A word’s meaning has been changing, and I haven’t realized it. I’m pretty sure the church hasn’t either. For some time now many church leaders have been distancing themselves from the word “Christian” in order to distance themselves from nominal Christianity. That’s because for quite a while, people have worn “Christian” like a label slapped on cans of different kinds of soup: the label doesn't tell you much about what's inside, so it’s pretty useless. One favored substitute is the term “Christ-follower” or “Jesus-follower.” Maybe you’ve heard this. It’s not uncommon to see the word “follow” in definitions of “disciple” as well. “Follow” is a biblical idea. Jesus summoned people to follow him, meaning they traveled around with him and learned to imitate his way of life. “Follow” is an excellent translation of the Greek akoluthéo used in the Bible, capturing its range of meanings quite well. However, there is now a meaning of the English word “follow” that ancient Greek-speakers never knew. In the OED’s words, it is to “track (a person, group, or organization) by subscribing to their account on a social media website or application.” Critically, this use of the word “follow” has become so prevalent today that I wonder whether it's the single most common meaning of the term in everyday speech. If so, what does “Christ-follower” suggest to a person today? To many, especially people who don't speak fluent Christianese, “following Jesus” probably means getting regular notifications about what Jesus is posting, absorbing them in a second or two, then swiping on. That’s how people follow everybody else. Of course, since Jesus doesn’t post for himself, practically this entails following people who post things on his behalf—things like an inspirational Instagram picture, a political warcry, or whatever. But following that stuff has absolutely nothing to do with following Jesus. And tapping the heart icon has nothing to do with loving him. So maybe we have to find a new term yet again.
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