I've been wondering lately about this name we have taken upon ourselves, this name of "Christian." And I've been wondering about it for a couple of reasons.
First, because it is losing some of its meaning in our contemporary culture. It probably has been for a long time. Today, being a "Christian" means anything from being a wholly-devoted follower of Christ to being someone who sort of thinks there might possibly be a God out there somewhere and believes in Him when it's convenient to do so or professes a belief in this Christ, but not to the extent that it actually has an impact on one's life. But really, this reflection only leads me back to the deeper idea that's been troubling me, and that is this: (second)
Why are we content to be called Christians at all?
There are, as I see it, a couple of difficulties with this name. First, the Bible says things like, If those who are called by my name will humble themselves... and we think, of course. Christians. We are called by the name of Christ. But Christ was never His name. Christ is a positional title of sorts. It's a function He serves, for lack of a better way of putting it. His name was called Jesus or even Immanuel.
To understand a little bit better, we can go back into the Old Testament. God's beloved nation of Israel was called by the name of its father: Jacob, who was later renamed Israel. And Israel means struggles with God or triumphs with God. It's a very meaningful name. Now, I'll admit that Jesusites or Immanuelites doesn't have quite the same ring as Israelites, but there's meaning behind these names, too - God saves and God with us, respectively. And I think either of these names would be fitting for the people of God in the New Testament manifestation of the church. Don't you?
But no. We have called ourselves Christians, after the title of Jesus and not His name, and the word Christ means savior, or anointed, or messiah. When we take this title of Jesus for ourselves, are we not declaring in some measure these things for ourselves? Have we not considered that we must be saviors or messiahs? At best, we call ourselves anointed, but by whom? Israel's name retained it referent to God; ours...has in some ways attempted to make us gods.
Which do you think is the better meaning of the church? Are we to be saviors and messiahs, or even anointed, or are we to be God with us, the very presence of God in our world? It could be argued that it is here that we're already blurring our lines.
And that's only one of the troubles I've been considering lately. The second is equally disturbing. The name Christian was first used of this new religious sect by the people of Antioch, and it wasn't first used by the church. It was given to the church by the people who were mocking the church. It was a derogatory name. The church...was calling itself the church. Those threatened by the church were calling them Christians.
Then someone looked at someone else and said, Hey! That's a good idea. Let's call ourselves that!
I don't know how we got there. I really don't. And the fact that we allowed someone else to name us, that we let the voices of this world tell us who we are, is troubling. It's also the only time in Scripture that God's people have not been named by Him.
Think about it. There was Abram, but when he encountered God, God named him Abraham. There was Jacob, who as we saw, became Israel when God so named him this. God subsequently named His entire people this name - Israel. He foretold the name of His only begotten Son - Immanuel. At the conversion of Saul, it is God who changes his name to Paul. God's in the business of naming His people. It's what He's always done.
Yet we are called Christian by the people of Antioch, and we take it. It is neither a name given by God nor one that is called after His name.
I don't know whether it really matters too much after 2000 years of being called Christians. But it's important to note that this name that is not God's name for us means something very different now than it did back in Antioch. Or maybe it doesn't. Maybe we're giving the world just enough to still mock us as so-called saviors, so-called messiahs, so-called Christians. It certainly feels, especially these days, that the world is mocking us. Is it because we've taken so readily the name of the mockers? Who knows?
Is there a better name? I'm not sure. We could always go back to calling ourselves the church. The church, in the Greek: ekklesia, means called out. We could be called out. In fact, I think we are called out. There's something simple and good about that.
Or we could, by the admonition of the Scriptures, insist that we actually be called by His name - Immanuel. Of course, this means we have to live in a certain way. We have to change some of the ways we're doing things. You can't just be called God with us unless there's some manifestation of God being with us in your life. It's kind of what I hope for my own life. It's what I hope people say after they come in contact with me - that God was certainly here, that He was certainly with us, and that He was manifest in me by the presence of His Spirit.
I want people to walk away from me knowing that God is real. Not that He's powerful or that He's passionate or that He's savior or Lord or even Christ. All that stuff comes later. What people need to know first and foremost is that He is real, and that's my goal as a so-called Christian. To let His name be known.