I am a Christian.

Many who read this blog would be willing to unapologetically and confidently make the same statement.  The basic meaning of the name “Christian” is simply “a follower or partisan of Christ,” that is, someone who willingly identifies himself or herself with Jesus.  Given our familiarity with the term and our frequent usage of it, many are surprised to learn that the name only appears three times in the New Testament (Acts 11:27; 26:28; 1 Peter 4:16). 

In our modern language and culture, the name “Christian” is used in a multitude of ways and has been infused with a wide spectrum of meanings.  These range from “anyone who acknowledges any level of faith in Jesus Christ as opposed to following the tenets of Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, etc.” to “only those believers who precisely agree with every aspect of my own understanding and practice of faith in Christ.”

In re-examining the first occurrence of the name “Christian” in the book of Acts, I found it very instructive to note the timing and context of its inaugural use.  It was not a name that was immediately claimed on Pentecost, when the Spirit-enabled apostles first proclaimed the message of the crucified and resurrected Christ and thousands were baptized (Acts 2).  It wasn’t when the number of disciples grew to 5,000 men (not including women and children) in the Jerusalem church (Acts 4:4).  It wasn’t when the Gospel spread beyond Judea and gained an overwhelming reception among the Samaritans (Acts 8:1-12).  Nor was it when Peter first proclaimed the message of salvation to Cornelius and the rest of his Gentile household in Caesarea (Acts 9).

“Christian” was not used as a synonym for disciples of Jesus until after the conversion of many Gentiles in Antioch of Syria (Acts 11:19-26).  It was not a distinctive name for Jewish believers or a separate name for Gentile believers.  The name Christian was a “shared” name and an “inclusive” name that transcended all man-made barriers between Jews, Samaritans, Gentiles, men and women, young and old, slave and free, rich and poor, educated and uneducated (Galatians 3:27-28).  It was a name that celebrated the oneness of all baptized believers in Jesus Christ.

I am a Christian.

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