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In my opinion, the second most important takeaway from the JESUS PLUS NOTHING book is that Christianity does not own Jesus. Christians don't have a proprietary hold on Jesus. No matter where I go in the world, most people believe Jesus was a Christian and the founder of the religion of Christianity. Once that link is broken, then there is freedom for an entirely new conversation about Jesus. This is a vital separation.
American Christians complain that Christians are disparaged and caricaturized in the media, in the movies, in politics and during the holidays. There is a stigma to being a Christian in America and it's not always a good stigma. A mega-Church pastor shared with me that Christians are fast becoming less and less impactful in our society. If you think it's got a negative stigma in the US, travel outside the US and you'll discover it's more prevalent there.
Now don't get nervous about this. There is nothing wrong with being a Christian or belonging to Christianity. I want to help you consider a very basic understanding that causes lots of misunderstanding both in this country and in nations around the world.
Christian is not a common biblical term. In fact, only two writers of the Bible ever mentioned it-Luke, twice, and Peter, once. Jesus, Matthew, Mark, John, Paul, James, and Jude never mentioned it. Most people assert that Jesus was a Christian. Most would agree that Jesus would be comfortable being called a Christian and identifying himself exclusively with Christianity. But I believe this is a myth. And the collateral damage from this myth has been devastating.
Many Christians believe they have a corner on the market with respect to Jesus. The by-product of believing Jesus is owned by Christianity is an ugly, religious pride. Jesus came to call people from every culture of the world-the whole world. Jesus didn't come for Christians or to make the world Christian.
Most non-Christians believe Jesus is exclusively related to Christians, and therefore they have no possible relationship with him, even though Jesus is so attractive, irresistible, and relevant to them.
Most non-Christians identify Jesus with the disastrous and horrendous actions of the Christian past and present-the Crusades against the Muslims and the persecution and killings of the Jews-all in the name of Christianity. The collateral damage is that Jesus becomes guilty by association.
Most non-Christians identify Christianity with the West, and as they develop hate for the West, they develop hate for Christianity (and vice versa). When Christians attempt to convert people who are not Christians, they stir up such anger and hate-especially in the non-Christian cultures. This aggressive approach was never the way of Jesus.
Not only is the term "Christian" rarely mentioned, we know it is a man-made term. At first, Christian was used as one of the many tags placed on the followers of Jesus. It was never intended as a serious organizational label. "People of the Way" and "Nazarenes" were also popular identifications.
Jesus had a better term. Many love to use the ID, "believer" or "born again." What's interesting is that with a couple of exceptions "believer," "believe" and "born again" are used only by John in his Gospel. John and all of the other Gospel writers-Matthew, Mark, and Luke-do use the same and most prominent terminology as they quote Jesus. All four Gospels are in agreement about the terms "follower" or "follow." This is Jesus' designation of those who are in relationship with him-followers.
There is nothing wrong with being a Christian or even a Western Christian, if that's your cultural background. But there is something far better, and that is to be a follower of Jesus. The largest spiritual movements in the world are happening among Animists in Africa, Buddhists and Hindus in Asia, Muslims and Jews in the Middle East and around the world, atheists and agnostics in China and even Christians in the United States. This movement numbers in the millions. Other than those within the Western Christian cultural context, this movement consists of those who do not identify themselves with Christianity or Western Christianity, but all sincerely and enthusiastically call themselves followers of Jesus.
All have come to love and even worship Jesus! How can this be? Because Jesus is more preeminent than we have let him be. Jesus doesn't fit into any religious box. Jesus outside of the religious box is the most attractive, the most irresistible, and the most relevant person ever!
A few years ago I wrote an article entitled, "Christianity Isn't The Way; Jesus Is". As long as we keep Jesus in a religious, Western Christian box, we limit Jesus and keep Him away from the people He came to reach. He came to reach to entire world!