March 25, 2012

Christ Followers: Knowing Christ

Cross followIt has become increasingly popular for some Christians to refer to themselves as "Christ followers" instead of Christians. For some, this reflects displeasure with organized religion (i.e., religious hierarchy, church, clergy, etc). For others, it is about emphasizing their "personal relationship with Jesus" above all else. In this post, I'll take a look at these "Christ followers" and examine the three paths through which they claim to know this Christ figure.

A minimal prerequisite for regarding oneself as a "follower of Christ" would seem to involve some method of knowing this Christ figure. From what I have observed, there are three ways in which these believers claim to know the object of their worship.

Direct Reading of Scripture

reading the bibleFor some self-identified Christ followers, their idea of Christ comes primarily from their own reading of the Christian bible. I suspect they are the smallest group. That is, this is the rarest of the three paths. After all, what we are talking about here involves the believer reading the Christian bible independently without anybody else telling him or her what it means.

This path involves independent reading of the Christian bible as well as independent interpretation of what one is reading. They don't use study aids or participate in bible study groups. The believer who focuses on this path must decide what the bible means in light of the modern world. And like most Christians, they typically pick and choose the parts they like and discard or ignore the rest.

This is likely to be the least common path because it involves considerable effort, far more than the others require.

Personal Revelation

RevelationThe second path, more common than the first but not as common as the third, involves personal revelation. That is, some "followers of Christ" claim that their notions of Christ are informed by supernatural contact. These believers dwell in a magical realm where "holy" spirits and long dead (or entirely fictional) entities communicate with them.

They "know" Jesus largely through intuition and gut feelings. They claim to feel his presence, and they are usually the first to insist that they have a "personal relationship."

As someone fascinated with mental illness, I am intrigued by these folks. In many ways, they resemble those with psychotic disorders. But of course, this is a socially acceptable form of delusion, one that we are not supposed to diagnose and treat.

Reliance on the Opinions of Others

Unfortunately, the most common path also happens to be the least interesting. I suspect that the overwhelming majority of Christ followers base their knowledge of the entity they claim to follow primarily on what they've heard from others. That is, their knowledge comes not from their own work or experience but from the work or claimed experiences of others (e.g., clergy, family, authors, etc.).

Those who have relied primarily on this path do not typically know their bibles well; they may not have read it at all. Some rely instead on books about their bible and bible study groups; others simply base their knowledge on broad cultural messages about the contents of the bible. They may claim to have had revelatory experiences, but they really haven't had anything of the sort. Instead, they have based their beliefs on what they have heard, read, or seen from others. For these reasons, they resemble the Christians from whom they want to distance themselves far more than they realize.

What Do You Think?

What did I miss? What have I left out?

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