WHEN I WAS PROVIDENTIALLY FORCED to go right back to the drawing board of my faith after some spiritually testing years 2009-2017, after the rejuvenation of that faith (which, was accompanied by the writing of the book “Narrow Gate ~ Pathway Strait”) many things had changed (click on that title to download the book for free). One of those changes was that I no longer had the desire to refer to myself as “a Christian”. I felt deeply that the word had taken on the connotation of a religion — as if it was just one religion among many — and Christ certainly did not come to start any religion but to create a radical counterculture spirituality. Besides, many adopting that label had practices and beliefs with which I could not identify. It was just too much of a ‘catch-all’ term to be meaningful anymore. So instead I chose to call myself a ‘disciple of Christ’, and that has stayed with me to this day. This seemed to me to be much more descriptive of how I see myself in spiritual terms, not to mention the fact that Christ Himself said, “If you want to be My disciple…”, attached to certain conditions (e.g. denying oneself, taking up one’s cross, not putting one’s family before one’s spiritual journey, walking in Christ’s footsteps, not clinging to one’s possessions in any way, etc.). Being a disciple, therefore, is an entire way of life rather than a mere label. One can call oneself a Christian and continue to lead one’s life without too many inconvenient changes. But to say, “I am a disciple of Christ”, involves a whole-life commitment and transformation, rather than implying that one has merely bought into a set of beliefs.
Speaking of “beliefs”, another thing which had changed after my spiritual rejuvenation circa 2017 was that I could no longer see myself simply as ‘a believer’ and then label anyone who doesn’t believe exactly what I believe as an ‘unbeliever’. For being a disciple of Christ is not merely about ‘belief’. Obviously, there are certain facts which one must find indisputable and therefore believe them to be true. But that does not clothe a person in the label of “a believer”. For, from what I can see, people who call themselves “a Christian” seem to hold many different beliefs apart from claiming to believe in the Christ.
Belief in itself can be very deceptive. Here is a fact: Christ did not come to create believers. He came so that people “may have life, and have it in all its fullness”, as it says in the Gospel of John, chapter 10, verse 10. Earlier in John’s gospel, we are shown how fragile mere belief can be. When Jesus spoke to the people around Him, we are told that “many believed in Him”, to whom He then said: “If you continue in My word, you are truly My disciples” (Gospel of John, chapter 8, verses 30-31). In other words, their mere belief was not enough. That belief had to be evidenced by ‘continuing in His word’, that is, staying faithful to all that He had said and living in obedience to Him — in short, living the life of a disciple. Belief in itself will not suffice in the business of the salvation of the soul. One’s entire lifestyle and comportment must undergo a radical metanoia. Later in that exchange, we see that those “believers” in Him got super-offended by something He said and started arguing with Him, to which Jesus ultimately responded by saying, “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out his desires” (verse 44). So those “believers” were actually fingered by Christ as being children of Satan! After all, even demons believe in God (though it gives them the heebie-jeebies, as we can see in the Letter of James, chapter 2, verse 19!).
When Christ, after His resurrection, charged the apostles with what had to be done for the remainder of this age, He didn’t say, “Go into the world and make people into believers”, He told them to “make disciples of them” (Gospel of Matthew, chapter 28, verses 18-20). We are not to be mere believers. Make no mistake about it: We are to be disciples!
The word which is translated as “believer” in the Greek New Testament has a number of identities, also depending on the Bible translation. For example, the New International Version translates the Book of Acts, chapter 1, verse 15 like this: “In those days Peter stood up among the believers (a group numbering about a hundred and twenty)”. Only thing is that the Greek word translated as believers there is ἀδελφῶν, adelphōn, meaning brothers. In trying to be ‘inclusive’ there (for the 120 will have included men and women), the NIV used the catch-all term “believers”, instead of brothers. Other versions do likewise (e.g. GNB, NRSV and NET). But they are imposing the terminology of today onto the text. Others have actually used the term “brothers and sisters” (the NASB puts the words “and sisters” in italics to show that it was not in the original Greek text but was added for clarity), which is fine as a ‘dynamic equivalence’ translation and captures the spirit of the original. Others have got around it by using the word, “disciples” (e.g. KJV and NKJV), which is also acceptable. But it is clear that the original text was giving the impression of a family of the faithful. I use the word “faithful” there deliberately. Because in the other contexts where “believer” is used in translation, the Greek word most often used is πιστός, pistos, meaning faithful, trustworthy, i.e. as the Greek root of pistos implies, someone who has been persuaded of truth by something which can be trusted and in which one can have complete faith. So when the New Testament speaks of a “believer” or “believers”, the Greek from which they are translated means so much more than that. This is why I would prefer to translate it as “a faithful one” rather than “a believer”, for as we have seen above, mere belief can simply be a mental assent which can be nullified or overturned rather than a complete irrevocable supernatural transformation.
Another element in my choice to call myself a disciple rather than a believer is that when one thinks of oneself as primarily a believer rather than a disciple, there can be a tendency to begin to regard all “unbelievers” with contempt as if they are dirty, corrupted, evil, even satanic. While it is true that the whole world lies under the power of Satan, there are many different levels on which the outcome of that power is manifested. Hitlers, Stalins, Cesare Borgias and Yorkshire Rippers are, fortunately, not the human norm. A great many “unbelievers” are just struggling to make sense of the world and make ends meet. Being spiritually blind does not have to make one into a monster. That most are not Hitlers, Stalins, Cesare Borgias and Yorkshire Rippers is precisely why not all those who are separated from God at the time of death receive the same degrees of judgement. (For further details about this see the “Excursus on Degrees of Condemnation and Blessing in the Final Judgement” on pages 581-589 in my commentary on the Book of Revelation).
This is why regarding all “unbelievers” with contempt is not in keeping with the mind of God. For we are to be “the sweet aroma of Christ” to those who have not yet been spiritually transformed (Second Letter to the Corinthians, chapter 2, verse 15). When a contemptuous attitude towards “unbelievers” takes hold, one becomes akin to Muslims who regard unbelievers with disdain as “kuffar” which WikiIslam defines as “someone who rejects or does not believe in Allah as the one and only God and Muhammad as the final messenger of Allah”. The more fundamentalist elements in any religion, including so-called “Christianity”, always resort to simplistic condemnations and denunciations of those who do not follow their belief system in every jot and tittle.
Many problems arise out of seeing one’s relationship with God as primarily one of belief. One of the first problems is that a kind of ‘checklist religion’ is developed, so that one winds up with lengthy, complex creeds and confessions, which usually lead to legalism, heresy trials and inquisitions against those who transgress them. A true disciple of Christ does not need such encumbrances. For he or she naturally lives out the life that Christ extols. Thus, a genuine disciple of Christ is beyond the reach of written formulas and creeds. He or she knows who s/he has believed and lives by the guidance of the Holy Spirit rather than legal church documents. When one creates a fellowship of true disciples, there is no need to reduce the supernatural transformation involved in discipleship to a mere set of beliefs. Christ desires us to make disciples in this world, not a herd of ‘checklist Charlies’.
Obviously, there are certain core understandings which underpin the life of the disciple. At its most basic, that Christ has come as God manifested in the flesh to overturn the pretended kingdom of Satan and restore the creation to a pristine condition. It is extremely important to share what Paul calls ὑγιαινούσῃ διδασκαλίᾳ, hygiainousē didaskalia, a phrase which is often translated with the dour words “sound doctrine” but which is far more helpfully translated as “healthy teaching” (e.g. Letter to Titus, chapter 2, verse 1). The word, hygiainousē, is where we get our word hygiene from. It carries the meaning of purity and good health. Healthy teaching educates people; teaching doctrine indoctrinates people. The mature disciple or elder lovingly leads those less mature into a deeper understanding of Bible history, the truths about Christ, and of what it means to be a disciple. It isn’t a competition to see who can be the “soundest” in their absorption of ‘doctrine’ but how we can exercise purity in our comportment and fervour in our discipleship. We are not supposed to mimic the Mullahs in their obsessive push for the following of doctrine to the letter. Knowledge of doctrine is not what grows healthy disciples. That is an aberration which has created an over-intellectualising and over-formulisation of teaching. There has been far too much intellectualism in formulating a ‘Christian religion’, so that just a slight aberration in the use of a word can result in huge disputes and endless heresy charges. Yes, those who are deliberately teaching things which undermine the truth about the Christ need to be handled firmly, for Satan is extremely cunning in his distortions at the level of the mind; and one must always protect the less mature. But if one encourages people to think that discipleship can be reduced to conformity to a set of written rules, then one has altogether missed what discipleship is all about. One cannot control everything and everyone; and there are far too many control-freaks in the world of religion today who will flag you up as a heretic if you do not quite use the right terminology or complex formulas which they have devised. When in the past I was involved with churches which are always going on about doctrine, I can honestly say that it was in them that I encountered the most manipulative, duplicitous, ruthless, conniving human beings that I have ever come across. I think such environments generally attract those with a need for control and an aversion for freedom. When people major on doctrine and become obsessed about it, seeing it as the be-all and end-all of their religious endeavours, then there is a subsequent suppression of spirituality and a descent into religious materialism which superbly suits the satanic realm in distracting humans from what should be their true focus.
Another problem with creating a belief-based religion and rooting it in beliefs rather than supernatural transformation is that beliefs can change and be overturned; but what has been supernaturally transformed by God cannot be reversed, and neither would those who have been so transformed want it to be. Beliefs are based on intellectual understanding; whereas discipleship is rooted in supernatural transformation. Obviously, one has to believe certain things before one can become a disciple. But those beliefs are just a staging post on a spiritual journey rather than a point of religious arrival. When one indulges in an intellectual religion, mistaking the intellectual for spiritual, one tends to become highly judgemental of others, splitting hairs, pouring bile on anyone who doesn’t dot every “i” or cross every “t”. They are the ones who would have burned others at the stake if they lived a few hundred years ago.
So far, I have stated that I do not like to call myself a “Christian” (as I then am part of one religion among many) and that I do not refer to myself as a mere “believer” (as that automatically pits me against “unbelievers” and reduces spirituality to mere belief). There is another element also. I do not regard myself as being part of “the Church” such as the world sees it. What people call “the Church” as a whole is a false mainstream construct, with its gaudy cathedrals, the Vatican, cardinals, archbishops, fancy outfits, pomp, sacerdotalism, vast wealth, corruption, endorsement of ‘wokeism’ and false liberalism, compromise on truth, lack of counterculture and a misleading portrayal of Christ (physically and spiritually) and an idealisation of the state of the world. Then there are so many independent churches which fall into a pattern of fundamentalist evangelical religion in which congregational control is at the forefront, or they advocate teachings involving strange “manifestations” (e.g. so-called “Holy Laughter”), unChristlike teachings (e.g. God wants you to be wealthy), and wacky Endtimes indulgences (e.g. the so-called Rapture, 1000-year reign on earth of Christ, etc.). All of this seems a far reach from the way that the Ekklesia operated in the century after the ascension of Christ in which the accent was on simplicity, sharing and discipleship. The word most often translated as “church” in the New Testament is ekklesia, which literally means “the called-out ones”, as it is a compound word in the Greek which denotes just that — called out of the satanically-empowered world into the body of Christ and population of the future new creation. “Going to church” does not mean that one is part of the Ekklesia.
Therefore, I do not speak of myself merely as “a Christian believer who has joined the Church”. Rather, I am a disciple of Christ whose unshakable faith has brought him to realise that he has been supernaturally called out of this evil world into the glorious Ekklesia which Christ has been creating since His ascension and will do until His return. I have come to this position over many years, decades even; and I make no stipulations about what anyone else should call themselves or how they should view themselves. That is a matter for each individual. But I would love to see a return to a more simple faithful life of discipleship, in which folks had less of a herd mentality and cut out the ‘in-phrases’ and ‘churchy clichés’ and thereby became more empathic in the way they relate to those who have not yet submitted to the truths to which disciples have.
Here is the bottom line: At the end of the age, we will not be judged by what we believe but how what we believe has made us behave. If you do not believe that, then read carefully the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 25, verses 31-46 and the Letter to the Romans, chapter 2, verse 6. In other words, it is the quality and actions of our discipleship which will be the decisive factor in our eternal destiny and not whether or not we can quote a catechism or reel off by rote some theological titbit.
© 2022, Alan Morrison / The Diakrisis Project. All Rights Reserved. [The copyright on my works is merely to protect them from any wanton plagiarism which could result in undesirable changes (as has actually happened!). Readers are free to reproduce my work, so long as it is in the same format and with the exact same content and its origin is acknowledged]