Christian or Christ-follower. It’s a distinction that is being made more and more today, and often the latter term, Christ follower, is replacing the former term, Christian. Even many Christian leaders are making the switch. But just what does it mean? Emerging church leader, Erwin McManus says his “goal is to destroy Christianity as a world religion and be a recatalyst for the movement of Jesus Christ.” In McManus’ book, The Barbarian Way, he talks about being “awakened” to a “primal longing that … waits to be unleashed within everyone who is a follower of Jesus Christ.” McManus says that the “greatest enemy to the movement of Jesus Christ is Christianity [i.e., Christians].” A video on YouTube.com called “Christian No More” (by Christian Community Church) exemplifies this view by portraying those who call themselves Christians as shallow church-goers who wear suits and ties, have Christian bumper stickers on their cars and prefer the King James Version. This belittling video is evidence that it is increasingly more popular to call oneself a Christ follower rather than a Christian.
Interestingly, most of the leaders who seem to be downplaying the name Christian and promoting the appropriation of the term “Christ follower” are contemplative spirituality proponents. One contemplative advocate, Rick Warren, had the term throughout his former pastors.com website. Lee Strobel refers to it in his book Case for Christ (Student Edition), and Wesleyan pastor David Drury has a Christ-Follower Pop Quiz on his web site to help determine if you are really a “Christ Follower.”
This theme of anti-“Christian” sentiment is not going to disappear any time soon. In emerging church leader and labyrinth promoter Dan Kimball’s book, They Like Jesus But Not the Church, the idea is that you can go for Jesus, but you don’t have to identify yourself as a Christian or part of the Christian church. This concept spills over into some missionary societies too, where they teach people from other religions that they can keep their religion, just add Jesus to the equation. They don’t have to embrace the term “Christian” (see The New Missiology).
So what’s the problem? So what if you want to be a Christ follower instead of a Christian. Well, the problem, when identified, will show you why the Spiritual Formation movement (which is promoted by Purpose Driven, Willow Creek, the emerging church, etc) is so dangerous and misleading.
Let us explain. If you have researched the teachings of contemplative authors, you may have noticed a common message. That message says: If you want to be like Christ, then practice these certain disciplines and you can be like Him. Chuck Swindoll bought into this when he wrote his book, So You Want to Be Like Christ: Eight Essential Disciplines to Get You There. But Swindoll exalts one particular discipline – the silence. In fact, he goes so far as to say you can’t become a deep, meaningful Christian without it. Beth Moore, in the pro-contemplative film, Be Still, says: “[I]f we are not still before Him [God], we will never truly know to the depths of the marrow of our bones that He is God. There’s got to be a stillness.” And this is what contemplatives teach. The one common thread woven throughout spiritual formation teachings is that the silence and being a Christ follower are practically synonymous. You can’t have one without the other. And of course, this silence is induced through meditative practices such as centering prayer, lectio divina, etc.
So what we are witnessing is countless teachers, authors and leaders telling people they can become like Christ through a method that can be learned. teaches that anyone, not just believers, can practice contemplative prayer and become like Christ.
Now here lies the difference between a Christian and a Christ-follower. A person who is truly born-again has Jesus Christ indwelling him. Jesus lives inside that person. And it is His life in him or her that gives the power to become progressively more like Him (sanctification), as Paul said in his address to Corinthian Christians: “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord” (II Corinthians 3:18). The believer draws his strength and power from Jesus Christ (who indwells him), and he realizes his salvation and any good thing in him is from Christ; as the Scripture says: “Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:9).
But being born again or having the indwelling of Jesus Christ is not a prerequisite for the “Christianity” of today. Spiritual formation can be practiced by anyone. Jesus becomes a model or an example who can be followed and mimicked. For example, Ken Blanchard says Jesus is a perfect model to follow. That’s why he talks so much about leading like Jesus would lead. But Blanchard has shown time and again that he believes meditation is a key factor in becoming like Jesus.
While Jesus was and is a model, that wasn’t His primary mission. And when people refer to Him as a model, it is often because they see Him as a model for higher consciousness rather than the unique Son of God, Emmanuel (God with us) who came to die for us and be our Savior. And that’s what you find across the board in contemplative writings. Contemplative icons Thomas Merton and Henri Nouwen saw Jesus in this manner. This is why Nouwen said it disturbed him when he heard people say Jesus was the only way. He said it was his mission to help people find his or her own way to God (see Sabbatical Journey). That’s also why he saw India as a source for many spiritual “treasures” for the Christian. 1 In an eastern religion like Buddhism, Buddha was a model where his followers were imitators of him. But in Christianity the Spirit of Christ indwells us through faith. So Jesus becomes more than a model; He is a living presence in us. “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him” (Hebrews 11:6).
This is actually the heart of the whole spiritual formation movement. It supposedly teaches you how to be like Christ, but the power to do this doesn’t come from Jesus Christ living in you (in fact that isn’t a requirement, according to Richard Foster) – but the power to change has to come from somewhere. Where? It comes from meditation! So anyone at all, from any walk of life, from any religion, can be a “Christ follower.” But this does not mean they have Jesus Christ in them. The contemplative prayer movement is misguiding millions into believing that if they practice certain disciplines they can be like Christ, thus securing their spiritual well being. They may come to believe that they have a christ consciousness and are Christ like, yet they do not have the actual power of Christ within. That power can only come from the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.
But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name (John 1:12).
For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek (Romans 1:16).
For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God (I Corinthians 1:18).
This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come … Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof” (II Timothy 3:1,5).
The man who virtually wrote the book on the subject (Centering Prayer), Basil Pennington, made the point of what we are trying to say when he penned these words:
It is my sense, from having meditated with persons from many different [non-Christian] traditions, that in the silence we experience a deep unity. When we go beyond the portals of the rational mind into the experience, there is only one God to be experienced.
Another major contemplative promoter stated:
The new ecumenism involved here is not between Christian and Christian, but between Christians and the grace of other intuitively deep religious traditions.– Tilden Edwards
These two men have both been leaders of the contemplative prayer movement for decades. And it is important to note that evangelical leader Richard Foster endorsed Edwards’ book, Spiritual Friend, from which this last quote came (see back, Celebration of Discipline). Both Pennington and Edwards would call themselves Christ followers, following in the same spiritual path as Jesus Christ followed. But as you can see, both Pennington and Edwards do not accept the view that believing the gospel is a vital prerequisite for having a relationship with the living God. Otherwise they would not have said the above. With this mindset, the message of the cross is rendered useless. And so the question that we must ask ourselves is this: Will we, who have Jesus Christ living in us, call ourselves Christians? Let those of us who name the name of Christ, stand and say, yes, we will be called Christians.
For a complete analysis and documentation of contemplative spirituality and its infiltration into Christendom, we encourage you to read A Time of Departing.