follow in the steps of Jesus, and love out brothers and sisters, then all is well.

    “Having faith often means doing what others see as crazy. Something is wrong when our lives make sense to unbelievers.”
    -Francis Chan

  12. Cassie says:

    The only reason we can’t call Jesus a Christian is because He doesn’t follow Christ, He IS Christ.

    I wouldn’t say He was Jewish, though. At least not in the legalistic, Pharisaical “human Judaism” that predominated in His time on Earth. He was, rather the Perfect Jew. The Perfect Everything. And He fulfilled the law.

    I get a bit annoyed when people judge God for what those who claim to be His followers or even what His followers do.

    I get a bit annoyed when someone takes the name of Christ and makes it a slander, a slur. (Not directed at anyone in particular.) “Christians are hypocritical. They don’t do what Jesus said.” No, that’s not true at all. The truth is that some who call themselves Christian don’t do what Jesus said. And that those of us who really are Christian sometimes are not yet perfected.

    But you know, it’s not about what we do, anyway. It’s about who we are and Whose we are. I belong to Christ. I will use His name loudly and proudly. 🙂

    Kristina–That is an interesting quote at the end of your post. Kind of true. I don’t know who this Francis Chan is or whether or not I can respect or agree with him, but it is true that we won’t make sense to the unsaved.

  13. Ben says:

    Cassie, Francis Chan’s books are good. You should check them out. He authored Crazy Love and Forgotten God. I own Forgotten God and highly recommend it to all.

    As far as your blog Carl, I don’t know if I’d fully agree with your last points. You stated, “2.It sets us free to not take sides in the current “culture wars.” We can step out of the “Christians versus _________” debate. There is no debate. We can simply figure out what Jesus did in similar circumstances and what we think he would want us to do today.”

    It doesn’t matter what we label or don’t label ourselves, there will still be Jesus Followers vs.______ debates. Sure, Jesus wasn’t a Christian, but did He not cause controversy and debates through his actions and words? The same will always hold true to those who walk counter-culture to the world.

    And

    “3.We don’t have to feel the pressure to convert people to Christianity – which is a lot of work and doesn’t seem to be very effective. We can simply love them in the name of Jesus and pray that GOD would convert them to himself.”

    Should one feel pressure to witness the love of Christ? No. Not with Lord by our side every step of the way. As the Lord provides us with wisdom, strength, peace and understanding, it should be a great joy and nearly void of any and all pressures. HOWEVER, we are a sinful creature. For most it takes effort and work to love like Christ loved. No matter the label or non-label it will always take some sort of effort or pressure on our part to share the saving knowledge of Christ to others.

    **Also, because we are different, we will ALWAYS have a label. There is really no such thing as a “non-label.” We are a new and different “breed.” We are aliens, afterall!

  14. jane says:

    @Dustin. I appreciate what you’re saying!

    Carl, I’d love to ‘hear’ your thoughts after all these comments.

  15. Ben says:

    Another thought I wanted to add:

    In the New Testament how did Christ Followers reveal themselves to one another, especially in the midst of persecution? They did so through the use of the fish symbol. While it is just a symbol, it is yet still a label of WHO they are.

    Let’s also not forget that Disciple and Apostle are also a label… 🙂

  16. Cassie says:

    I would like to add that distancing yourself from 2,000 years of church history is an all or nothing game. You can distance yourself from those who called themselves Christian and weren’t. But you’re also distancing yourself from each and every Christian who really DID improve the world, who really DID follow Christ.

  17. Dave H says:

    Thank you for this thought provoking post. i have just discovered your blog (and book) and look forward to exploring more challenging ideas with you. Thanks!

  18. Great discussion. Lots of heat. I like that. I like it so much I’m going to write another blog right now!
    carl

  19. […] you haven’t checked out the discussion on both my Facebook and my last blog post, you should. It’s in response to my thoughts entitled “Jesus Wasn’t a Christian.” You […]

  20. Kent says:

    Carl,

    I appreciate the things that you say in both your books and your blog more than I can express!

    I have nothing profound to say, only thank you! Thank you for keeping things simple. Everything makes so much more sense when we just follow Jesus, and avoid the superfluousness of Christianity. Thank you for saying things the way you do. It is so refreshing!

  21. DaveK says:

    I am a follower of Jesus and definately not a Christian

  22. kimg says:

    Carl,

    a few things:

    1. It appears that you feel the need to distance yourself from community. Like it or not, you MUST own the fact that people purported to follow Christ are part of your history. The attempt to distance yourself from the Christianity (which is clearly the root of your desire in this article) shows you have rejected the premise that Jesus, Paul and the writer of Hebrews (depending on whether you think Paul that that same person) who all articulate that we cannot live outside the community of time/history in which we find ourselves. To accept Christ must be to accept His church, this is clearly the one thing which has eternal value as Christ plans to return for her as His bride. He plans to present her as a spotless, washed bride. But he makes her holy, not our attempts at revising our “language” to distance ourselves from her sins. You make a grave mistake in divorcing yourself from history because you prefer not to be associated with the church. Notice I don’t use the word “Christianity”. But you have chosen to apply the nomenclature of “Christianity” to attempt to absolve yourself from the sins of the Church. Is Christ honored by her sin- no. But He has not given up on her and has said clearly he will wash her clean and return for her. If we have learned anything from the history of the Jews in the Pentateuch, the Law, the story of the Jews through the rest of the Old Testament and Jesus repeated claims that his new testament embraces and fulfills the old, it does not eviscerate it. The church exists across physical space (which is why we all believe in the greater Body of Christ across the earth) and across time (from the first century until now). If you wish to sidestep into a DMZ where you can declare yourself free of the sins of the church, you must also give up your fellowship with the Body of Christ (and I am not suggesting you should do so, only stating this is what your claims are doing).

    2. Despite the fact that the church (or Christianity) has sinned, this does NOT mean you have to defend it. The mistake made by many in this situation is to do as you have- declare a divorce from the offense (and those in the community), to try to make yourself absolved of guilt. The Church HAS sinned. But so have you. The historical church has wronged many, but so have you and all of us. Did Christ leave us and rejected us? Did he add another book to the Bible and refute the book of John’s Revelation of Jesus, in which he would have had to state that he is no longer coming back for His Bride, His Church, washed and white? Christ has not rejected you, and He hasn’t rejected his Church. You can argue nomenclature, but the fact that you named sin OF THE CHURCH, is clear that you find the church offensive, not just the name of Christianity.

    Am I proud of the sin done by the Church over the years? No. But I am honored to be a part of the life of Jesus that flows across the earth through the Holy Spirit– through the instrument of His Body- the CHURCH.

    Simply, the sins are not defensible – just as yours and mine are not. Yet Christ forgives, and He has said that “on this Rock, I will build my church”. Jesus has died, rose again and will return for His church. You can scorn the name, but your hope to escape reality and absolve your connection with Christianity breathes of self-deception.

    In short, stop defending (or feeling the need to defend) the church. Simply be part of it, and do the will of Jesus. Make a better history for Christianity now. One in which future generations will not feel the need to “follow Jesus, but reject the church”.

    3. It is interesting that you feel the need to convert people to Christianity. Again, be careful of what you believe and what semantics you use. All the things you described as shameful (and from which you would like to be divorced) are attributed to the Church specifically, and Christianity in name. Frankly, you can’t convert people to Christ either. The scriptures make it clear that no man comes to the Father unless the Spirit draws him and enables him. You are part of the picture, the family, the servants of God. You are certainly to participate in helping (where the Spirit enables) a person to begin a relationship with Christ, true. If this is a conversion, then fine. But you didn’t do it. Jesus did. Further, no one is asking you to convert anyone to Christianity– but be careful that you don’t believe that Christ calls us to follow him on our own. For this was the failure of the ascetics, who though they did many great things for the faith (and taught us many truths), broke away from living in community with the Church (at least initially- though many later developed into monasteries, which where themselves communities).

    Jesus and Paul both make it clear that we are part of one body, one church. In articulating a kind of life where you “convert people to Jesus”, you cannot, must not, leave out the message that those people are not only signing up to follow Jesus, they are signing up to be part of His Body. This is the clear teaching of the New Testament.

    A good modern day articulation of this, that you probably know well, comes from John Wimber’s books where he says that in conversion we are called to “Christ, His cause and his Church”.

    What I am saying in my response is that is you are trying to divorce yourself from the church. Your language articulates sins of the church, shames you feel about it- not just a bad label (Christianity), that you’d rather not take. If you tell me that you accept being part of the church, and understand that you are part of the church, across time and history, then all the offenses you speak of are included in that.

    But for the good of us all, don’t use the single word “Christianity” to attempt to absolve yourself of connection with something that you like the leader of, but don’t like where it has been for some of its history. It’s duplicitous at best, and dangerous to true discipleship.

  23. DaveK says:

    I have been asleep for 200 years – where has the Holy Ghost gone

  24. Susanne says:

    I enjoyed this. So true!

  25. Andrew P. says:

    Amen. I think point 3 is the most overwhelming reason to discard Christianity. Converting people to Western Christendom is the opposite of what we see Jesus doing in the New Testament. Loving people, and telling them to follow him. Not some religion.

    Acts 15 paints a crystal-clear picture. The Gentiles (Greeks in this context) were not required to live by the (cultural) standards that the Jewish believers had. They were free to stay in their own culture and live out their faith in Jesus in a culturally appropriate way.

  26. Don says:

    RUN from this pointless argument