I don't want to call myself a Christian anymore. If someone calls me a "Christian," I'll take it - like he's called me a "kraut" or a "nerd" or "marbletop." But I don't have to like it. Let me explain.
Although the New Living Translation and the Message use the word "Christian" extensively (38 and 28 times respectively, usually as a substitution for "believer"), it is found in the Greek in only three places:
- Acts 11:25-27 - "The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch." Was it descriptive, affectionate or derogatory? Hard to tell. The word itself indicates little: the suffix (“ianos” in Greek) was widely used as the termination of the name of a person belonging as a slave to the household of that name.
- Acts 26:27-29 - Here Agrippa asks Paul if in so short a time he could persuade him to become a Christian - again, hard to tell his attitude toward the word, but the term is definitely not on friendly lips.
- 1 Peter 4:15-17 - "If you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name." Here it sounds as if the appellation is something one might be ashamed of, but can be borne with pride because we really are slaves of Christ.
- Tacitus - "Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators..." Note: he says that the public called them Christians, not that the believers called themselves Christians. However, it does seem that within a couple hundred years they did start to do so.
Is this a big deal? First, the term "Christian" serves to distance us from the world and distinguishes everything about us as distinctly different. Is this isolation what it means to be "in the world but not of it?" Isolation didn't work so well for the early believers, who (Tacitus continues) were charged with the crime "hatred of mankind."
Second, the world still thinks of the term "Christian" as a derogatory word. Ask the average person what they think of when you say "Christian" and they will use words like "intolerant, hypocritical, self-righteous." Ask what they think of when you say "Jesus" and they will describe him as "merciful, authentic, humble." I'm not Jesus, but I am also reluctant to use of myself a term that raises the hackles of the average Joe.
Ironically, I am the author of a book entitled, “The Christian Camp Counselor.” Maybe this will encourage me to do the much-needed re-write, and along with a new title.
So, what am I? The term most often used in the Gospels and Acts is “disciple,” and in the rest of the NT “believer.” I am a follower of Jesus, a believer, a chosen one, a member of the Way, one set apart, a brother. You can call me that. Call me a Christian and I should give you a wry smile and inwardly forgive you.