The Name “Christian” – L.O. Sanderson

L.O. Sanderson

In determining the name which the followers of Christ should wear, it is well that we reemphasize the fact that God has three positive methods by which He teaches and urges respect of, and obedience to, His will:

  1. By direct exhortation,

  2. By approved example, and…

  3. By implication.

The first is none other than a direct, positive urge by those with authority to speak—God, Jesus Christ, or the Holy Spirit through the apostles. By example, we understand that in divine writ, where historical data cannot be gainsaid, it is plainly recorded that others obeyed a certain teaching in a manner pleasing to God. By implication, we mean that such is necessarily implied in the Bible and is not simply a reasonable or possible conclusion, but that there is no other conclusion to be drawn from what the Bible implies.

That we should wear the name of Christ, since we belong to Him, having been “purchased with His blood,” is, of course, reasonable. Christ is the head of the body, which is the church (Eph. 1:22-23) and certainly the body shall wear the same name as the Head.

Christ is the bridegroom and the church is His bride. Hence, the bride will, if loyal and respectful, wear the name of Him to whom she is married (Rom. 7:4).

We are the children of God, if born again of water and the Spirit (John 3:3-5), thus becoming joint heirs with Jesus Christ, and without the shadow of a doubt we should wear the family name.

In view of these relationships, it is almost impossible to think that anyone with reverence toward God and His Only Begotten Son should permit himself to be called by any other name than “Christian.” This is reasonable and logical.

But does God require us to wear that particular name? In the light of His teaching, by the three accepted methods, let us study and make answer. Now if the Bible teaches us to wear that name, by either method of instruction—direct teaching, accepted example, or necessary implication—that should be enough for any God fearing disciple. If perchance He should teach the same lesson by either two, then it would be impossible for us to emphasize the necessity of doing so too strongly. But suppose He teaches the application of this particular name by all three of the methods. Who, then, would dare to question the privilege, the duty, or the demands of the Lord to wear it? We submit to you that God does teach us to wear that precious name by every method herein mentioned.

We shall examine the Bible teaching, reversing the order as to the ways of urging obedience suggested above. In Acts 26:28, when Paul had preached to Agrippa, the king said “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.” Paul had not said—so far as the Bible is concerned—“Thou shalt become a Christian.” Yet, Agrippa undoubtedly understood Paul’s purpose—he was trying to make of him a Christian! The record does not specifically so state, neither is there the likeness of an example connected therewith. But, what is the necessary implication? Not that he was trying to make of Agrippa a Pharisee or a Sadducee. One cannot by any manner of reasoning arrive at such a conclusion.

Neither can one even guess that Paul wanted to make him a “Pharisee-Christian.” Paul just wanted Agrippa to be a Christian—such as he was, except his bonds. To wear Christ’s name along with some other would be the height of disrespect for the spiritual marriage relationship. Hence, the necessary implication is that Paul, along with other Spirit-guided apostles, would make of all men Christians, and Christians only. We, for the same reason, should wear only this name.

But again, “The disciples were called Christians first in Antioch” (Acts 11:26). This is not an inference, neither a direct command. It is a statement of fact, penned by the beloved physician, Luke, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, plainly showing that the disciples were called Christians. This historical information has God’s stamp of approval on it.

The question is critically asked, “By whom were they called Christians at Antioch?” Well, it could have been by their enemies, or their friends, or by the apostles, or by the Lord. Which was it? If by their enemies, there must have been some reason. It must have been because they were followers of Christ. If by friends, there must have been some understanding regarding the name. If by the apostles, it was under the direction of the Holy Spirit. It must have been stamped upon them because of their relationship to Christ. But was it attached to them by enemies, and enemies only?

Consider the prophecies concerning God’s purpose as it relates to name—Isaiah 56:5; 62:2; 65:15; and Amos 9:11-12. From these, we observe that God’s children were to have a new name, better than human names, everlasting in its application, and was to be given by the “mouth of the Lord,” bestowed upon the Gentiles first, and after the Jews were cast off as a nation.

Not until after the death of Christ did other nations enjoy the blessings of the kingdom of God (Matt. 28:19-20; Acts 2). Not until then could it be said that “through their [the Jews’] fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles” (Rom. 11:11). Hence, any name used before that time to designate the children of God could not be a new name. This would exclude from consideration as the particular appellation, even such names as saints, brethren, or disciples, for these terms were used long before the cross. There is but one new name—“Christian.”

But note further: It was not to be given to the Jews first, though they entered the kingdom before the Gentiles. It was to be called upon the Gentiles first. There is no record of prophecy and its fulfillment so definite as to time, place, and persons as Acts 11:26. There, it is after the Jewish nationality had been taken from them; there a new name is given; there it is pronounced upon Gentiles first, and it is far superior to human titles. Thus it must have been given in harmony with the eternal purpose of God—yea, even by the “mouth of the Lord.” It is the one divinely appointed name, and a sweeter and more meaningful title has never been, nor will be, given to mortals here below. From it, the whole family in heaven and earth is named! In consideration of this approved example, along with our relationship to Christ, and in view of the fulfillment of God’s eternal purpose, we should not recognize or wear any other name than “Christian” when our relationship to Christ is expressed.

But it is not taught only by necessary implication and approved example. The necessity of using it is made even more positive and certain, if possible, by the additional fact of direct command to wear it. “Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf,” or, “in this name” (1 Pet. 4:16 ASV). The force is “he should” or “he will” glorify God in this name, or in regard to this expressed relationship. Hence, if he suffer, he should suffer as a Christian; in that name he will, and should, glorify God. Here is the direct command to glorify God, and one way that it can be done—by being Christians, and only such. If we suffer as a Pharisee, Christ is not respected; if we suffer as a Sadducee, God is not glorified; but let us hold faithfully to the title “Christian” that we may show our relationship with Christ and glorify God, the Father.

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Author: Editor

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