Take a trip with me for a few minutes. Let’s travel back in our minds to the middle of the first century. Jesus had died on the cross and was raised from the dead on the third day. Following His resurrection he spent 40 days teaching, preaching and telling about the coming kingdom. Then he ascended back to the Father in heaven. On the Day of Pentecost as recorded in Acts 2 the church was established in Jerusalem. 3,000 people were added to the number that first day. Then the church grew in leaps and bounds for the next few years. To begin with it was just among the Jews and especially in Jerusalem. But persecution arose against the early Christians and they were scattered about. When they were scattered instead of being quiet about the gospel of Jesus they began to spread the message wherever they went. Philip went to Samaria and preached Christ to them and many became disciples of Jesus. He was sent by the Holy Spirit into the desert to meet an Ethiopian Eunuch who was treasurer for the Queen of Ethiopia. He was a worshiper of God but didn’t know Jesus. Philip went to him, taught him more of the truth of God’s word and informed him of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. He was baptized out there in the desert.
In time the church spread even to Gentiles, with Peter first being sent to the home of Cornelius a centurion in the Roman army who was a devout man who prayed to God daily and gave liberally to the people in need. He and his family became followers of Christ. From there some of the disciples went to Antioch where they preached to the Gentiles about Christ and many were converted to him. The first predominantly Gentile church was established. Barnabas was sent to minister to them and he invited Saul who had been converted to Christ to join him in the work. It was there that the disciples were first called Christians (Acts 11:26). Many believe that it was first a name given out of derision to the people. The Bible never says that. It simply notes that this was the first place the followers of Christ were given that name. Later king Agrippa would say to Paul, “Do you believe you can persuade me to be a Christian?” (Acts 26:28). Paul responded that he would to God that not only Agrippa but all others also were like him except for these bonds. Later in I Peter 4:16 Peter would say, “Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.”
What intrigues me is that here in this time, when the Bible was being completed, every time the word Christian was used it was used to describe one’s relationship with Jesus the Lord, Savior and Master of their lives. They were disciples of Jesus. They had accepted the challenge to follow him. But, it is obvious from these uses of the word, “Christian” it wasn’t ever used in the way we tend to use it today. In our time if one says, “I’m a Christian” they normally feel they must go ahead and describe what kind of Christian they are. I don’t mean the kind in the sense of a good one or bad one, but in the brand of Christian. I hear people say, “I’m a Baptist Christian”, “I’m a Catholic Christian”, “I’m a Mormon Christian”, or “I’m a Chuch of Christ Christian.” Every such use of the word is a pathetic, unscriptural, divisive and ungodly use of the word. When we put some other word with the word Christian we are declaring that we follow Christ only in the way this particular group teaches us to follow him. By putting the group name ahead of His we indicate it is more important to be right with the church group than with Jesus whom we are to follow.
What if we actually went back to use the word the way it is used in the New Testament and in the way it was used in the first century? What if those who are trying to follow Jesus dropped all their brand names and simply committed to following Jesus and declaring to the world that we are all Christians and let the message stop there? It would mean we needed to spend more time learning what Jesus tells us to do and following His example than trying to learn what our church group thinks, believes or teaches. We would really go back to Scripture to learn God’s will for us. It would mean that the dividing lines between people that claim to follow Christ would fade away and become meaningless. By the way, isn’t that exactly what Paul was pleading for in I Corinthians 1:10-17 when he reprimanded them for their division and declaring “I follow Paul”,”I follow Apollos”, or “I follow Peter.” Some were even using the name Christ in the same divisive way by saying, “I follow Christ” as if to say that none of the others really did. Paul’s challenge was, “Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul?” The answer to each of the questions was to be, “Absolutely not!”
The problem so often is that we have too many people who are trying their very best to get on the throne with Christ to reign alongside him and not nearly enough people who are ready to recognize that Jesus is king of kings and Lord of Lords. He is seated now on David’s throne and is reigning over his kingdom. Remember Paul’s plea in Ephesians 3:21, “Unto him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end.”
I want to ask you today to prayerfully consider going back to the language of the first century and being just a Christian. Not a particular brand of Christian, but just a Christian who is devoted to following Jesus in every part of life. It will be different for sure. It may even be revolutionary. But one thing is certain, it will fit what the Bible teaches and the will of God a million times better than the notion of a hyphenated Christian of some sort.
Oh God, help us today to realize our divisions, separations and efforts to grow by tearing down others who are trying to follow you as much as we are is doing all kinds of harm in the world. Help us Lord to be simply Christians who are totally committed to following Jesus in every part of our lives. I pray for your guidance and the help of the Holy Spirit to convict us and lead us in following Christ and serving You our Father in heaven. Through Jesus we pray, amen.