It is very much in vogue today to declare oneself to be a “follower” of Christ in the effort to be more “authentic.” Certainly following Christ and being authentic are excellent qualities. The problem I have is when the Christian culture takes it up as a fad – like WWJD, the Jabez Prayer, or 90 minutes in heaven. It is the case of tradition become sacrosanct. Describing oneself as a “follower” is only done in an effort to raise Christian consciousness above complacency. However, you soon see it develop into a smug holier-than-thou attitude. The trouble is that anyone can claim to be a follower of Christ without actually being a Christian…and they do. In fact, in Jesus’ own ministry there were those who were followers for a time but were not true believers. Hindus, Moslems, Buddhists and others claim to be followers of Jesus.
…in a sense, Hindus don’t really see Jesus as a Christian at all. (Of course Jesus didn’t either, because the term wasn’t used during His lifetime.) In Hindu thought, church or temple membership or belief is not as significant as spiritual practice, which in Sanskrit is called sadhana.
As there is no Church of Hinduism, everyone holds their own spiritual and philosophical opinions. It is difficult then to understand someone’s spirituality simply by looking at their religious trappings. So, in India it is more common to hear someone ask, “What is your sadhana (practice)?” than, “What do you believe?”
When I was 14 I began a personal and serious study of the New Testament. I wanted to understand what Christ had to say about things, so I paid particular attention to the words of Jesus Himself. I can see now that the whole direction of my life was determined by this formative study and by the thoughtfulness invoked by it.
I read such passages as Luke 5: “forsake all and follow me”. I remember distinctly, as a 14 year old, developing my own understanding of what that meant. I had formed a sense of mission and vocation by reading the Bible, seeing that the love of God should be shared with others. The greatest commandment – to love the Lord our God with all our heart, all our words and all our deeds, and love our neighbour as ourselves – struck me as an instruction, as a plea and, actually, as a necessity. Considering how to do to that, how to forsake all and follow God out of love, has provided me my greatest challenge in life.
I first encountered Hindu spirituality through the Vaishnava tradition of the great medieval saint Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. That’s a lot of words that boil down to mean I met the Hare Krishnas. At the age of 18, in Dublin, I bumped into a shaven-headed, saffron-robed fellow and visited his temple, ashram, his monastery, so to speak. I had been visiting all kinds of religious groups, Christian and otherwise, but these were surprisingly serious chaps.
They rose at four in the morning for prayer, study and chanting. By the time breakfast came at 8:30am I felt like I had done a full day’s work, only to find that the full day’s work was just about to begin! The captivating thing for me, though, was the fact that every act was to be offered to God with love, every word spoken in His favour, every song sung for His pleasure, every dance for His eyes and all food prepared and offered first for His taste. Along with this went an ancient philosophy that answered more questions than I had ever asked. But what got me about these devotees of Krishna was what I saw as their practice of Christianity, even though they didn’t actually call themselves Christians.
They banded together in small groups, sang the praise of God with drums and loud clashing cymbals, wore flowing robes, abandoned the material world and preached in the public marketplaces. That’s actually a description of the early Christians but the Krishnas did this as well. I loved the chanting of Hare Krishna. I’m sure you have seen the devotees chanting in public somewhere. They chant Sanskrit names of God, Hare, Krishna and Rama, meaning ‘spirititual happiness’, ‘all-attractive person’ and ‘reservoir of pleasure’. Lovely names and they form a prayer to be engaged in the service of God.
The idea of chanting God’s name, any name we choose to chant, is that we come into direct contact with God Himself, as his name and His Person are not different, the Hindu story goes. But don’t take my word for it. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. I think it was the spontaneous happiness produced by the music, the chant and the dancing that touched my heart so much and it continues to do so to this day. For me it was “Hallowed by thy name” in practice. The practice may look strange to some but that is not the point. I suppose it depends on our cultural view, but nuns may look just as strange as naked Sadhus. Is that a reflection of their spiritual qualities or just their dress sense? To me this spiritual practice was being performed in the essential spirit of Christianity.
Remember my Indian friend who loved Ishu so much? What about him? Was he a follower of Christ? Could he have a personal relationship with God? Would he have to “bathe in the blood of the Lamb” first (a terrible option for vegetarians)? These are important questions, though: “Can a Hindu follow Jesus?”; “Can a Hindu love God with all his heart and soul?”; “Do you have to be a Christian to follow Christ?”; even “Who owns Christ?”.
The Sanskrit word acharya means ‘one who teaches by example’. For Hindus, Christ is an acharya. His example is a light to any of us in this world who want to take up the serious practice of spiritual life. His message is no different from the message preached in another time and place by Lord Krishna and Lord Chaitanya. It would be a great shame if we allowed our Hinduism, our Islam, our Judaism or indeed our Christianity to stand in the way of being able to follow the teachings and example of such a great soul as Lord Jesus Christ.
Shaunaka Rishi Das
3:55 Behold! Allah said: “O Jesus! I will take thee and raise thee to Myself and clear thee (of the falsehoods) of those who blaspheme; I will make those who follow thee superior to those who reject faith, to the Day of Resurrection: Then shall ye all return unto me, and I will judge between you of the matters wherein ye dispute.
It is not difficult, on the other hand, to explain God’s statement that He had placed those who follow Jesus above the unbelievers, and that this elevation continues until the Day of Resurrection. Those who follow Jesus are the ones who believe in God’s true religion, Islam, or surrender to God. Every prophet is fully aware of the true nature of this religion. Every messenger preached the same religion and everyone who truly believes in the Divine faith believes in it. These believers are indeed far superior to the unbelievers according to God’s measure, and they will continue to be so until the Day of Judgement. Moreover, they prove their superiority in our practical life every time they confront the forces of un-faith with the true nature of faith and the reality of following God’s messengers. The Divine faith is one, as preached by Jesus, son of Mary, as preached by every messenger sent before him and by the messenger sent after him. Those who follow Muhammad at the same time follow all the messengers sent by God, starting with Adam until the last messenger. (In the Shade of the Qur’an – Fi Zilal al-Qur’an, Volume 2, Surah 3, translated and edited by Adil Salahi & Ashur Shamis [The Islamic Foundation, 2000], pp. 97-98)
from Sam Shanoum
I’m a believer in the principles of Jesus, but I lived in Thailand for a while and became a Buddhist also, I see no reason not to be able to follow the examples taught by two great teachers.
Certainly among all the Thai Buddhists I’ve met, they do follow his principles better than we Christians.
“Ron” answering a question for yahoo
One’s authenticity as a Christian is not enhanced by claiming to be a follower, it is most certainly watered down. If I were to use the label “follower of Jesus” to differentiate myself from insincere and otherwise less-than Christians then I place myself squarely in the company of many unbelivers.
So what shall we call ourselves? How about born-again, a true believer, a Christian?
The problem with calling yourself anything is hoping that a one-size-fits-all label can be found. Whether you use a lofty tone or take an aw-shucks-I’m-so-humble attitude to differentiate yourself by the label you use, you will always have a problem.
- If a Jew, Hindu, Moslem, or other non-Christian asks me what I am: I am a Christian.
- If a Presbyterian, Catholic, Methodist, etc. asks: I am a Baptist.
- If a Southern Baptist asks: I am an Independent Baptist.
- If a Liberal asks me: I am a Fundamentalist.
- If an independent Baptist asks me: I am conservative.
It all depends on what I want to communicate. For better or worse, labels are great for that. Sometimes people pre-judge me by my label positively, sometimes negatively. There is no guarantee that the label I might choose will communicate what I want it to. To different people, being a follower might be challenging, edifying, smug, or ecumenical. I cannot escape being non-offensive any more than Jesus, John the Baptist, or Paul did. Labels are mere introductions to the teaching to follow. The real job is to then teach and explain the significance of my label.
So will I skip the word “follower”? I will not stop using it altogether, but now I have a little more work cut out for me when I use it.