There are some words in the Bible that were extremely common words in their day that over the centuries they have become almost exclusively religious words. One example is the word “church”. This word literally meant “called out from” and it was used to describe any group or assembly that was gathered together. In Acts 19, a dispute arose and the city official said that the matter would need to be settled in “the regular assembly” (19:39). That is the same word for church, but it had nothing to do with religion.
The word “Christian” is not that type of word. Christian is a special word. It has a special history. And it has a special usage. Unfortunately today, Christian is a word that is thrown around like a cheap catch all term.
In Acts 11:26, people are first given the name. The history is interesting. It says in that verse that “the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch”. This statement comes 12-13 years after the church is established in 33AD. That means that there had been disciples of Christ for a long time before the name Christian was given.
Many people believe that Christian was a name given by the world as a derogatory term, that over the years has become a term that Christians were able to flip. But the evidence in the Bible tells a different story.
It says that that the disciples were first “called” Christians. The word "called" is not like a bully calling a kid a name. It always is used to signify a word or decree from God. In Matthew 2:12 the wise men who came to visit the infant Jesus were “warned” in a dream to go a different way. That is the same word as “called” in Acts 11:26. The fact that this word is always used to describe what God has revealed, tells me that it was God who gave this name.
Around 700 years before Acts 11, Isaiah said that God would give a “new name” to his people (56:5-6; 62:2). When we look through the Bible, we can clearly see that “Christian” is the only “new name” that comes up to describe his people.
The fact that God waited until Acts 11 to give this title is important. A very significant event happened in Acts 10. This is when the Gospel of Christ was extended out of just the Jewish nation and was offered to to Gentiles. This is noteworthy for a number of reasons. If the name “Christian” was given to the Jew first, they would have continued to think that they were more special than the Gentile. But Christian was given after the gentiles were converted, in a place outside of Jerusalem. This was a monumental lesson that the Gentiles were just as accepted as the Jew.
Along those same lines, Isaiah made it clear in that the “new name” would coincide with “foreigners joining themselves to the Lord” (56:6-7). An obvious allusion to Gentile acceptance.
All biblical evidence points to the name Christian being from God. And therefore, it should be a special term that should be cherished.
The name Christian was not used just for Gentile converts. Some people make a distinction that the Jews had their Gospel and the Gentiles had theirs, and they think that Christians was a title just for the Gentiles. There are a number of massive problems with that, but for our point, Peter wrote to predominately Jewish congregation and he called them Christians (1 Pet 4:16). Christians became the universal designation for God’s people.
It’s also important to notice who Christians were. In Acts 11:26 it says that Christians were disciples. Therefore, a Christian is made the same way a disciple is made. In Matthew 28:19 Jesus said “Go and make disciples, baptizing them into the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit”. Disciples of Christ are made by being baptized. Therefore, someone is made a Christian by being baptized based on their belief in the gospel (Mk 16:15-16).
I also want us to notice something about the name Christian in 1 Corinthians 1. Paul was concerned with making sure that there weren’t different “kinds” of Christians. There were some that followed Paul, some that followed Peter, some that followed Appolos, and some that followed Christ. If we ran into them on the street they would say “I am a Paulite”. Paul says “Is Christ divided? (1:13). The obvious answer is no.
I ask the following questions honestly and I hope you will answer honestly. Why was it wrong for them to take on secular names in the first century, but it is ok for you? Why did Paul preach against denominationalism, but you are ok with it? Why are you ok with being a type of Christian, instead of just being a Christian?
Maybe you think it is just impossible to really know the truth because there is so many different teachings. Pauls solution was simple. Teach the word of God (1 Cor 4:17). That means rejecting all man-made doctrines, creeds, and names.
You can simply be a Christian without any prefixes, suffixes, or any title from man. Christians are disciples. Disciples are made by being taught the Word of God and being baptized (Matt 28:19). And then they continue to abide in the doctrine of Christ(Matt 28:20, Acts 2:42, 1 Cor 4:17).
Jesus wants this community to depart from sectarianism and denominationalism. It is an abomination to the name that God is so willing to give. Let's reject doctrines of men and simply be Christians.
The LaFollette Church of Christ is filled with people who are simply Christians. Baptized believers that abide only in the doctrine of Christ.