Thursday, July 24, 2008


I noticed a sign in a store window in the mall: “Be true to your brand.”

I know there are many folks out there who are brand loyal and this sort of entreaty would appeal to them. It’s sort of like urging us to love our mothers or our country.

But I guess I’m not brand-loyal (except maybe to my Tony Lamas – see picture). It always seemed a bit foolish and manipulative to me. And even more so in these tight economic times. I’m a bargain hunter. And besides a brand name is in many cases just a label slapped onto a product manufactured who-knows-where, by who-knows-who.

But there is a brand name that I believe demands my loyalty. It’s the brand “Christian.”

The name is used quite commonly nowadays and has different meanings for different folks. Some use it as an adjective, but it’s usually a noun. Some use it to describe anyone who does not hold any other religion. Some see it as synonymous with “American” or “white American.” Some see it as applying only to their particular group or denomination, or to those who have had a conversion experience.

Interestingly enough the word Christian is only used three times in the New Testament. And it is not a name taken on themselves by the followers of Christ.

The first usage is in Acts 11:26: “ … and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.” This was a formation off the name “Christ” and meant something like “followers of Christ.” Before this they had never had the label pinned on them. The church in Antioch was the first church with a large number of Gentiles (non-Jews) and the label was apparently given by non-believing Gentiles to this new group. It may have been a name of contempt, or at least distain, like the term “Jesus-freak” back in the 1970s.

The second time we encounter this word is in Acts 26:28. The apostle Paul had been imprisoned for over two years with no clear charges made. Finally he had made an appeal to the supreme court of his day, to Caesar himself.

Porcius Festus, the Roman governor scheduled a hearing to determine his actions and called in Herod Agrippa II to aid him in his determination. Paul in making his case and giving his testimony began to preach the death and resurrection of Christ. Though Festus accused Paul of being crazy, Paul pressed his case to Agrippa (who of course claimed Jewish ties). “King Agrippa, do you believe the Prophets? I know that you do.” And Agrippa replied to Paul, “In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian” (Acts 26:27, 28). Again, this may have been contemptuous use of the word. Agrippa couldn’t escape the logic of Paul’s argument and so, as many today, resorted to sarcasm.

The third use of the word is in 1 Peter. Peter in this letter is urging his readers to “Keep your behavior excellent (or beautiful) among the Gentiles” (2:12a). He admits that “they slander you as evildoers” (2:12b). He tells them, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing; so that also at the revelation of His glory, you may rejoice with exultation” (4:12, 13).

And then he tells them, “If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. By no means let any of you suffer as a murderer, or thief, or evil-doer, or a troublesome meddler; but if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not feel ashamed, but in that name let him glorify God” (4:14-16).

People will accuse Christ’s followers of all sorts of crimes. Peter is telling his readers – and us – that we should make sure that none of these accusations is true. And there are those so blinded by sin and ignorance that they will hate those to whom they attach the label of Christ and make being a Christian the worst crime of all. We’re not to be ashamed but to glorify God in “that Name.”

Maybe the day is coming when the word Christian will not be used as sloppily as it is today, when naming the Name of Christ will bring shame.

Will that be “strange”?

Bill Ball

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