And the disciples were called Christians … (Acts 11:26) – As this became the distinguishing name of the followers of Christ, it was worthy of being recorded. The name was evidently given because they were the followers of Christ. But by whom or with what views it was given is not certainly known. Whether it was given by their enemies in derision, as the names Puritan, Quaker, Methodist, etc., have been. Whether or not the disciples assumed the name for themselves or whether it was given by divine suggestion has been a matter of much debate. That it was given in derision- while possible, is not probable for in the name “Christian” there was nothing dishonorable.
To be the professed friends of the Messiah (the Christ) was not with the Jews a matter of reproach for they all professed to be the friends of the Messiah. The cause of reproach with the disciples was the fact that they regarded Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah so that when their enemies wished to speak of them with contempt they would speak of them as the Galileans (Acts 2:7) or as Nazarenes “And a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes (Acts 24:5).” It is possible that the name might have been given to them as a mere label without intending to convey by it any reproach. The Gentiles would probably use this name to distinguish them and it might have become thus the common title.
It is evident from the New Testament that it was not designed as a term of reproach. It occurs but twice elsewhere: Acts 26:28, “Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian”; 1Pe_4:16, “Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed.” No certain argument can be drawn in regard to the source of the name from the word which is used here. It would be helpful to understand that the term Christian is defined “as one professing belief in Jesus as Christ and following the religion based on his teachings”
Secondly, it is defined as “pertaining to or derived from the teachings of Jesus.” In addition, the word Christianity itself is defined as “a religion founded on the teachings of Jesus”. Based upon these definitions it is clear for an individual to be called a “Christian” or to legitimately identify themselves as such they must by default ascribe to the teachings of Jesus Christ. It must be understood that His teachings are not always popular or politically correct yet it is in fact the willingness of the “Christian” to accept these teachings regardless of the consequence that separates believers from non-believers.
They “were called” translated here – χρηματίζω chrēmatizō – means:
(1) To transact any business; to be employed in accomplishing anything.
This is its usual signification in the Greek writings..
(2) To be divinely admonished to be instructed by a divine communication, Mt 2:12; Lk 2:26; Ac10:22; Heb 8:5; Heb 11:7; Heb12:25.
(3) To be named, or called, in any way, without a divine communication, Rom7:3, “She shall be called an adulteress.”
It cannot be denied, however, that the most usual signification in the New Testament is that of a divine admonition or communication and it is certainly possible that the name was given by Barnabas and Saul. Many are of the opinion, however, that it was given to them by the Gentiles who were there, simply as a designation, without intending it as a name of reproach; and that it was readily assumed by the disciples as a name that would rightly describe them. If it had been accepted by them or if Barnabas and Saul had bestowed the name upon them the scriptures would probably have reflected such. Not simply that they “were called,” but that they took this name or that it was given by the apostles. It is, however, of little consequence where the name originated. It soon became a name of reproach and has usually been in all ages since, by the wicked, the frivolous, the licentious, and the ungodly .
Look at media outlets and social media today and the way that Christianity is portrayed.
It is, however, an honored name – the most honorable name that can be conferred on a human being. It suggests at once to a Christian the name of our great Redeemer, it puts forward the idea of our personal relation with him. It evokes the thought that we freely receive him as our chosen Leader, it proposes the source of our blessings, it indicates the author of our salvation and recommends the fountain of our joys. It is the distinguishing name of all the redeemed .
It is not that we belong to this or that denomination, it is not that our names are connected with high and illustrious ancestors, it is not that they are recorded in the books of nobility; it is not that they stand high in courts or among the frivolous, the fashionable, and the rich, that true honor is conferred upon men. These are not the things that give distinction and speciality to the followers of the Christ. It is that we are “Christians.” This is our special name, by this we are known, “this at once dictates our character, it suggests our feelings, it determines our doctrines, it secures our hopes, it demonstrates our joys.”
This binds them all together – a name which rises above every other name; which unites in one the inhabitants of distant nations and tribes of men; which connects the extremes of society and places them in the most important respects on a common level field and which is a bond to unite in one family all those who love the Lord Jesus, though dwelling poles apart, speaking diverse languages, engaged in unique pursuits of life and occupying distant graves at death. He who lives according to the meaning of this name is the most blessed and distinguished of morals. This name shall be held in remembrance when the names of royalty and celebrity shall be remembered no more and when the designation of nobility shall cease to amuse or to dazzle the world.
(1) That there are many in the same situation as Agrippa- many who are almost;
but not altogether persuaded to be Christians. They are found among:
(a) Those who have been religiously educated;
(b) Those who are convinced by argument of the truth of Christianity;
(c) Those whose consciences are awakened, and who feel their guilt, and
the necessity of some better portion than this world can furnish.
(2) such persons are deterred from being altogether Christians by the following, among other causes:
(a) By the love of sin – the love of sin in general or some particular sin
which they are not willing to abandon such as alcohol, drugs,
sexual immorality. etc.
(b) By the fear of shame, persecution, or contempt, if they become Christians;
(c) By the temptations of the world – its cares, vanities, and allurements-
which are often presented most strongly in just this state of mind;
(d) By the love of office, the pride of rank and power, as in the case of Agrippa;
(e) By a disposition, like Felix, to delay to a more favorable time the work
of religion, until life has wasted away, and death approaches, and it is too
late, and the unhappy man dies almost a Christian.
This state of mind is one of special interest and special danger. It is not one of safety and it is not one that implies any certainty that the “almost Christian” will ever be saved. There is no reason to believe that Agrippa ever became fully persuaded to become a Christian. To be almost persuaded to do a thing which we ought to do and yet not to do it, is the very position of guilt and danger. And it is no wonder that many are brought to this point – the turning-point, the crisis of life – and then lose their anxiety, and die in their sins. In a recent Pew survey some 78% of Americans claimed to be a part of the Christian religion it is sad that most of these are Christian in name only and as powerful as the name of Christ is claiming His name and at the same time refusing to develop His characteristics and attributes leaves us as King Agrippa “almost persuaded” and thus “almost Christian”.
The Church of the 21st century must heed the call of the great commission and once again begin to make disciples for Jesus Christ. Make no mistake that believers must be “born-again” disciples are not born but rather they are in fact made. And the only way this can be accomplished is by instilling in them the characteristics and attributes of Christ as they are set forth by His teachings. May the cause of Christ keep us from resting in being almost persuaded to be Christians! May every one who reads this account of Agrippa be admonished by his convictions and be alarmed by the fact that he then paused and that his convictions there ended! And may every one resolve by the help of God to forsake every thing that prevents his becoming an entire believer and without delay embrace the Son of God as his Saviour and commit to becoming a CHRISTIAN.
Rev. Dwayne Lowry
Excerpts from Albert Barnes, Commentary on the Book of Acts
New American Heritage Dictionary. The term Christian, Christianity, Christianize
Notes on the Bible Commentary series.
Main idea from John Wesley notes on the Bible