Called Christians

Why are we called Christ Reformed Evangelical Church? What does that name signify about us?

Christ – we believe that Jesus is the Christ, God’s Anointed One, the world’s Messiah. Reformed – God saves sinners, the Bible tells us how to worship, the Covenant unifies Scripture. Evangelical – gospel message, gospel heart, gospel actions. Church – divided humanity becomes one new man, one body.

But there is another way to describe us, in fact, the most common and fundamental way to name the kind of people that we are is found here in today’s text for the first time: Look at verse 26: after the founding of a multi-ethnic church in the city of Antioch, the followers of Christ were called Christians. Earlier in Acts, the believers in Jesus were called “the saints” or “the disciples”, who followed what they called “the Way” of Jesus. But this was largely seen as a Jewish sect: there were Pharisees, Sadduccees, and Disciples of Jesus, all describing different ways of being Jewish.

But what happens when the gospel spreads to Antioch shatters the old categories, and a new name is needed for the followers of Jesus. Luke zooms out from his close-up on Cornelius to give us a brief big picture account of how the first multi-ethnic church came into existence as the Gentiles were brought into the church through the witness of the displaced disciples who went throughout the world preaching the Lord Jesus.

Five “new” characteristics:

New mission – vs. 20 – formerly the Judaean exiles preached to Jews only, now they speak to Hellenists (greeks) also. New message – vs. 20 – formerly “become Jews”, now “believe in Jesus, repent and be baptized.” New church – vs. 23-24 – formerly a Jewish sect, now an independent multi-ethnic religion New pastor – vs. 25-26 – Barnabas remembered that Saul had been commissioned to take the name of Jesus to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15), and brought him to Antioch to teach. New name – vs. 26 – “disciples” who followed “the Way” are now called “Christians”, bearing witness to a new unity in Christ.

Five applications:

Mission – Make the most of “divine interruptions” by speaking to anyone who will listen! Message – “Preaching the Lord Jesus” is at the very heart of the mission of the church. Don’t get distracted! Church – Pray and work so that our congregation reflects a supernatural unity, instead of natural divisions. Pastor – raising up new pastors is part of the life of the church. Thanks to the congregation for serving in this way; continue to embrace this work. Name - “Christian” is outsider name, not an insider name. “Christian” is a life-reading name, not a heart-reading name. using the name differently than the Bible does creates division and attacks the unity that the name is meant to highlight (ie, “I just don’t think he’s a Christian.”) apply the name biblically, using the judgment of charity apply the name to your children, because Jesus does (esp. in baptism, cf. Rom. 6)

This is not to deny that there is a fundamental division between Christian and non-Christian. Of course there is a division. But remember this: “Christian” is not a heart-reading term, it is a life-reading term. Originally, the name came from outsiders, and outsiders still serve as a useful reference point. What would an outsider call someone who has been baptized and claims to follow Jesus? A Christian. Therefore, go and do likewise. Use the name Christian like the Bible uses it, and you’ll be fine.

The people of Antioch looked at this new group and decided that the old names didn’t fit: they couldn’t call this new group “Jews” or “Hellenists” or “Gentiles”. Their love for Jesus prompted them to reach out to outsiders, and become one with them through Christ, forming an entirely new creation. This is our task, as well, if we are to live like Christians. Remember that this is exactly what Jesus Himself did: the sinless son of God reached out to sinners, and became a man just like us, so that He could make us one with Himself. What the people of Antioch saw was a group of disciples who looked just like Jesus – they preached good news to people who were not like them, and together they became one body in Jesus Christ, and so they called them Christians.

Posted on Wednesday, June 25, 2014 by CJ Bowen