Fun fact–the followers of Christ never describe themselves as “Christian” in the Bible. The term originated by the Gentiles in Antioch (Acts 11:26), was used by King Agrippa (Acts 26:28) while Paul was on trial, and referenced by Peter (1 Peter 4:16) as a derogatory term used by the surrounding culture.
Why does that really matter? Because the terms that were used by the followers of Jesus to link them together were familial and missional terminology.
They were “brothers and sisters” or “Disciples” (followers) or “Apostles” (sent ones) or “saints” (holy…set apart ones). The call of Christ followers is to be forming a familial bond with each other. Our connection is as adopted heirs into the family of Jesus who has invited us to come and see (Disciples) so we can go and be (Apostles).
Instead of calling each other by a label, the followers of Jesus chose to call each other by their relational status or their missional purpose.
“Christian” was not considered a honorific title until about the 3rd century when Justin the Martyr told them to embrace the ridicule. In fact, one of the first descriptions outside of scripture about “those Christians” was by Lucian who talked about “their absurd generosity and their sacrificial concern for others whom they didn’t even know by name.” Being a Christian was something radically different that was mocked by the prevailing culture. Shortly thereafter, however, Constantine makes Christianity the institutionalized state religion. In doing so, the movement of following Christ stymied and the church became more about attracting members than equipping disciples who make disciples. This resulted in people claiming the term “Christian” as a descriptor.
Interestingly, as our culture swings away from Christendom, being “Christian” is once again becoming a derogatory term. In fact sociologists have found that the growing number of “Nones” is actually the result of many former nominal Christians who have realized the hollowness of the Christian designation in their lives.
Therefore, perhaps we should heed the words of Peter, who tells the church in 1 Peter 4:16, that we should embrace the ridicule of our faith as a means to bring glory to God. What the world sees as embarrassing, foolish, intolerant, outdated and “uncool” is actually the cornerstone of our faith.
Because, as Paul says in 1 Cor. 1:23-25:
“We preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”
- Is your faith merely a label given to you or is it an active relationship?
- Are you living in such a way that the world around you shakes it head saying “you fool?”