Monday, February 23, 2015

Why “Christian”?

We are reading a lot about Christians in current media – some good and some not so good. I was asked the question:
Christ never called himself a Christian, Christ never called his followers Christians. The apostles never called each other Christians. Christ never used an adjective to describe himself. So how are we to identify ourselves then?
I discovered the question was copied/pasted from an internet site that looks upon the word “Christian” as a pejorative, created by pagans to describe followers of Christ and not used by those followers to identify themselves. The author (no, I will not send you to the article – I did not find it uplifting, but somewhat divisive) suggests a number of other terms used in the books of the New Testament. Some I found applicable, some I did not.

So, why use the term “Christian” as a noun to describe a group of people? Go to the Greek used in the New Testament and find Matthew 1:1 – the first verse tells us Matthew was writing about the Messiah:

The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. (Matthew 1:1 KJV)

The Greek Χριστός which means “anointed” (Strong’s G5547) or the Hebrew משׁיח (Daniel 9:25) which also means “anointed” and is translated ”Messiah” (Strong’s H4899)

Acknowledging Jesus as the promised Jewish Messiah is part of believing His life carries God’s message to all mankind. Again in Matthew, we learn of Jesus calling to specific men:

And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. (Matthew 4:19 KJV)

They did what He asked, followed. For the next three years they learned from Him, by His examples, His words, His interactions with those who followed later. Not all considered Him the promised Messiah, but after the Resurrection, it became more evident. Those who followed Jesus began to spread the good news, the gospel message. As did Barnabas and Saul:

Then departed Barnabas to Tarsus, for to seek Saul: And when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch. (Acts 11:25-26 KJV)

The article originating the question makes the assumption that pagans in Antioch applied the term Χριστιανός (Strong’s 5546) “followers of Christ.” I do not see  that in this verse. Yes, Antioch was home to many pagans – but there were also people in a church, Barnabas and Saul were teaching “much people.” I believe it would be natural for those being taught to call these disciples “followers of Christ.” And, the word's definition explains why Jesus never referred to Himself as "Christian."

I pray that someone would look at my life and make the determination that I am a follower of Christ by the way I talk, the places I go, the things I do. For me there is no pejorative in being called a Christian. Though it can cause some problems, as Peter wrote:

Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf. For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear? Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator. (1 Peter 4:16-19 KJV)

I appreciate the question's being copied and sent to me. It allowed me to research and learn more, confirming to me that being called Christian is humbling, knowing that I cannot match His life, but I can follow Him. The word describes what I want to do, how I would like to be remembered.

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