Disciples of Jesus.
Followers of the Way.
Two of the earliest names for the Apostles and those who would repent and believe in the message and resurrection of Jesus. The titles weren’t just pithy group names that were selected by Jesus’ followers to stand out or to make a name for themselves. On the contrary, identifying yourself by these titles in 1st century Palestine could have meant the difference between life and death.
From Jesus’ resurrection forward, those who connected themselves to him and his mission pledged allegiance to Jesus and His kingdom, and this changed everything about their identity for all to see. Even so, when the disciples were first called Christians in Acts 11 this wasn’t something they came up with but it was outsiders looking at their lives a declaring them to be like “little Christ”.
The significance of the label Christian is something I have begun to think more deeply about lately in light of its origins. To proclaim that “I’m a Christian” used to have a gravity to it as it left the lips of followers of Jesus that I’m beginning to wonder if the same is true in today’s culture. We are in an era in history where it seems that being a Christian doesn’t seem to make an individual much different from anyone else.
In America, the term Christian and Evangelical have become interchangeable for political party names and social groups. While it is a blessing that the religious freedom within our society gives people space to worship as they please without hindrance, I’m becoming concerned that Christians and the church are losing their distinction in the religious milieu.
As I’ve processed this and thought about what it means to be called a Christian today I came up with 3 reasons why what people think when one says “I am Christian” is significant for the integrity of the Christian faith as whole.
Barna Research indicates that not only is Christianity becoming less and less the assumed religion of Americans, but people’s beliefs are more diverse than ever. If intrinsic to the Christian identity is the impetus to be about the business of making other Christians, than we must have clarity on what type of people we are seeking to reproduce. Our evangelism will be hindered if we are fuzzy on what a Christian is and what a Christian is not.
I’m convinced the greatest threat to the integrity of Christian witness in America is not heretical teaching but nominal Christianity. It would be naive to assume that church goer, philanthropist, homeschooling parent are synonymous labels to a Bible believing Christian. No matter how popular Christian themes and sentiments become we know that “no one seeks God” on their own, so we have to be distinct and specific about the Gospel message and the life the Bible prescribes for us to live. We are to preach a crucified Christ and live our lives in step with his crucifixion and resurrection and stand out as Christians in America,while rejecting an American Christianity.
Christian witness should always be married to the Gospel message. If we don’t have the clarity of the Christian label coinciding with the message Christians proclaim, then we will lose our integrity. There would be no Christians or Evangelicals without the “evangel” and I pray we don’t confuse the world about what that Good news is. Christians are gospel people before we are any other ethically moral position that we can take and we must keep this distinction.
There is more I should write but my point is that I’m wondering does saying you are a Christian still mean what it should in our culture today. If not, there is much work to be done.
Courtlandt Perkins is a Masters of Divinity student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, with an emphasis on Preaching and Pastoral Ministry. Courtlandt and his wife live in North Carolina where he also serves with Kingdom Diversity at Southeastern. He is passionate about making disciples and has aspirations to pastor full time in the future.