“The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.” So wrote Luke in Acts 11:26. What did it mean that they were called “Christians,” first in Antioch and then elsewhere?
We are familiar with labels and brands. Every article of clothing I have on has a label or brand somewhere on it. Unless we make our own clothes, we cannot avoid such branding. We get labeled without even trying. Yet sometimes we purposely wear clothes with a visible brand name or insignia – such as shirts, jackets, exercise gear, watches, and the like – to mark ourselves and make a statement about who we are or what we want to be. We also “wear” other kinds of labels – sometimes by choice and sometimes not. These include affiliations with favorite teams, memberships in organizations, political persuasion, ethnicity, gender, age group, nationality, and many more. These labels express and shape who we are in various ways and to varying degrees.
We come then to “Christian,” as in Acts 11:26 – to be called and labeled “Christian.” What does it mean? Perhaps especially in Western cultures today, the label “Christian” has become common enough that it marks nothing overly particular or distinctive about a person “wearing the label” in the minds of most people, and possibly even in the mind of the “wearer.” At most it may indicate that a person was raised in a certain cultural milieu – hence, that a person is not Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, or other religion in background.
When the disciples were first called “Christians” in Antioch, the label meant something very particular. The “brand name” identified them as “Christ-ones.” It meant they consciously belonged to and intentionally affiliated with Jesus in at least two key senses. (1) In mind and heart, they acknowledged Jesus as savior and lord of their lives and of the world, not any other claimants to those roles. For them, as for us today, many powers sought to save and direct their lives: other “gods,” Caesar, philosophy, wealth, power, sex, and more. Those disciples knew that Jesus alone is savior and lord. They pledged their allegiance to him. (2) In acknowledging Jesus as savior and lord, they committed to model themselves after his life and teachings and Spirit. In short, by acknowledging Jesus and committing themselves to him, they sought to follow and manifest Jesus in the world by their very lives, their every word and deed.
“The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.” How do we today label ourselves? How do others label us? Do they see people who acknowledge and commit to Jesus radically and boldly in mind, heart, and action? Do people look at us and label us “Christians”?