Followers of Christ were first called ‘Christians’ in Antioch – “and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians” (Acts 11:26). Antioch was a major city in northern Syria which was largely populated by slaves. (In fact, in the first century, the Roman Empire was comprised of 40% slaves!) Some time after the first-century, the famous preacher, John Chrysostom (known as “Golden Mouth”) described the rich people living in Antioch as owning between 1,000 to 2,000 slaves each! In a city of around 250,000 people (and some estimates claim that it had a population of 500,000), that meant that there were possibly as many as 200,000 slaves living in Antioch. These slaves became identified with the name of their owner and the suffix “ian”. (If I had owned a slave during this time by the name of Pericles, he might have been known as Pericles Corbettian.) Thus, the burgeoning Christian community in Antioch soon became identified as slaves of the Christ, which is why they were referred to as Christians. The Apostle Peter would also choose this word to describe why followers of Christ who suffer for the sake of Christ should also regard them as slaves of Christ when he wrote –
Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. First Peter 4:16
THE EARLIEST DEFINITION OF A ‘CHRISTIAN’
The early Christians needed no adjectives (describing words) in addition to their description as – Christian (‘a slave of Christ’). But over time, as the spread of Christianity grew around the known world, Christians began to designate themselves by their different perspectives. The first of these was the schism between east and west (AD 1054). Christians to the east (based in Constantinople) adopted the designation, Orthodox, and the Christians to the west (based in Rome) adopted the designation Catholic. Both classifications of Christians continued to subscribe to the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds which affirmed the Triune God, the incarnation and virgin-birth of Christ, the atoning death/resurrection/ascension of Christ, and His role as the judge of mankind at the end of time. They both affirmed the divine inspiration of the Scriptures resulting in the formation of the ‘Canon’ (the Bible’s 66 books which is the uniquely authoritative written Word of God revealing God’s plan of redemption culminating Christ’s substitutionary death for all those who put their faith and trust in Jesus as their Saviour). About 500 years after this schism, another designation of Christians arose when Martin Luther raised 95 ‘theses’ (protests) to what had become Roman Catholic teaching which he considered to be either directly or indirectly condemned by the Scriptures. This led to another designation – Protestant. But, again these Protestants also affirmed the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds which affirm most of the core beliefs of a Christian. Therefore, while these designations arose, there was still general agreement that a Christian was a devoted follower of Christ (a ‘slave’ or ‘servant’ of Christ) who believed in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
THE NICENE CREED
WE BELIEVE in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible; And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made; who for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and, was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made man, and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate. He suffered and was buried, and the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father. And he shall come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead, whose kingdom shall have no end.
And we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life, who proceedeth from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified, who spoke by the prophets. And we believe one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins. And we look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.
This surrender to Christ’s Lordship was publicly demonstrated by being water baptised as one of the first steps of obedience to Christ who commanded that His followers be baptised (Matt. 28:19-20; Rom. 6:1-4). Tom Holland, in his book, Dominion – The Making of the Western World, points out that as Christianity grew it became a cultural-political identity rather than a personal commitment to Christ and His community of the faithful. This gave rise to term Christendom. Thus, if one lived in Christendom he or she would consider themselves “a Christian” even though their allegiance was not primarily to Christ, but to a church official. This distortion of Christianity largely succeeded because 95% of the general population was illiterate (Hedlun 2017, 46). This meant that they were unable to verify or confirm what their church leaders were telling them about what it meant to be a genuine Christian. But from the 15th century this began to dramatically change when the moveable type printing press was developed and the Bible became available in the language of the common people who were increasing able to be taught how to read. However, not everyone accepted what the Bible taught about how to become a Christian. And as the rise of printing increasingly led to the spread of critical ideas about what the Church had claimed the Bible taught (such as Galileo and Copernicus challenging the Church’s claim that the earth was the centre of the universe) criticism was focused on the Bible’s supernatural claims and therefore the claim that the Bible was the divinely inspired word of God.
THE INVENTION OF ADJECTIVISED CHRISTIANITY
In the Enlightenment period of the 1800s, theologians (especially German theologians such as Rudolf Bultmann) taught that the Bible was not divinely inspired and that the miracles of Christ were actually ‘myths’ later added to the text of the New Testament. These theologians wanted ‘liberate’ (free up) the bible from its ‘myths’ which is why they became known as ‘liberals’. They denied Christ’s virgin birth, His sinless life, His miracles, and His resurrection. They also denied that there was an actual Adam and Eve and therefore any such thing as the ‘fall of man’ into sin. While not denying the existence of God, these liberals viewed Christ as merely an example of a good man whose mission was to care for the poor and marginalised. They therefore regarded Christianity as continuing that tradition rather than being about evangelism (calling sinners to repentance and acceptance of Christ as their Saviour from sin) and discipleship (guiding these followers of Christ into Spirit led and enabled obedience to God’s Word). They even distinguished themselves from Christians by adding the adjective ‘liberal’ to the term ‘Christian’ and thus manufactured the term- ‘liberal Christians’.
Eventually, liberal-Christians infiltrated many once great Christian denominations and rose to senior leadership roles (such as bishops, moderators, presidents) within them and then hijacked their classical Christian view of the Bible, God, Jesus, salvation, sex, life and death. These various denominations have been in a steady decline since this began. The pastor of New Life (the largest Uniting Church in Australia) Pastor Stuart Cameron (a Uniting Church minister, pictured left) publicly lamented about the now largely liberal Uniting Church that there were now “more staff working for the Uniting Church than there are congregants attending Sunday services!”
Because the term Christian had become adjectivised with the adjective liberal many classical Christians have felt the need to respond with counter adjectivised term evangelical Christian (one who believes in the Bible, the Nicene Creed, the fallenness of mankind, the need for a Saviour, and that Jesus of Nazareth is that one and only Saviour to whom all people must surrender in faith in order to be saved). But I suggest that we should resist adjectivised Christian labels and continue to uphold the true definition of the precious word, Christian.
BE CAREFUL ABOUT THOSE WHO CLAIM TO BE CHRISTIAN BUT USE AN ADJECTIVE WHICH SHOWS THEY ARE NOT
Jesus actually gave a warning to His followers about those who claimed to be His followers, but didn’t obey Him –
And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you workers of lawlessness.’ Matthew 7:23
¶ He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the tares (weeds) appeared also. And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, “Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.”’” Matthew 13:24-31
A picture of wheat and tares courtesy of Nazareth Village – www.nazarethvillage.com The wheat head is on the left.
The parable of the wheat and tares is clever. To the untrained eye, wheat and tares look remarkably similar. One of the differences, I’m told, is that when they reach maturity the head of wheat ‘bows’ while the head of the tare remains upright. But the biggest difference between them is that only one of them can be milled into flour and thereby provide sustenance. “Tares look like wheat as they are growing but it is a poisonous weed not fit for eating. Tares are also known as Lolium temulentum or bearded darnel, a species of rye-grass. To eat tares would make you feel intoxicated, giddy and sick. You would have vomiting, stomach ache and diarrhoea. It is not until the seeds appear near harvest time you can clearly see the difference between wheat and tares. The seeds of wheat turn golden brown while the seeds of the tares turn black” (from www.Nazarethvillage.com).
A true Christian is one who has the implanted seed of the word of God in their soul which produces faith in Christ to turn away from a lifestyle of idolatry (worship of self or anything other than God). This moment of conversion is a deeply spiritual transformation that reshapes a person’s heart, mind, and inclinations. It is celebrated in their act of obedience to be publicly baptised in water as a visible declaration of their invisible transformation. Their new commitment to Christ is like one of a servant to a master and brings them into a community of fellow believers as “fictive kin” — or, family whereby they now relate to their fellow Christians as brothers and sisters (Hedlun 2017, 49).
HOW A FORMER ZOEGIRL GOT LURED INTO ‘PROGRESSIVE’ CHRISTIANITY
Alisa Childers was recently interviewed by the Colson Center. They write, “As a young woman, Alisa Childers was an award-winning Christian recording artist, a faithful churchgoer, a student of the Bible, and someone who practiced her faith daily. After a pastor began teaching progressivism, she found herself navigating new doubts and confusions, eventually undergoing a major re-evaluation of her worldview. According to Childers, this became a “journey from unreasoned doubt into a vibrant, rational, and informed faith.” In Another Gospel, Childers tells her story with wit, insight, and solid theological teaching…While Alisa uses her own story as a framework, Another Gospel is more than just a personal story of her doubts and return to orthodoxy. This book offers a thorough expose and dismantling of progressive Christianity, with a sound and orthodox defense of essential Christian doctrines. Like others before her, Childers argues that Christianity without orthodoxy ceases to be Christianity. What progressive Christianity preaches is, in fact, another gospel, one that is culturally palatable but ultimately without substance and without hope. I think you’ll enjoy and benefit from Childers’ insights.” You can watch a bit of her story below –
Progressive Christians reject most of what classic Christianity has always been. They regard the God of the Bible as harsh and judgmental. They claim that Jesus revealed God to be a God of love who wants all people to make love their highest goal. But their definition of love is starkly different to what Jesus or the apostles described. Their concept of love is whatever makes a person happy. In essence, rather than making God of love their God, they have made their love their God (even if it means disobeying what Christ taught). In considering this adjectivised attempt to redefine Christianity, I have penned this pithy memes. Enjoy:
Progressive Christians are deeply concerned with pleasing people and making them happy. Christians on the other hand are deeply concerned with honouring Christ and bringing Him joy. This should be a sombre reminder to any Christian who rises to a position where popularity is important (such as political leadership). Christians have an audience of One. It was Christ Himself who demonstrated the greatest example of this kind of leadership which sharply contrasted with the people-pleasing leadership of Pilate who condemned Him and gave the people what they wanted. When you’re a Christian politician, your allegiance to Christ will always result in the best welfare of all people and promote what Christ promotes.
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. John 10:10
Christianity that is supernaturally generated in the heart of a sinner that causes them to be born-again, Spirit-filled, Word-informed, and Christ-transformed, needs no adjective and no larger audience than an Audience of One.