Thursday, April 8, 2010

Bearing the Name “Christian”

A post from Biblical Missiology by Steve Morrison (this is a blog that strongly opposes all things related to “Insider”) called Bearing the Name : A survey of the use of the name Christian in the early church:

…1 Peter 4:16 “However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.” [NIV]

So far I have showed from scripture that we should bear the name Christian. I have documented how early witnesses for Christ bore the name of Christian.  Now I want to answer the objections some Christians have today to following 1 Peter 4:16…

Here is the post in PDF.  I’m interested to hear your thoughts on this one!  Do we have to tell our Muslim friends that we are “Christians?”

Here is what the New Bible Commentary says on this verse: 

Christian occurs on only two other occasions in the NT (Acts 11:26; 26:28). In both cases it is assumed to have been used by detractors as a term of contempt. However, people of the day used the Latin ending -ianus (anglicized as ‘-ian’) in two ways which might shed light on this usage. Herod’s followers were called ‘Herodians’ (Mk. 3:6) and so ‘Christians’ could have indicated ‘supporters of Christ’. It was the Roman custom for a person adopted into a noble family to use as his own the family name with the -ianus ending. So a person adopted into the family of Domitius could call himself Domitianus. Antioch (where the custom began—Acts 11:26) was a Roman city, and so Christians there might well have used the name to show that they had been adopted into the family of Christ (Rom. 8:15–17).

The commentary doesn’t answer the question of whether it is mandated in Scripture for us to identify ourselves as “Christians” by name, but I thought the commentary was interesting nonetheless.


Tim Herald said...

No. We do not have to call ourselves Christians unless that is the term that accurately describes us... and I do not think most Muslims understand the word "Christian" to mean anything close to what the Bible teaches a follower of Jesus is. IMO it is better to use terminology with which our Muslim friends are familiar. And while they are familiar with the term Christian, they are not familiar with our usage of the word. Thus we are left with two options: (1) Explain the word and change their perception or (2) Use a different word that carries less baggage. Both seem valid to me.

Addressing the idea that using the term Christian for ourselves somehow shows solidarity with our brothers and sisters: okay, and it shows solidarity with "Christians" who were not followers of Jesus (our brothers and sisters) as well . That is fine, but now we are using it in more of a cultural or political sense that does not really reflect the condition of our heart and the transformation of our lives.

Either way we must not be dependent upon some word to define us or Christ. We must spend time with people, love like Jesus and speak truth. The Good News must not only come in word but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.


Tim Herald said...

Btw, Mark at Biblical Missiology does not only oppose "Insider" methodology, but c4 as well - as evidenced by his insistence of the use of the word Christian as an identifier. I do think they represent one end of the spectrum whereas some of the CGC folks might represent the other end. While the CGC end of the spectrum has some dangers, I think the other end of the spectrum that says Paul did not contextualize the Gospel is just as dangerous and has great potential to cause cultural syncretism and the inability to apply Gospel to one's specific culture/society.


Eman Janah said...

It is one thing to bear the name of Christ to bring the light of His truth and presence to others (2 Corinthians 4:6). But in many contexts, particularly with muslim friends, using the term does NOT communicate an adequate or accurate picture of the Messiah and Savior, the Wisdom of God incarnate to be followed in faith. Lack of common understanding is problematic here between people starting from vastly different religious, theological, moral points... Though the term may be adequate for one group (those inside), it commonly serves as a cultural religious shibboleth with a negative effect of excluding others from the major source of understanding. One could just as well back up in the passage quoted from 1 Peter to further illumine the purpose and function of the person, "For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps."
In this regard, a more pertinent term would seem to be "sufferer." But a more adequate term could possibly be "follower of Jesus" or futher, a "lover of God."

Abdul Asad عبد الأسد said...

While I understand and even share some of the fears of the guys who created the Biblical Missiology blog, it must be noted that most of these folks have never lived smack in the middle of the Muslim world. Therefore they haven't been forced to confront contextualization issues beyond a theoretical level. And that's exactly what I got from reading that post, and reading that blog. Do we really have to note that some C5 Muslim believers are far better disciples of Christ than many (most?) good evangelical "Christians" sitting in Western pews? This fact alone should help people realize how outrageous the claims of this article are! But then, if you are doing missiology merely from a theoretical perspective, you wouldn't know any C5 disciples of Christ in high persecution contexts. Sorry if this sounds harsh - because as I said, I share some of these guys' fears about radical contextualization. But they are on the other side of the spectrum as far as I am concerned.