Today is Sunday – the day that millions of Christians will wake up, get themselves dressed and ready and “go to church.” They will worship, pray, hear some teaching, and (hopefully) find fellowship among other believers who encourage them for the week ahead.
It’s a Sunday tradition that I myself grew up with and practiced for many, many years (although it’s been kind of different for my family for the last year).
But as I’ve considered this habit of many Christians, I’ve often wondered if many people have a real understanding of why we do this, or what God actually envisions for “church” in the first place. In that process of wondering I frequently turn to Scripture, in order to get a better idea from God Himself about what “church” is supposed to be about or how we are supposed to value and view it. In that search through Scripture I come across verses like this one, from the book of Acts –
“For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.”Acts 11:26 (ESV)
Reading this verse, three words jumped out at me and made me really consider how I’m viewing the things that God has called us to do and be. Let me start at the end of the verse and work backwards.
CHRISTIAN and DISCIPLE
From this verse, it’s clear that “Christians” were originally seen as “disciples” of Jesus. From the Greek (mathetes), we understand the term “disciple” to mean that someone is a learner or a pupil, someone who follows one’s teaching. This passage in Acts tells us that, here in Antioch as Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught them the Scriptures and helped them to grow in their faith, these disciples – these people who had committed themselves to following the teachings of Jesus – first began to be called “Christians.”
The word “Christian” comes from a Greek word that simply means “follower of Christ.” In essence, they were called Christians because they were seen as “little Christs” in their beliefs and their behavior. And this all stemmed from the fact that they had already applied themselves as disciples – learners, pupils – of Jesus, determined to follow His teachings and live like Him daily.
Here’s what I think after reading this part of the verse:
We need to restore the “disciple” identity and characteristic to what it means to be “Christian.” It’s time to change the label.Tweet
It’s way too easy to be a “Christian” today. And, in our culture, what does it tend to mean? Someone who “goes to church.” Someone who is religious. Someone who simply believes in Jesus. But, according to the Bible and the example of the church in Antioch, Christians were “Christ-followers” and disciples, not just “members of a church.” This is an important difference, and one that I think every “Christian” needs to consider for their own faith practice.
When you look at not only this verse, but throughout the rest of the book of Acts and into the New Testament epistles, here is what you see about the church: the “church” is the gathering together of the disciples. It’s not a building, not an event (like a scheduled “service”), and it’s not an “institution” or a “denomination.” It can INVOLVE those things, but it is NOT those things. When the disciples of Jesus gather together, form a community, have an assembly, this is the church. The church the way God envisioned and designed it is made up of all the people who follow Jesus – both all over the world and in local contexts.
It’s clear from Scripture that the church gathers together (in homes, in buildings, or even outside or in public); the church learns the Scriptures together (from those who have been called and designated as teachers and ministers of the Word); the church prays and worships together; and the church – all the disciples, young and old – gathers to encourage each other to follow the teachings of Jesus more faithfully (to live holy lives, to walk in God’s wisdom, to grow spiritually and display the fruits of the Spirit, to love like Christ, to give generously, to overcome temptation, and to be more like Jesus every day).
This is what I want my “church” experience to be. I don’t want to just be a church member. I don’t want to just attend a service. I want to be a part of the community of disciples who commit themselves to following the teachings of Jesus Christ.
I want to value the church and to be a part of it both for my own edification and that of others. I want to be a follower of Christ, not just a “Christian.” And maybe this can serve as an encouragement for all of us to reexamine our own “Christianity” and our own understanding of what it means to be a part of God’s church.