Here are two objections about my recent article in which I stated that I do not call myself a “Christian” or a mere “believer”, together with my reasoned responses:
Objection #1: “The word, ‘Christian’, is in the Bible three times so that means it is correct for us to use it to describe ourselves. It is biblical”.
Answer: This is a classic example of sloppy logic. Just because the word, “Christian”, is mentioned in the Bible does not mean that we have to use it. In fact, when we consider the contexts, there are good reasons for us not to use it. Originally, the term ‘Christian’ was one of abuse used by those who were not disciples of Christ to describe the disciples. It started in Antioch, one of the three references to which you refer. “The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch” (Book of Acts, chapter 11, verse 26). Yes, they were being called “Christians” by hostile pagans and not by each other. It was a derisive nickname and not a term of affection. “Kristianos is only used three times in the New Testament, and never as a name used by Christians themselves, but as a nickname or a term of reproach” (Vincent’s Word Studies). Not until the second century did it begin to be used by disciples to describe themselves (see Thayer’s Greek Lexicon on the word Χριστιανός).
In one of the other two references, when King Agrippa said to Paul, “Can you persuade me in such a short time to become a Christian?”, he was using it in the scornful nickname sense that it was known. As Bishop Ellicott writes in his commentary (1897):
“Agrippa catches up [the term ‘Christian’] with the insolent scorn with which a brutal justice would have used the word ‘Methodist’ a century ago. So contemptible was the name that, as M. Renan says (p. 37), ‘Well-bred people avoided pronouncing the name, or, when forced to do so, made a kind of apology’. Tacitus (Roman historian, c. AD 56 – c. 120), for instance, says: ‘Those who were vulgarly known by the name of Christians’”.
So, of the three references to which you refer, the first two can be dismissed out of hand as simply being a reflection of the insulting way that the word “Christian” was used in the middle of the first century AD. No disciples at that time used the word as a self-description. The only debatable reference is that of Peter in his First Letter, chapter 4, verses 15-16: “Let not any of you suffer as a murderer, or a thief, or an evildoer, or as a troublesome meddler, but if [you suffer] as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this name”. Peter is not saying there that disciples are ‘Christians’. He is referring to the way that the world describes them and he is saying that even though it is the world’s nickname for you, that is no occasion for shame and you can stand it on its head and through your suffering use it to glorify God. As Ellicott says: “Peter purposely uses the name which was a name of derision among the heathens. It is not, as yet, one by which the believers would usually describe themselves. It only occurs twice besides in the New Testament”. They would suffer not because they called themselves Christians but because with that word the world contemptuously regarded them. The Jamieson-Fausset-Brown commentary rightly states:
“Christian—the name given in contempt first at Antioch. Acts 11:26; 26:28; the only three places where the term occurs. At first believers had no distinctive name, but were called among themselves ‘brethren,’ Acts 6:3; ‘disciples,’ Acts 6:1; ‘those of the way,’ Acts 9:2; ‘saints,’ Rom 1:7; by the Jews (who denied that Jesus was the Christ, and so would never originate the name Christian), in contempt, [they called them] ‘Nazarenes.’ At Antioch, where first idolatrous Gentiles were converted, and wide missionary work began, they could be no longer looked on as a Jewish sect, and so the Gentiles designated them by the new name ‘Christians.’ The rise of the new name marked a new epoch in the Church’s life, a new stage of its development, namely, its missions to the Gentiles. The idle and witty people of Antioch, we know from heathen writers, were famous for inventing nicknames. The date of this Epistle must have been when this had become the generally recognized designation among Gentiles (it is never applied by Christians to each other, as it was in after ages—an undesigned proof that the New Testament was composed when it professes), and when the name exposed one to reproach and suffering, though not seemingly as yet to systematic persecution”.
Thus, there is no compunction for disciples of Christ to call themselves “Christians”. And by the present time, the word has become so misused that I regard it as being as much of an insult as it was in the first century. If Donald Trump, Kenneth Copeland, Joyce Meyer, Paula White, Benny Hinn and countless other charlatans can call themselves “Christians”, then I do not want to be associated with them. Jesus did not come to make people into “Christians” but, rather, disciples, as is clearly stated in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 28, verses 18-19. Thus, that is the designation that I choose to follow. I make no stipulation about what anyone else should call themselves. In freedom, that is a matter for them. But having stated my own standpoint and why, you would be surprised at the number of “Christians” who want to get into a fight with me about it! I do not fight. Ever. But I felt it necessary to respond here with calm and contextual logic. I rest my case.
Objection #2: “You say that you do not see yourself “as being part of ‘the Church’ such as the world sees it”. LET ME TELL YOU THIS, the Bible states very clearly that we must join and attend a church (see Heb.10:25), which then makes us part of THE church, the body of Christ. It is people like you — floating around like ‘free electrons’ and devilishly influencing others to do so — who are a real blight on the church today. You must attend a church and join it or you are being disobedient to the commandment of God”.
Answer: There are so many common misunderstandings in this objection that I hardly know where to begin. The context of that verse that is quoted above has nothing to do with the necessity to attend a church. The real context is apostasy. That whole section in the 10th chapter of the Letter to the Hebrews, from verse 19 to the end of the chapter, is about warning people not to be fazed by persecution or oppression for their faith but to endure to the end. The “assembling of ourselves” is commended as a way of encouragement. But some were afeared because of “revilings and tribulations” (v.33) and even having all their possessions stolen (v.34). He is telling them that rather than being cowed into not meeting up with other disciples, they should be “encouraging one another” (v.25). It is about the need for mutual encouragement rather than a commandment to attend a church. There were no church buildings in those days. People would meet in each other’s homes. He was advising them not to forsake that powerhouse of mutual encouragement. But the control-freaks of today want you in their church building every Sunday and they will threaten you in any way they can to get you there.
Frankly, what most churches are practising today has nothing whatsoever to do with what happened in the first century in the disciples’ homes. There was no high street building functioning as a disguised social club for locals (which is what most churches are today). There was no pulpit from which a man could boom over a congregation. There were no gaudy, expensive priestly garments. There was no ‘order of service’. There was no stage, no narcissistic music band or DJ. There was no Christmas tree or ‘Sunday Santa’. There was no stifling of godly spontaneity. There were no tacky songbooks or mindless arm-waving. No Easter eggs for all the kiddies. No ‘megachurches’ with tens of thousands in attendance. No pagan-style autohypnotic babbling (now euphemistically referred to as ‘speaking in tongues’, a practice which I have written at length about previously). No ‘Sunday Best’ clothes to be worn by all (accompanied by the threat that “they would not be honouring God” if they didn’t dress up). No private jets for the pastors. No ‘heavy shepherding’ of a congregation by the elders (such as one finds in many ‘Reformed’ or ‘evangelical’ churches today). But there was a lot of sharing in homes — of food, money in a ‘common purse’, ‘possessions’ (for most were poor but a few were more wealthy), and whatever was on one’s heart. A psalm or two would be sung. Elders would teach. Mature women would be encouraged to teach younger women and lead them into spiritual maturity. Bread and wine would be shared. The goal of all would be love and mutual encouragement.
I am very much in favour of disciples meeting together for encouragement in homes, if it is possible. But it isn’t always possible. There are many different ways that disciples can be sent on a mission or quest, even to the other end of the earth. People can be sent by Him into isolated situations to fulfil God’s purposes. Some shortsighted people seem to believe that the grace of God and His actions in this world can ONLY happen through the official workings of the visible church. This is simply not true. Christ dispenses His grace and builds His Ekklesia in a myriad more ways than our puny brains can ever take in. How limited and limiting we are in our vision for the message of the Christ! People who are controlling and lacking in vision always strive to turn the church into a regimental barracks with a rollcall. They want you by the short and curlies so you are answerable to them. And they always throw at you that old chestnut of the Letter to the Hebrews, chapter 10, verse 25, “do not forsake the assembling of ourselves”, as proof that one is commanded by God go to church and sign up. Talk about playing fast and loose with a sacred text! Merely to apply that verse to trooping along to ‘church services’ on a Sunday represents a completely inadequate vision of fellowship in Christ. The Ekklesia is not supposed to be a cult; yet to see the way that people treat Sunday church meetings as the be-all-and-end-all of spiritual life, you would think that it was the most pernicious cult of all — especially when there is often very little in those services which will truly enhance one’s discipleship life and growth. It is not joining a church which “makes us part of THE church, the body of Christ”, as it is claimed in the above objection. As soon as one commits oneself to a lifetime of discipleship to Christ, renounces one’s former life and pledges one’s heart to Him, one becomes part of that body, having been adopted into His family. To say that only happens by joining a physical church in a building is about as cultish as it gets.
The tragic reality is that a great many people have been totally alienated from churches, not only because of all the disgraceful actions of the visible church down the centuries — inquisitions, crusades, assassinations, politicking, power-playing, hoarding wealth, having unethical investments, sexual perversions, abuse of minors on a major scale, etc., etc. — but also because of the wielding of a false authority involving a kind of despotic rule which goes way beyond the jurisdiction of elders as they are benevolently portrayed in the Bible, either through what is known as “heavy shepherding” or by exercising cultish control on a mass basis. Far too many see the holding of an office in a church as a form of power and control instead of nurture and protection. It is shocking to realise that a great many disciples of Christ have never witnessed a wise and true shepherd in action. Their only experience has been a Genghis Khan or Machiavelli. Small wonder that they should not want to darken the doorstep of a church again! Church leaders are going to have to work very hard if they want to make their churches attractive and spiritually nourishing enough to these people — i.e. make them enough like “the suburbs of heaven” — to encourage them to come back and take their place as fearless participants. I somehow doubt that will happen. I know people who have been condemned in a church merely for wearing a shark’s-tooth necklace or living an unconventional lifestyle. So often, churches are seeking to be “respectable” and uphold every government action no matter how reprehensible. They ignore completely the fact that the Ekklesia is counterculture in a world of satanic kingdom-building.
Why do you think that it is so common for the same kind of people to be treated so badly in church after church? It is because a certain kind of person gets screwed-over in churches. That kind of person is usually highly intelligent, questioning, discerning, intuitive, sensitive, wise-beyond-years, non-conformist, non-pigeonholeable, non-gullible, whose life is a relatively bullshit-free zone, i.e. they have ditched most of their baggage and continue to do so, unlike so many in churches who are using their religion to plaster over the screwed-upness of their hearts and unresolved issues in their souls. Actually, it is usually the most interesting people who get abused by churches. Frankly, I would dearly love to gather together all those people and, with them, create a very interesting alternative to the abusive churches! But they are scattered all over the globe (and, in any case, the rumour-mongers would only say that I had started my own cult!).
Today, that new diaspora — the scattered and alienated disciples of Christ across the world is made up of people who are devoted to Christ but who cannot identify with mainstream ‘Churchianity’ — who revere freely loving discipleship rather than formally rostered church membership. They tend to get most of their “fellowship” on the internet. Sad but true. The fat unpersecuted cats of today’s ‘Churchianity’ positively loathe this new diaspora. Rigidly legalistic and fundamentalist-style Christianistas despise this new diaspora, surely because they are jealous of their liberty and because they cannot control them. Bishops, Archbishops and Popes vigorously condemn the new diaspora because they will not succumb to their usurped authority and priestcraft and are living outside what has come to be falsely called ‘the means of grace’ and thus they live ‘off the grid’ from the mainstream church — the visible church which is not to be confused with the genuine Ekklesia which is hidden within it and outside it. Professing ‘Christians’ who nitpickingly put human confessions of faith above discipleship of Christ hate the new diaspora because their manmade tramlines may be uprooted by them and shown to be anachronistic. Above all, the new diaspora is despised because it is iconoclastic, Truth-seeking, calling out evil and unwilling to be deceived. On the gigantic heap of ashes of the self-serving, narrowminded, condemnatory, authoritarian churches of today, alternatives need to be built.
Do you seriously believe that the ‘Church Militant’ (the name traditionally given to the hidden body of disciples waging spiritual warfare in this evil world, the true Ekklesia) is truly represented by the global visible church today? That is just a delusion held by minds which cannot look beyond what can merely be seen with the eyes. The visible church is a theatre of castration and compromise and is unfit to have any part in the counterculture which is what the ‘Church Militant’ should be today.
Things are going to get very messy across the world over the next few years. Many people — especially those who have seen through the lies of this pretended “civilization” — will find that they are forced to ask the world and themselves some serious questions and then begin to see that stepping onto the spiritual pathway as a disciple of Christ is the only solution. When the detritus really starts to hit the fan (and we are presently only witnessing intimations of that), the churches which kowtow to false authority are also going to be faced with the dilemma of either continuing their allegiance to the corrupt world-system in “the spirit of the Antichrist” or leaving that behind to fearlessly declare their faithfulness to Christ in an increasingly Christ-hating world in which even their lives will be under threat. The two will no longer be compatible. After the Antichrist has been revealed, there will be a natural separation take place. Then the true Ekklesia will be revealed, the new diaspora will come into its own, all serving their unique purpose as this evil age comes to a close, Christ returns triumphant and the great change of aeons can at last be fulfilled.