Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Don't Call Me a Christian

If you're a believer, don't call me a Christian.

Now that I have your attention, let me elaborate on that statement. I'm currently reading through a Bible Reading Plan called "For the Love of God" and one of my scheduled readings today was in Acts 11. At the end of Acts 11:26 we read, "And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians." (ESV)

Now I've read that verse numerous times, but have you ever wondered why we don't see the label "Christian" used more often in the New Testament? In our world today, we hear that term used all the time, but we find it used only three times in the New Testament: here in Acts 11:26, in Acts 26:28, and finally in I Peter 4:16. In each of those places it is a term used by unbelievers to label disciples of Jesus. In Antioch, the disciples were labeled as Christians by the unbelievers in that area. In Acts 26:28, King Agrippa (an unbeliever) asked Paul if he was trying to persuade him to become a "Christian." Interestingly, Paul does not use that term in his response, but rather says, "Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am—except for these chains."

Finally, in I Peter 4, Peter refers to believers "suffering as Christians." If you read the context of the passage, you will notice that Peter is dealing with the persecution that believers receive at the hands of the world for following Christ. Thus, Peter uses the term the world uses for disciples to highlight the persecution that disciples receive from the world. But Peter is not using this term to address the believers himself, only to highlight the world's persecution of Christ followers. Peter, when addressing the believers, refers to them as the 'elect (1:1)' and the 'beloved (2:11).' 

So if Jesus, the apostles, and the New Testament believers didn't use the term 'Christian' when describing themselves or addressing each other, what did they use? And secondly, does it even really matter what we call each other?

If you look through the gospels and Acts, you will discover that the predominant term used for a follower of Jesus was 'disciple.' The word itself means follower of learner. In a quick search of the ESV, you will find 30 times in the book of Acts alone where the term disciple is used, and over 200 more in the gospels. Interestingly, you don't find that term used in the epistles or the Revelation.

So what are the terms that are used in the epistles and the Revelation? You find terms like 'brother,' 'saints,' 'servants,' 'elect,' 'called,' and 'believers.' These are terms of relationship either between us and God or each other. God has called and chosen us. He has set us apart for His glory and made us saints. We are are part of His family and therefore siblings with other believers. We are also His servants and He is our Master. At the most basic level we are those who believe in Jesus and His atoning work on the cross. 

But does any of this really matter? Did I title my blog the way I did simply for sensationalism? As far as eternity goes, it doesn't matter a whole lot. Whether you call me a Christian or a brother, doesn't affect your eternal destiny, but I do think some of the other terms fit better in the mouth of a believer when referring to another believer. 'My brother in Christ,' 'fellow believer,' 'servant in the Lord,' or even 'disciple of Jesus' all have more descriptive elements in them appropriate for a believer.

The term Christian is a more generic term originally used by unbelievers to label members of the Jesus sect. And in this day and age the term 'Christian' has become more generic (if that's possible) than when it was first used. So many identify themselves as 'Christian' today yet are not truly believers or followers of Christ. If unbelievers call me a Christian that's fine, but I choose to identify myself in a more descriptive way such as a disciple of Jesus, believer, or child  of God. The term 'Christian' just seems too generic and loose of a term in describing who we really are. I understand that many use that term and will use that term and I certainly don't get upset by the term, but I think we portray a clearer picture of our relationship with each other and God by the use of other terms.

So my brothers and sisters in Christ, my fellow believers and Christ followers, no matter what term may be used to describe us by the world, may Christ be seen in us and His message proclaimed through us so that He receives the glory!

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