When I was growing up we used to sing a song in Sunday School that went, “I am a C. I am a C-H. I am a C-H-R-I-S-T-I-A-N!” We loved it. We would sing it as fast as we possibly could until we were so loud the old people had to come tell us to shut up.
We loved singing, “I am a Christian!” and declaring it as loud as we could, and it wasn’t just for the candy. At least not for me.
You can say I was indoctrinated into the church like it’s a cult and that my parents told me everything to believe, and I won’t argue that I’m sure there are some things I believe because I was raised in that setting. But I will also say that from the time I was young, I have felt something special about God and the church. And being a Christian meant something to me. It still does.
These days I’m tending to notice that a lot of people do not like singing the “I am a Christian” song anymore, and it’s not just because we’re not kids. (Maybe Hillsong needs to do a cover of it?) I think it’s because followers of Jesus are kind of embarrassed by what the word Christian gets lumped in with nowadays.
I’ll admit that I’m also embarrassed by a lot of it. Why are Christians known for having some of the worst music in the world? Why are Christians known for being paranoid about any Democrat in office? Why are Christians known for wearing really dorky T-shirts? I know why—because we deserve it.
We don’t have the best advertisements for our faith in many ways. People don’t want to be included with what the American Christian is perceived as. People don’t want to call themselves a Christian and have you think that they approve of millionaire pastors that drive Bentleys or that they believe Kirk Cameron should be on the face of our money. People don’t want to call themselves a Christian and have you think that they hate gay people or that they only vote Republican.
So they keep their guard up against what someone would associate with them. And instead of saying, “I’m a Christian” in one second, they proceed to explain their faith to you for the next 30 minutes and how they think Jesus was a good guy who gets a bad reputation.
Look, I get it. I understand why you would want to avoid that. I don’t want to be associated it with all of that either. It’s not me.
If you know me personally, we probably didn’t meet by me walking up to you and asking you whether you knew if you were going to heaven or not. I don’t tend to flash my faith like a cop flashes his badge on a drug bust. I’m not against people who start preaching while walking through the line at Moe’s either, but it’s just not how I start off most of my conversations. That being said, if you know me at all, you probably know that I’m a Christian. I don’t hide it very well. And I don’t hide it very well because I’m not trying to.
We’ve got a million reasons to want to leave behind the name Christian, which has been misused and stained in so many ways, but I’m not planning on doing that any time soon.
If you want to call yourself a disciple of Jesus or a lover and follower of Jesus instead of the exact word “Christian” then that’s your call. But what I see more than just people leaving behind a word is that people also want to separate themselves from the church. They want don’t want the label of Christian, and they don’t want to be associated with the people that call themselves Christians.
To me, that’s a big problem.
If you believe in the teachings of Jesus enough to dedicate your life to Him, then you also have to love the church. Christ is not disconnected from the church—“He is the head of the body, the church.” (1 Corinthians 1:18) Christ is not merely just letting those people into heaven; He is critically attached to them. And He loves them. He even calls them His bride.
I’m no poster boy for the American church. I think we have a long way to go. And honestly, we’ll never totally have it down because the church is made up of humans. Just like any other group of people, the church is able to hurt and to be hurt. The church is embarrassing at times. And it is straight up just wrong on some matters. But Jesus loves the church just the same.
You want to follow Jesus but you don’t want to be associated with the church? Well, tough. You are.
If you call yourself a follower of Jesus or any other definition you’ve developed, you are connected. They are your brothers and sisters. There’s no way around it.
1 John 1:9
Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness.
I have a number of Penn State alumni friends. And last year I remember watching the awful Penn State scandal unfold. The disgust. The pain. The shameful image it brought on the esteemed university. It was nothing short of horrible.
Surprisingly enough though, I never once saw anyone take down their alumni status online or change the college they graduated from on their resume. No one made up a new name for the university. They stuck with it. They stood by it. And they were associated with it, but they represented the good that is connected to it. They reminded people that Penn State University is more than just how a few people were currently representing it.
The true function of the church has been distorted, and honestly there were probably about two seconds where it functioned correctly. But should our response be to disconnect ourselves from its bad reputation completely? Or as followers of Christ should our response be to stand by it? To bear the label of Christian. To live out what we believe it truly means to be a Christian in the best way we can.
The word Christian is not the only thing that has been distorted. The name of Jesus has been abused as well. Do we leave behind Jesus, too? Or do we do our best to represent him as “Christ’s ambassadors?” (2 Corinthians 5:20)
The beautiful thing about true Christianity is that we are allowed to be imperfect. Christ wouldn’t have died for the church if it were supposed to be flawless. The reason the church has persisted for 2,000 years is that it can take a beating. It can take the ridicule. It can take the hatred. But it keeps going. It doesn’t die out. It continues to grow.
I call myself a follower of Jesus. I am also what is wrong with the church. I am a hypocrite. I am messed up. I am weak. But thankfully, Jesus still sees something in me worth saving. He says I’m His friend. I am called to Christ, but I am also called to His people.
I’m a Christian.