In our previous paper, we considered Ephesians 4. 3-6; we now consider other aspects of our subject.
The one and only proper name (as distinct from designations such as saint, disciple, believer) which the Holy Spirit has recorded as given to believers on Christ is “Christian”, Acts 11. 26; 26. 28; 1 Pet. 4. 16. This is a compound of Christ and ian, this suffix meaning “belonging or pertaining to”. The Greek word is Christianos, a follower of Christ.
Webster’s dictionary defines the word “nickname” as “a name given instead of the one belonging to a person”. The name belonging to believers is Christian, and is not a nickname, but any sectarian or party name is a nickname. What a shame and sin it is for those who claim to know and love the Lord to value a nickname rather than the name Christian which has been given to them. The fact that the unregenerate often take this name should not deter us, for where there is the genuine there will always be the imitation and the counterfeit.
The taking of sectarian names constitutes a three-fold sin against the Lord,
(i) It adds to the Word of God. Nowhere do we find sectarian names given to believers. “Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him. Add thou not unto his words, lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar”, Prov. 30. 5-6.
(ii) Such names divide the body of Christ, just as the act of following certain servants of the Lord to the exclusion of others did in the assembly at Corinth. Paul said to them, “Is Christ divided”, 1 Cor. 1. 13. If we sanction and practice such divisions, we walk after the manner of men, 3. 3-4.
(iii) In effect we deny Christ’s Name. To the Philadelphian assembly, the Lord said, “Thou … hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name”, Rev. 3. 8. It is not a question of denying the Lord personally, but His Name. The condition of Sardis may represent the reformation and subsequent events. The reformation was not a complete return to the Word of God, and it brought about a multiplicity of denominational names, constituting a denial of Christ’s Name. It is possible to deny a person’s name without denying the person himself. A parable from life will illustrate this. The writer knew a young man who was the son of Swedish immigrants. He was embarrassed by his father’s long Scandinavian surname, so he had the court give him the legal right to change this surname to a much shorter one. Thus this man denied his father’s name, but he did not deny that his father was the Swedish immigrant with the long Scandinavian surname.
The assembly in Philadelphia would not deny Christ’s name by taking another name. What a contrast to the papacy, taking a name that is not common to all confessing Christians. Long ago, the writer found the following quotation concerning the assembly in Philadelphia: “Philadelphia certainly has not superseded Sardis. How important is this, then, that the Lord says to Philadelphia: ‘Thou hast kept my word’. Not my word as filtered through the thoughts of others; not my word as certain trusted leaders represent it; not my word as others may have learned it; but only and all of that which the Spirit of God makes good to our souls. No doubt we shall be tested here, for God always tests the faith that He most approves and seeks to have from us. Can we trust Him, whatever others may say”.
The substitution of denominational names for “Christian” should cause us to hang our heads in shame for having departed from the Word of God, having failed to endeavour to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Can any claim to be Spirit-filled as long as they condone departure from revealed truth?
A final remark concerning the origin of the name Christian, since some suggest that this name was given to the disciples at Antioch out of derision, but we cannot accept this conjecture. An examination of the original Greek makes it clear that God gave the believers this distinctive name Christian: “And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch”, Acts 11. 26. The word “called” translates the Greek chrematizo, always referring to a divine act: Matt. 2, 12, 22; Luke 2. 26; Acts 10. 22; Rom. 7. 3; Heb. 8. 5; 11. 7; 12. 25. Regarding the distinctive name Christian, one commentator has written, “The unity in Christ was being proclaimed; the one name covering alike Jew and Gentile, while it separated them from all, whether Jew or Gentile, who did not confess Him”. What more appropriate name could God have given to believers than Christian, belonging or pertaining to Christ? We who have been born again by faith in Christ are His by right of creation and redemption; therefore, let us take no other name than Christian, and let us be like the saints of the assembly at Philadelphia of whom Christ said, “thou hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name”.
Teachers and elders (apt to teach), possessing the Word of God, should ensure that the Lord’s people are kept from every practice that is contrary to that Word. We hear a great deal these days about psychiatry and psychology. The psychiatrist probes the mind in an attempt to determine the cause of abnormal thoughts, while the psychologist probes the mind in the hope of determining the cause of abnormal behaviour. When it comes to these sciences, nothing can equal the Word of God, because it is “a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart”, Heb. 4. 12. Teachers among the Lord’s people should be able to say, “How sweet are thy words unto my taste I yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth Through thy precepts I get understanding: therefore I hate every false way”, Psa. 119. 103, 104. Proverbs 29. 25 gives some advice, “The fear of man bringeth a snare: but whoso putteth his trust in the Lord shall be safe”. In these texts God gives two reasons why some teachers do not warn against false practices that disturb the unity amongst the Lord’s people. First, there may be no hate of every false way, and second, the teacher may be afraid of what others may say, and of losing his popularity. Pau, told the elders at Ephesus, “I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God”, Acts 20. 27. God needs men like that today in the crisis hour of the testimony of the Lord’s people in the world.
Through Jude, the Holy Spirit exhorts us to contend earnestly for the faith once delivered unto the saints, Jude 3. The faith includes everything that the Lord spoke while upon the earth, and everything that He has given to us in the inspired New Testament Scriptures. Do we contend or do we compromise? It is tragic if any believer compromises by adding to, and taking away from, the Word of God, making it of none effect as did the Pharisees when the Lord was on earth; this brings with it disunity and not unity, as in Judges 21. 25 when “every man did that which was right in his own eyes”.
In Psalm 78. 41, the children of Israel “limited the Holy One of Israel” because of unrepented, unforsaken, corporate sins. Disunity amongst believers does the same thing today - limiting and hindering God from sending a spiritual awakening that is so needed, for nothing is impossible with God. “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land”, 2 Chron. 7. 14. Are we interested in a spiritual awakening amongst God’s people? Then let any of us who may be stubborn and stiffnecked, as were the children of Israel, cease from these ways, embracing instead the reality of the unity of the Spirit in Ephesians 4. 3-6.
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