Disciples called Christians.
by J. R. Rollo
THE names given to the followers of Christ are a worth-while study. They are called believers, a name which tells what they are in themselves and underlines faith, not as a single act but as a life-long attitude. They are called saints, and this draws attention to what they are to God and the basic necessity for holiness and spiritual health. Elsewhere, we meet the title brethren, and here we are faced with what we are to each other, special attention being directed to love, the sine qua non of all spiritual relationships.
When we consider their attachment to Christ as followers of His person and His teaching, we encounter the name disciples. The emphasis here is on submissiveness to the Master and sacrifice of one's ambitious appetites and aspirations in the furtherance of the Kingdom of God.
Other designations there are of spiritual import and profit, but in Acts 11: 26, we find a name not given to any Old Testament character. "The disciples were called Christians first in Antioch". Notice, they were not called "Jesuits." Their loyalty was not merely to Jesus, but to Jesus as the Anointed of the Father, the Fulfiller of all the purposes and fore-tellings of God in the Old Testament, the true Messiah. It was this recognition by Saul of Tarsus on the Damascus Road that Jesus of Calvary was the Risen Saviour that transformed his thinking and now created him, every inch a Christian.
And so among the disciples at Antioch, the Crucified One was acknowledged as the Christ—God's Anointed—the One in Whom all blessing is now secured and Who will in God's time, reign upon Zion, the hill of God's holiness. The name saints, we share with believers of all ages, but not the title Christians.
Antioch was a cosmopolitan city. Some of the Jews which fled from Jerusalem were of foreign birth. Residence in Cyprus and Cyrene had broadened their outlook in many things. The Gospel was presented in varied ways to the Jews and to the Greeks. To the Jews, they spoke the Word (v.19) since they had a background upon which to build. To the Greeks, the message was the Lord Jesus (v.20). In other words, Jesus was Lord. The consequences were the same. A great work was wrought in Antioch; It is of more than passing interest that there is no hint of any notable Evangelist or of any of the Apostles having part in it. Simple folk with burning hearts gossipped the story of the Lord they loved, and God blessed their testimony abundantly. There is an example we might well follow in days when unsaved people are reluctant to drag themselves away from the television programme to attend the Gospel Service in the hall.
It was inevitable that these converts to the faith should seek each other's company and discover the resources and responsibilities of Christian fellowship. If it was true of them—they were strangers in the earth (Ps. 119: 19), it was equally true they were companions of all that fear Thee and of them that keep Thy precepts (Ps. 119: 63). The New Testament knows nothing of spiritual tramps, free lances who hold lightly the joy which comes from partnership with those of like mind. This is a blessedness which deepens with the passing years.
It is not surprising that men were made vividly aware of this new thing in their midst. They saw how allegiance to Christ transcended national rivalries, class barriers and the like, only to weld these believers into a corporate unit. And they called these disciples Christians. It does not matter whether this was a nickname or not. It matters that now at least it is a title of honour, a name redolent with fragrant power and distinctiveness.
It is not the purpose of this article to discuss the features of the Church at Antioch but surely the features which characterized these early Christians, are worth a mention. They represented diverse elements of training and outlook, with different points of view on certain religious practices, yet their unity proved that all these differences were dwarfed and controlled by the Holy Spirit. There was a practical manifestation of the truth of Col. 3: 11, where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free; but Christ is all and in all. Fellowship among saints is a Divine work in the soul.
It must not be thought that this body of Christians settled down to enjoy their new- found fellowship without regard to others. Agabus signified by the Spirit that there should be a great famine over all the world. This means that Antioch would be affected as well as Jerusalem. Yet these disciples, every man according to his ability, determined to send relief unto the brethren that dwelt in Judea. This is the first recorded instance of one assembly caring for another in temporal things. In Acts 2, the common sharing was purely local, Jews caring for Jews in Jerusalem, but here Gentile saints were caring for Jews far away. This is still the badge of discipleship. “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples if ye have love towards one another.”
It is tempting to trespass beyond the confines of the topic allotted, but space forbids consideration of the zeal for the Gospel shown by these disciples, their wholehearted identification with those marked out and sent forth by the Holy Spirit from among their number, their sympathy by prayer and their welcome back to base.
The consideration of the fellowship and godly activities of these disciples called Christians at Antioch has pertinent lessons for us to-day.
“The Believer’s Magazine” 1958