What’s in a name….

Some Hindus are followers of Jesus

We are in the season of Advent when we look back to the time Jesus came and we are looking forward to Jesus coming again. But is this good news just for Christians?

I ask the question because there is a whole series of movements of people following Jesus whilst staying in their own religious tradition. Probably the most well known one, for Christians, are the Messianic Jews. These people are observant Jews and follow the Torah but they also recognise Jesus as Messiah. In the main these people are recognised as faithful followers of Jesus and many churches invite people from the Messianic community to teach and share in church.

But what about Hindus followers of Jesus? Or Muslim followers of Jesus? They certainly exist. So, Professor Prabhu Guptara describes himself as a ‘Hindu Follower of Jesus’ (HFJ). He challenges Christians when he says

HFJ are specifically anti-Christian, because we consider all forms of Christianity as systematic attempts to prevent people from understanding the person and teachings of Jesus the Lord.  We have this understanding from Jesus the Lord who was Himself quite anti-religious (He was crucified at the instigation of religious people, on the basis that He was anti-religious).  While, it is of course true that some Christians are followers of Jesus the Lord (and we are happy to recognise them as such), we are sure that Jesus the Lord is horrified by the ‘Churches’’ transmogrification of Him, His work and His teaching into ‘Christian’ religious structures and obscurantism.

Then there are the Muslim followers of Jesus. Carl Medearis was a missionary in the Middle East but now dislikes the term. He realized that Christianity got in the way of Jesus. He says

While the cross is the favourite symbol of Jesus in the Western arena, to the Eastern mind, Jesus is like Robin Hood or Ivanhoe…. He is the stuff of legend. He is the personification of a holy prophet, and yet a man of the people. He is a hero.

He started to just talk about Jesus. And people responded. Joseph Cummings tells a similar story

In the 1980s a similar movement began among Muslims who had come to faith in Christ. These were Muslims who trusted Jesus as Lord and divine Savior, believed Jesus died for their sins and rose again, and insisted this did not make them ex-Muslims or converts to the Christian religion. They wanted to remain within their Muslim community, honoring Jesus in that context.

 He tells the story of one such person
Ibrahim was a well-respected scholar of the Qur’an, a hafiz. When he decided to follow Jesus, he closely examined the Qur’anic verses commonly understood as denying the Trinity, denying Jesus’ divine Sonship, denying Jesus’ atoning death, and denying the textual integrity of the Bible. He concluded that each of these verses was open to alternate interpretations, and that he could therefore follow Jesus as a Muslim. Soon members of his family and community came to share his faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior… Ibrahim still wanted to follow Jesus as a Muslim.
So, are these acceptable to Jesus? Do Christians “own Jesus” and decide who is in/out? Can a label get in the way of following Jesus and what label do you think is the most difficult label for you in following Jesus?
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8 comments on “What’s in a name….

  1. db
    December 7, 2011 at 8:44 pm #

    Have you heard of the ‘Makuya’: a Japanese Christian movement which, it transpires, believed that the influence of Greek logic had replaced the early and lively Hebraically founded faith of the church with a set of theological creeds?
    No church buildings etc – apparently they didn’t do aggressive evangelism but people just got drawn to their meetings.

    I can’t find out much about them but this whole ‘Greek versus Hebrew’ thing I find interesting.

    db

  2. Will Cookson
    December 7, 2011 at 8:49 pm #

    David,

    That’s an interesting one – I’ve never heard of that one.

    I certainly agree about the Greek vs Hebraic conundrum. You can see it in things like immutability – the idea that God can never change. At base that is a greek philosophical idea that says that God can never change because if he did then he could get better or worse and if that was the case then he couldn’t be ultimately good. The Hebraic would look and tell stories such as Abraham bargaining with God or with Moses arguing with God.

  3. db
    December 8, 2011 at 2:07 pm #

    Sorry Will, more questions …

    What does this imply about Muslims, Hindus et al who ‘convert’ – in the most traditional sense of the word – and pay a terrible price in suffering for their social non conformity? If one bumped into one of them ‘In Glory’ would one take them on one side and say “Excuse me old chap, your martyrdom may have seemed very heroic at the time but you do realise it wasn’t strictly necessary, don’t you?’

    I suppose the Magi weren’t kosher, baptised or confirmed for that matter either.

    db

  4. Will Cookson
    December 8, 2011 at 6:17 pm #

    David, a good question. What do you think?

    Apart from the Magi, what about Nicodemus or what about Naaman in 2 Kings 5 who goes into the temple of another god to worship? Were/are these acceptable? What about the Syro-phoenician woman that Jesus heals?

    It’s well worth reading the Joseph Cummings link that I put above as he shows a scale of from fully embracing Christianity as presented to them to secret believers. It might help you decide where you think the line should be drawn.

  5. db
    December 9, 2011 at 11:29 am #

    What I wonder is that if one is prepared to concede a whole spectrum of ‘faith responses’ or whatever you care to call them, what’s on the other side of the coin? Is it perhaps the range of eternal consequences as implied in 1 Corinthians ch.3? But the late arrivals at the vineyard who got the full payment weren’t operating a self-delusional or even deliberate ‘con’ thereby, surely?

    The more I read the Bible the more confrontational it seems to me. I’m just unsure in my own mind as to whether whether a lot that’s coming out these days – I’m just thinking generally – is part of an impulse to create a user-friendly, pain-free ‘designer Christianity’; sapphire dust and angels’ feathers being perhaps the ultimate expression of that tendency.

    Is picking up and carrying your cross just for the unlucky
    few …?

    Oh gosh! I’m beginning to sound like a ‘nutbag fundamentalist’ … to coin an immortal phrase. I’d better stop.

    db

  6. Will Cookson
    December 10, 2011 at 12:13 pm #

    David, great questions to wrestle with!

    You might want to think of it this way. Can you follow Jesus within your own culture? In other words how does Jesus challenge us to follow him? If we are asking people to join the Christian Church, then what does that mean? Is a follower of Jesus someone who self-identifies with Christianity as a culture?

    If we say that Jesus transcends culture and draws from every culture are there ways in which people can become follows of Jesus in their own setting – and I suppose one of my questions was how does that make us feel losing control of Jesus (if we ever had control)?

    A related question might be – how are we picking up our cross and following him? It’s not particularly difficult for us is it in comparison to many others?

  7. db
    December 11, 2011 at 6:57 pm #

    Okay … here goes …

    Is Holiness being ‘set apart’? If so, is that as vague as the ‘Christian Joy’ that I’ve heard spoken about in some circles?

    Or is it the conceptual and practical outworking of being fully committed to participating in the life of a Church? Why else would you have such an unnatural institution?

    But – as an aside – should the Gentile Church have evolved in the way that it has ? If Paul’s injunction in Romans 1v19 had been taken more seriously, perhaps it would have been more like a radical synagogue anyway.

    What are the presuppositions of the society in which a follower of Jesus finds themselves? Surely we’re not lurching in the direction of ‘people’s sincerity is more important than the content of what they believe’ are we? (A view which is probably more prevalent in your Church than one would think).

    If that were true why would the Faith need any discernible content at all?

    If by ‘Christian culture’ what is meant is trying to control God and everyone else by ritual and tradition of any sort then ‘may the smoke of it’s burning go up for ever and ever’ and the quicker the better! If the C of Es or the RCs (or anyone else) shoot themselves terminally – as opposed to repeatedly in the foot – it’s not the end of the world.

    On your final point, I wonder if people don’t really understand what the value of true church discipline might be and see it as potentially repressive. However the abuse of a concept in the past doesn’t necessarily undermine it’s proper application now. As we struggle with our relationship with the secular materialist world view around us I think we struggle with what it means ‘to take up our cross’ as well – except perhaps in the sense of patiently enduring unforeseen setbacks that life throws at us.

    Wafflingly, db

  8. Harvey Edser
    December 12, 2011 at 9:05 pm #

    I found this a fascinating post and it’s an idea I’ve been thinking about for a while. I certainly don’t see any overwhelming reason why people within other cultures and even religions can’t be followers of Jesus within their own context. That’s not to undermine the Church, Christian theology or anything else, but just to acknowledge that the working of the Spirit isn’t limited by human borders and barriers or by our particular perceptions of the world.

    These days my interpretation of ‘I am the way, the truth and the life; no-one comes to the Father except by me’ is almost the polar opposite of my former exclusivist evangelical understanding…

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