A New Name for a New People
November 20th, 1977 @ 10:50 AM
A NEW NAME FOR A NEW PEOPLE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
11-20-77 10:50 a.m.
Again we welcome you, the thousands and the thousands of you who are listening to this service on radio and who are worshiping with us on television. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled A New Name for a New People, or What Is a Christian? Last Sunday, we finished preaching through the eighteenth verse of the eleventh chapter of the Book of Acts [Acts 11:18]. And this morning we begin at verse 19 and follow after the story of the outward expansion of the Christian faith:
Now they which were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, and Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to none but unto the Jews only.
And some of them were men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who, when they were come to Antioch, spake unto the heathen, idolatrous Greeks, preaching the Lord Jesus.
And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord.
Tidings of these things came unto the ears of the church which was in Jerusalem: and they sent forth—the son of consolation—Barnabas, that he should go as far as Antioch.
Who, when he came, and had seen the grace of God, was glad, and exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord.
“For,” and Barnabas was dead when Dr. Luke wrote this, “he was,” past tense:
For he was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith: and much people was added unto the Lord.
Then departed Barnabas to Tarsus—the capital of Cilicia, up there in Asia Minor—to seek Saul—who later we know as Paul [Acts 13:9].
And when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.
We have come to another tremendous watershed, a great turning, a vast outreach in the Christian faith. The story of the expansion of the gospel of Christ is recorded fully, beautifully, powerfully on these pages in the Book of Acts. First, there is a Jewish Pentecost in Acts chapter 2. And the Holy Spirit is poured out in gospel message upon the Jew [Acts 2:1-47]. Then in the first part of chapter 8, there is a Samaritan Pentecost: the gospel is preached to the half-Jew, to the Samaritan [Acts 8:5-25]. Then in the latter part of the Book of Acts, the gospel is preached to a proselyte of the temple, a Gentile who has become a full-fledged convert to Judaism [Acts 8:26-39]. Then in the tenth chapter of the Book of Acts, the gospel is preached to a Gentile, but one who is a proselyte of the gate. He’s still a Gentile [Acts 10:34-48]. He has renounced his pagan, heathen gods, has embraced the Mosaic law, the moral code of the Jew. But he’s still a Gentile. He’s a proselyte of the gate [Acts 10:1-2].
Now in this passage in the Book of Acts in chapter 11 we come to an altogether new thing, absolutely unheard of or unthought of. Heretofore, wherever they had preached, they had preached the gospel to a Jew or to a proselyte of a Jew. When they came to this city of Antioch, these Hellenists, these Greek-speaking Jews preached the gospel to down-and-out, out-and-out, heathen idolaters. They were no sense even introduced to the Mosaic laws or customs. They are idol worshipers, heathen, pagan Greeks. And the hand of God was with them, and they came out of their idolatry into the glorious liberty of the light and promise of the Son of God [Acts 11:19-21].
This gave rise to a new thing. Heretofore, the Christian had been seen as a member of a sect of Judaism. There were Sadducees, and there were Pharisees, and Essenes, and Herodians, and Zealots—all sects of Judaism. And Christianity first appeared as a sect of the Jews. They were called the “sect of the Nazarenes” [Acts 24:5]. Sometimes they were called Galileans. But they were looked upon as a part, a parcel of, identified with a sect of the Jewish religion, Judaism.
But this thing that happened in Antioch was something altogether different, separate and apart [Acts 11:19-21]. These people who now are following the name of the Lord Jesus are in no sense Jewish, neither by race, nor by custom, nor by ritual, or ceremony, or religion. They have never had any background of Judaism, nor have they ever embraced anything of the Jewish faith. They are idolaters. They are heathen. And they have come out of their heathenism into a confession of faith in the Lord Jesus [Acts 11:21]. And they are a conglomerate group. They’re everything. They are Greeks. They are Latins. They are Cilicians. They are Mesopotamians. They are blacks. They are whites. They are browns. They are everything, a conglomerate group. The only thing they have in common is this; that they call upon the name of the Lord Christ. The cohesion that binds them together is the name of Jesus [Acts 11:21].
Therefore, a new name was invented for them. They are called “Christians.” That is one of the most interesting passages you will find in the Bible. “And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch” [Acts 11:26]. Christianus: the first part of it is Greek. The second part of it is Latin. The first part, Christos, is a Greek word for the “anointed One,” for “the Messiah.” Christ,Christos, that’s Greek; –ianus is a Latin ending. That adjectival termination, –ianus was widely diffused in the Roman Empire. That adjectival ending at first, and its primary reason, was the description of a man who was a slave in a great household. Like the word “Caesarianus,” This man is a Caesarianus; that is, he was a slave in the household of Caesar. So Christianus, he is a slave in the kingdom of the Lord Jesus [Acts 11:26]. That’s the first and the primary meaning. That’s where it came from, –ianus.
Finally, the ending came to be applied to a follower of a great man or a member of a party. For example, Herodianus, Herodian, a follower of Herod; Aristotelianus, a follower of the philosopher Aristotle; or Pompeianus, a man who was a follower of the Roman general Pompey, or Augustianus, a man who was the follower of the last Roman Caesar, Nero. So the word was put together, Greek and Latin, to apply to these who had committed themselves to the Lord Jesus Christ, Christianus.
Well, who is it that named them that? Christianoi; Christianus, singular: Christian, who is it did that? Well, certainly not the Jew. You’d never get a Jew to admit that Jesus is Christ. They oppose that, that nomenclature bitterly! They call this group the “sect of the Nazarenes” [Acts 24:5]. And they said, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” [John 1:46]. Didn’t come from the Jews; where did that name come from? And it didn’t come from the disciples. They referred to themselves always as followers of the Lord, as disciples, as brethren, as saints, as the elect—some such name. Well, where did that come from? It came from a city that was adept at nicknaming. It was a contemptuous epithet of the idolatrous population of Antioch, who with scorn and contempt, turning their wit to ridicule, called these nondescripts Christianoi— “They are Christians” [Acts 11:26].
Where did it happen? It took place in the third city of the Roman Empire. The first great city was Rome. The second great city was Alexandria. And the third vast city in the Roman Empire was Antioch. Antioch was founded by Seleucus I, Seleucus Nicator.
Do you remember when Alexander the Great died, and his empire was divided into four parts? One of his generals was named Cassander; he had married Alexander’s sister named Thessalonike. He took Macedonia and called the name of his capital after the sister of Alexander the Great. Lysimachus took Asia Minor. Ptolemy took Egypt. And Seleucus took Syria, the great expanse between the Euphrates and the River of Egypt. And this Seleucus, a mighty man, a great general, an empire builder, Seleucus chose for his capital a site on the Orontes River. And there he built a city and named it for his father Antiochus—in our English, “Antioch.”
Have you ever been there? That’s absolutely one of the most impressive sites for a city in the world. The Orontes River, flowing beautiful and clear and abundant, coming out of the Lebanese range, there turns directly west, makes a great turn directly west into the Mediterranean Sea, and it goes through a great mountain pass for about, oh, I’d say fifteen to eighteen miles, from there, comes down to the sea. Where that river turns, there did Seleucus build his capital, a beautiful Greek city—had four walls and one vast wall enclosing those four. And from the sweep of the side of the mountain, down to the Orontes River, four-and-one-half miles of beautiful Corinthian, colonnaded streets made out of solid white marble; and like all Greek Oriental cities, was vile and iniquitous, debauched, depraved, immoral in the extreme. Just outside were the groves of Daphne where they held their heathen and indescribable orgies. That’s the place where the power of the gospel came upon those who believed [Acts 11:19-21]. “And they were called Christians first in Antioch” [Acts 11:26].
Now, what is a Christian? That posits an interesting subject for the law. What is a Christian? “And they were called Christianoi first in Antioch” [Acts 11:26]. What were they?
The Supreme Court of Iowa ruled on a most unusual case. It concerned a trust fund, a Methodist doctor, physician, left in charge of four trustees with instructions that the proceeds be distributed among, quote—this is what he wrote in his will, “Persons who believe in the fundamental principles of the Christian religion and in the Bible and who are endeavoring to promulgate the same.” End quote. There was a dispute between the trustees and the nephews and nieces. Always count on it that out of the woodwork and out of the sewer will come these vultures, and these vampires, and these bloodsuckers called nieces and nephews. Nobody ever heard of them. Nobody ever saw them. I have been through this half a dozen times here in the church. So they come out of the woodwork, and they bring it to court, saying, “Nobody can define what the Christian religion is.” So, the relatives argued, these vampires and nieces and nephews, these vultures, they argued, quote, “There is no common agreement as to what constitutes the fundamental principles of Christianity.” End quote.
Then to prove their point, they hired seven clergymen. You can hire a preacher to say anything in the world if you will just pay him—anything in the world. They hired seven clergymen who took the witness stand, and they testified that you couldn’t define what a Christian is. But the attorneys for the trustees countered by producing clergymen—thank God for men who love the Lord and are true and faithful to the Word; and there are a lot of them, they’re not all liars and hypocrites and candidates for sale—they produced clergymen who testified that Christians can be identified as those who believe in God, amen, and in the Apostles’ Creed.
That goes clear back to the apostles themselves. It would please me if we recited that creed at every session of our church. They believe in God, in the Apostles’ Creed, in the Holy Trinity, amen, and who confess faith in Christ. Well, the judge of the lower court ruled that among Christians, quote “There is widespread lack of accord in their characterizations of the man Jesus, the man Jesus, just another man—maybe a good man, maybe smart, but just another man—and in their interpretations and applications of His teachings.” End quote. Furthermore, he said it was beyond the prerogatives of the courts to define what a Christian is. So he ordered the trustees to hand the money over to the vampires, and the vultures, and to the termites, to these nephews and nieces.
That’s the beatenest thing you ever saw in your life! You know why this country is drowned in pornography? Because the nine men on the Supreme Court of the United States say, “We don’t know what pornography is!” And they refuse to define it! And there is not a ten-year, six-year-old boy or girl who goes to Dr. Estes’ school that couldn’t tell you what pornography is—the dirt and the filth. And yet those nine men on the Supreme Court say, “We don’t know what pornography is.” So they never define it. And we can’t pass any law against it.
God deliver us from these men who purport to represent our national life and who are none other than the most abysmal pawns of dirt, and sewerage, and corruption, and filth, and iniquity! Now, thank God there are some justices like Claude Williams out there. Thank God there are some justices who know the truth when they see it. So the case was taken to the State Supreme Court in Iowa. And the Supreme Court upheld the late doctor’s will. The state’s highest court ruled seven to two. If I had the names of those seven men, I would love to write them a word of gratitude. The state’s highest court ruled seven to two that it is possible to define what kind of a person can be called a Christian, and decreed that the trustees were capable of determining from the language of the will who should benefit from the trust.
What is a Christian? It is plain from the Bible—you don’t need to stumble over it. Three times the word is used, three times, and in all three instances, in context, that plainly delineate and describe and define what is a Christian. The first time it is used is in the passage of our text, “And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch” [Acts 11:26]. Well, what kind of people were they that they were calling Christians? It says very plainly here. Look at it. They believed in the Lord Jesus. “And a great number believed in the Lord Jesus, and they turned unto the Lord” [Acts 11:21]. They had been worshiping Bacchus, the god of wine, in his Bacchanalia, an immoral orgy. And they turned from it to the Lord. They had been worshiping Saturn in the orgy of Saturnalia. And they turned from those heathen practices and immoral customs and worldly compromises. They turned to the Lord [Acts 11:21]. A Christian; they are described here that, “With purpose of heart they cleave unto Jesus” [Acts 11:23]. They were committed and consecrated to the faith. And it says here that they assembled themselves with the church and were taught the Word of God; a Christian [Acts 11:26].
When a man says to me, “I can be a Christian and not attend church,” he’s talking idiocy. What it is to be a Christian is, “I love the people of God. I love the house of the Lord. I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go up and worship in the name of Christ.’” That’s what it is to be a Christian. Love to be with God’s people, singing the songs of Zion, bowing in prayer, listening to an exposition of the Word of God, and being taught in the way.
Why, I have a doctor’s degree in theology. I have five doctor’s degrees. And yet, there is nobody in this congregation that is hungrier after a knowledge of the Word of God than am I. I still study. Day after day, I still study. And I love to pore over this Book. And I love to read of its background and its text. It is rich. That’s what it is to be a Christian. Loving the Word of the Lord, loving God’s people, and loving Jesus.
What is a Christian? Second time that word is used is in the twenty-sixth chapter of the Book of Acts. The apostle Paul—it is in verse 28, Acts 26:28—the apostle Paul is defending his life before Herod Agrippa II, the king, and he recounts his conversion [Acts 26:12-20]. A Christian is a man who has had a meeting with the Lord Jesus. He recounts his conversion. And then he names his mandate, “God has sent me to the Gentiles to ‘Open their eyes, to turn them from darkness to light, from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and an inheritance among them that are sanctified by faith in Me’” [Acts 26:16-18].
“God has sent me to the Gentiles, preaching that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance” [Acts 26:20]. It was then that Agrippa said unto Paul, “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian” [Acts 26:28]. I wish that were true. I wish the translation were that, “Almost you persuade me to be a Christian.” No, what he actually said was en oligō, en oligō, in a little, “to sum up. In just a little, in just a little while or in just a little summation, you want me to be a Christian!” And Paul said, “Would to God that not only en oligō but en megalō, whether in little or in much, would to God that all men were such as I am, except for this chain” [Acts 26:29].
That’s what it is to be a Christian. Here’s a man who has had a confrontation with Christ. He’s heard the call of God in his life, and he has answered, “Yes, Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?” [Acts 9:6]. And then he is a part of those who are seeking to disseminate, and to preach, and to promulgate, and to spread abroad the good news in Christ Jesus, the forgiveness of sins, and the sanctification by faith that we have in Him [Acts 26:18]. That is a Christian.
Third: the word is used by Simon Peter himself in 1 Peter, chapter 4 verse 16, “If anyone suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf” [1 Peter 4:16]. The apostle Paul wrote in 2 Timothy, “The time shall come when all who will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” [2 Timothy 3:12]. Simon Peter writes here:
Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you . . . Rejoice that you are partakers of Christ’s suffering . . . If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are you.
For the Spirit of God resteth upon you. If anyone suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God.
[1 Peter 4:12-14, 16]
That is a Christian. One who can suffer, be insulted for Christ and yet glorify the Lord.
Just a few days ago, in our daily newspaper, there was an article about Anita Bryant and her husband, and a big picture in the paper of what had happened that caused the newspaper report. The newspaper said that Anita Bryant and her husband, a great big, burly fellow named Green, that they were eating in a restaurant. And a sodomite, a pervert, a homosexual—they call themselves a gay, that’s a travesty on a nice word—a sodomite saw them seated there in the restaurant. And he went over to the counter and seized a pie. And walking over where the couple were seated, he slammed that pie in the face of Anita Bryant!
I would have thought that that big mean Green would’ve stood up and beat the— and a preacher can’t cuss—the daylights out of that sodomite. That’s what I would have thought. Instead, when they seized that sexual pervert, the couple stood up, and big burly husband Green said, “Let him alone. Don’t bother him.” And he and Anita Bryant stood there, she with the pie dripping off of her face. They stood there with bowed heads and prayed for the pervert. And that was the picture in the paper: that sweet, dear Christian couple with their heads bowed, the pie dripping off of her face, praying for that sodomite.
That is a Christian. If anyone be insulted, accosted, accused, defamed, blasted, damned for being a Christian, let that one glorify God that they are counted worthy to suffer insult and shame for His name [1 Peter 4:16]. That’s what it is to be a Christian.
O Lord, how I could pray that God will grant such a grace and such a blessing and such a spirit unto me. If you’re ever reviled, don’t revile again. “Bless them that hate you. Pray for them that despise you. Do good to them who mistreat you. Then you will be children of your Father who is in heaven” [Matthew 5:44-45]. You see, it is very plain and very simple from the Bible what is a Christian. They have believed in the Lord Jesus [Acts 11:21]. They have turned from the world, and they face upward, Christ-ward, heavenward. They assemble with the saints [Hebrews 10:25]. They love to be taught and to study the Word of God. And their attitude toward the harsh, cruel, unsympathetic world in which we live is always one of charity and intercession, kindness and forgiveness [John 13:34]. Lord, Lord, God help us and God bless us. And the Lord give us grace for the way.
And that’s our invitation to you, to join us. As we sing our hymn of appeal in a moment, to bring your family and be one with us, “I ask God today to write my name in that book that He has in heaven [Revelation 17:8, 20:12, 15, 21:27; Luke 10:20]. And some consummating judgment day when the roll is called, Lord call my name. Let me belong to the assembly of the redeemed [1 Peter 1:18-19]. And I’m coming. And Pastor, I am bringing my whole family. We’re all coming today.” Or just two of you, “I’m bringing my friend, or my wife, or my child.” Or just one somebody you, “God has spoken to me, and I’m answering with my life, and here I am.” The Lord bless you, angels attend you, the Spirit encourage you as you answer. Do it now. Come now, while we stand and while we sing.
A NEW NAME FOR A NEW PEOPLE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
outward movement of the Christian faith
A. From Jewish Pentecost to a Gentile proselyte of the gate (Acts 2, 8, 10)
B. Now in Antioch, preaching to outright heathen idol-worshipers(Acts 11)
necessity for a change in name
A. Heretofore Christianity seen as a sect of Judaism
B. Now includes a conglomerate of all kinds of people
III. The new
name – Christian(Acts 11:26)
A. Construction and meaning of the name
B. Pragmatizochristianoi – their business is serving Jesus
III. The new
name – Christian(Acts 11:26)
A. Construction and meaning of the name
B. Pragmatizochristianoi – their business is serving Jesus
IV. Who gave
them the name?
A. Not from the Jews or themselves
B. A nickname by the sarcastic, scornful people of Antioch
V. Where it
was the name originated
A. Antioch, the third city of Roman Empire; founded by Seleucus I
B. Beautiful Greek city with great walls, miles of marble colonnaded
C. Vile, iniquitous, debauched, depraved and immoral in the extreme
VI. What is
A. Iowa court case
B. Three times the word used in the Bible
1. At Antioch – what kind of people were they?(Acts 11:21, 23-24, 26)
2. Paul recounts his conversion (Acts 26:17-18, 28-29)
3. Peter writing about persecution(1 Peter 4:12-14, 16, 2 Timothy 3:12)
a. Anita Bryant(Mathew 5:44-45)
C. Turning, believing, assembling, teaching, sacrificing