Avant le lettre

"And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch." (Acts 11:26a)

Before it was cool

What does it mean to be a Christian? The suffix -ian essentially makes whatever noun it's attached to an adjective. So if you wanna get real pedantic and rhetorical (without being disrespectful), it literally means "like Christ". And Christ means "anointed one" in Greek. "Like the anointed one"? Or, "follower of Christ"? That's about right. Funny thing, the word "Christian" appears twice in the King James version of the New Testament. First, it's used by King Agrippa as he expresses his shock at Paul's forwardness and confidence in seeking to convert Agrippa (who was the last of the Herodian line of kings, an ardent Hebraist; see Acts 26:27-28). The second time comes from Peter's first letter (4:16): "Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf." Peter uses it in the context of suffering. Something that, in my opinion, is certainly not seen as "cool" in much of Western society. We have what we need and with a church building on every corner, we're able to comfortably flow in and out of the shallow waters of culture and if we don't mix it up with those who are a little (or a lot) left-of-center, then that's fine with us. And Peter continues (4:17): "For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?"

The French term Avant le lettre means "before the term was made up". And with reference to the first usage of the name "Christian", it says "disciples". Those who had already been following Jesus. There's more than one way to pull this apart. Again, without being pedantic and picky, Luke (the writer of Acts) doesn't say who called them that. He doesn't add on anything surrounding a label that is arguably (now) one of the densest and alternately misunderstood and misrepresented title in the world today. To where now, it's pretty much only an adjective. Does the word "Christian" make you think of Christ? Of Jesus? If not, we have work to do.

"I know thy works, (this is Jesus speaking to the church in Laodicea) that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth." (Revelation 3:15-16)

Before it gets hot

It's folly for Christians to try and reach a "lost and dying world" without turning the spotlight on itself first. And I'm not saying this isn't being done, but if you wonder why there is the apathy and coldness, er, lukewarmness in the church today, we as Christians would do well to seek God's mind and heart regarding our sensitivity to Him. I feel that much of the church has run off and left the Lord standing, arms outstretched, wondering why his followers are more concerned with looking the part than looking like Him. If that makes sense. Without a reference point, no one can become anything. With reference to Peter's warning that "judgment must begin at the house of God", consider this:

"For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for His sake. Having the same conflict which ye saw in me, and now hear to be in me." (Philippians 1:29-30) Paul says it is given. Suffering is a gift. And I can't tell you what it looks like for your life. I do know however, that if you ardently and actively press in to God through worship, praise and acknowledgment and truly seek His will for your life, you will suffer. No, you'll most likely not go to jail and be beaten within an inch of your life in order to renounce your Savior. You'll probably not find yourself on the street tomorrow having nothing but the clothes on your back and no morning coffee. The "sufferings of Christ" are more mysterious. They are something that you can't wrap your mind around if you find yourself within the whirlwind. My experience is, God will let you see a little glimmer of who He truly is. And then He'll allow the darkness to pour in while you train your vision on restoring that original glimpse and seeing it grow to fill your field of vision. All this, in spite of the atmosphere in which you (now) find yourself. It could take years. What other endeavor is more important?

In closing, the King James trades meanings with the word. Most times when you read "suffer", it means just that. To go through a period of purifying and strengthening even as you're emptied out in service to God and others. The other connotation, however, is allow. And that's a simplified, stripped-down paraphrase. But that's really what suffering is for. It's to allow God to do what He wants in this world, in your world. No one ever said being a Christian was easy, and yet as we truly follow Jesus, as our name suggests, we will ensure that that definition never becomes avant le lettre.