“Christians”, or Not?

The Apostle Paul stood before Festus, the Governor of Judea and gave an impressive speech documenting his transformation to being a follower of Christ. Festus asked King Agrippa to listen in and help with the investigation of whether or not Paul was guilty of something, anything really, to appease the Jews. Agrippa was familiar with Jewish tradition and the OT scriptures. Paul knew this as well (Acts 26.3).

What transpired was an amazing exchange between Paul, who had the confidence to question the King on his beliefs. Agrippa gave a response that has been the source of some discussion in regard to its intent and tone: “In short a short time do you think you can talk me into being a Christian? (Acts 26.28 CEV).

The term Christian only appears three times in the Bible (Acts 11.26, Acts 26.28, I Peter 4.16). It is a designation meaning “little Christs.” It was unbelievers who coined that uncomplimentary term of those who identified with Christ. During the first several centuries, Roman emperors martyred believers and referred to them as “Christians.”

There are several other ways that believers have been identified with Christ, one that I’ve been using is “believers” although that might not be as specific as one would like. Followers of “The Way” is another phrase used in Acts (9:2; 19:9,23; 24:14) and the most frequent term used by Jesus was “disciple.”

I have been wondering about this term and what might be the best way to describe persons who identify with Christ. I’ve read articles and hear from those, especially from the millennial crowd, who do not like the word “Christian” because of its connotations as being relating to Western culture and part of an American mindset. Sometimes the resistance is connected to being asked whether someone was/is a Christian, and the answer is “well, she is a good person.”

With the ongoing scrutiny of the church institutional, it might be well worth the effort to keep looking for ways to communicate the gospel message to our culture. It could mean unpacking what we mean by the term “Christian” to a generation who hasn’t been reared in the church. On the plus side, it should get us back to a focus on the person of Jesus and that being a follower of Christ requires an active rather than a passive lifestyle. We do have a Story to tell, and we need to do that regardless of what others call us.

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