Claiming (or otherwise) the Label ‘Christian’

Sometimes I find it extremely difficult to claim for myself the name ‘Christian’. Sometimes, I must admit, I find it very nearly impossible.

Now, it’s not because I think it’s ‘tough’ being a Christian in Australia. It’s not because I think there’s any kind of persecution that Christians in Australia must endure. (There are Christians in a number of countries around the world who do face persecution for their faith, but Australia is no such place.)

It’s something else entirely. In fact, it’s two things.

Firstly, it’s that I’m not actually a very good disciple. To call oneself a ‘follower of Jesus’ is, to my mind, a pretty big call. In consciously attaching myself to the example and teaching of Jesus of Nazareth, I’m asking people to receive me as a kind of representative of him. In a way, I’m suggesting that when people look at me, they should see the resemblance of Jesus. My life and my actions should remind those who I come into contact with of the stories of Jesus in the Gospels; the way he treated people, the way he engaged with them as people.

This is not always/often the case.

When I think about the ‘fruits of the Spirit’—the attitudes and actions that should be the essential characteristics of the followers of Jesus—I realise how far I am off the mark.

  • Love
  • Joy
  • Peace
  • Patience
  • Kindness
  • Goodness
  • Faithfulness
  • Gentleness
  • Self-control

I’m not winning at this list. I’m trying. I think I might be getting better at some of them. But I’m certainly not winning.

So, sometimes I feel like I might not be taking it all seriously enough. Sometimes I feel like I should just drop the title and leave poor Jesus out of it and stop bringing his name into disrepute.

Sometimes, however, and this brings me to the second point, I just can’t stand being part of the group that identifies as ‘Christian’.

Now, obviously, the name ‘Christian’ covers an incredibly broad range of people. It is quite literally a ‘broad church’. There are ‘conservatives’ and ‘progressives’, those who like the bells and smells and those whose highest aim is ‘contemporvence’. And, of course, there are Sydney Anglicans : )

As such, this one name for all of us together is sometimes a little bit uncomfortable.

What I can’t stand, though, is when fundamentalist groups shout louder than the rest of us, and society comes to identify that as synonymous with ‘Christian’. I can’t stand it when hermeneutically illiterate people or groups claim to hold the ‘biblical position’ on every topic; that ‘God said it’ and they are now the gatekeepers of all orthodoxy.

I simply can’t deal with it when angry groups who are anti-‘gay’, anti-Islam, anti-environmental concern, anti-everything, try to speak on behalf of all Christians.

In fact, I hate it.

It makes me really angry, and I don’t want to be angry.

It makes me want to distance myself from the group.

Now, I’m obviously not going to try, in response, to speak on behalf of all Christians about what Christianity really is. I’m sure that there are a whole bunch of people who identify as Christian who would be mortified to be associated with me.

All I’m going to say is that we, as Christians, should be taking seriously this idea of representing Jesus. Where the fruit of the Spirit is not present in our interactions with others, then I think we need to ask ourselves some serious questions.

When we are told (consistently!) that we are much better at demonstrating hate, rather than love, I think we need to listen.

And where we are fixated on, and defined by, exclusion, I think we need to reassess our picture of Jesus.


Published by

Josh Dowton

Student of history/theology/nonviolence/permaculture/missional thinking. Large of limb, red of hair. Semper in excretia sumus, solum profundum variat.

2 thoughts on “Claiming (or otherwise) the Label ‘Christian’”

  1. Lol. Jack. I just posted something on being a follower of Jesus at the same time you did. Must be a spirit thing 😉 Being a follower is allowing God to take us on a journey of faith within the journey of life. – I’d much rather be a follower.

  2. We should have a beer one time. This post sounds like me most of the time. It’s tough being Christian and supportive of the gay community, especially when I’m pretty sure the preacher I heard on Sunday had a direct shot at me from the pulpit for knowing (at some level) Koine Greek and wanting to study the bible rather than just blissfully resting in the fact “that Jesus loves me and that’s all I need to know.”

    But some guy, what did he say?? Something like you can’t love God and hate your brothers and sisters.

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