In Antioch the disciples were first called Christians. They were known as Christ-people. This is not the only term used in the New Testament. In Acts alone we see Christians called saints, disciples, believers, the church, brothers, Nazoreans, and people of the Way. We can rightly be called by many names. But let me put this before you: don’t lose the term “Christian.”
Sometimes you find people who are a little hipper than thou who conspicuously eschew the title “Christian.” They would rather we called a “Jesus follower” or a “disciple of Jesus of Nazareth.” There’s no problem in using this biblical language, unless it is to steadfastly avoid other kinds of biblical language. In our day there is a certain casualness about “following” someone. It’s what you do on Twitter. It’s what you do when you settle on a school of thought. You follow Keynes or you follow Hayek. Following is pretty safe. Being called a “Christian,” however, is a little dicier.
Just like the first century.
Almost certainly, the believers in Antioch were first called “Christians” as a put-down. It was an insulting jab they came to own for themselves, much like the Puritans and the Methodists would later do. There was something about these believers in Antioch–their distinguishing characteristic to the world was that they were of Christ.
This is significant because the word “Christ” says something that merely “Jesus” doesn’t . Jesus was a common name. It’s become sacred to us, but it was like Mike or Jason or Sean in first century Palestine. Just another familiar male name. And so it’s telling that the church in Antioch came to be known as “Christians” rather than simply “Jesus people.” The fact that Luke points this out suggests the term stuck in the early church. The saints at Antioch not only pursued the ethical life of Jesus and revered the wise sayings of Jesus, they had a reputation for believing, teaching, and heralding that this man Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God, the Anointed One, the long awaited Messiah and King. There new name carried with it theological freight.
By all means, let’s be disciples of Jesus, followers of Jesus, lovers of Jesus, and friends with Jesus. But let us never stop there. We are also Christ people–worshipers of our Savior and King, trusting in all that the Messiah fulfilled and accomplished, redeemed by our dying Lord. Don’t lose the term the church in Antioch “earned” by their faithful witness. If you are glad to be a Christian, don’t be ashamed to be called one either.