“And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.” Acts 11:26c
Jesus denominated himself as the one who was “the way, the truth and the life.” Ever since the first century A.D. all believers who were of “this way” have been called Christians.
Since the days of early Christianity the word “Christian” or “Christianity” has taken on very broad connotations. It is not used in the limited sense that it formerly was nor does it carry with it the same terrifying results that it formerly did. Life for the person who professes to be a Christian and is of “the way” is not nearly so treacherous as it was for the professing Christian during the early days of the New Testament Church and during the days of the heathen emperors of the Roman Empire.
We have stated that according to the Sacred Scriptures believers of all ages have been called Christians since the beginning of the preaching of “the way, the truth, and the life” in Antioch of Syria. This name “Christian” does not have a Christian origin. The origin of this term can hardly be ascribed to the Jews who were such violent enemies of the Christ. They belligerently and mockingly spoke of the Christians as a sect. They very indignantly denominated the Christians as “the sect of the Nazarener” or as the “Galileans.”
According to best authorities the term “Christian” seems to have been first applied to the believers by the heathen population of Antioch. The application of this term to these seemingly “insane,” fanatical people may have occurred as the church emerged from the synagogue and a Christianity predominantly Gentile took its place among the religions of the then known world.
Today the term “Christian” or “Christianity” has a much broader use. Categories of so-called Christians are so very much more diversified. Today there are many incorrect and heretical beliefs concerning the Christ of the Scriptures whose royal name is the root word of this denominating and all encompassing term. So many who class themselves as Christians do so only to be distinguished from Hinduism, Taoists, Buddhists, Mohammedans, Judaist and others who deny the existence of the Christ of the Scriptures.
Such classification is very dangerous and misleading for it leaves one with the false impression that all that is so called Christian is good. This, needless to say, is far from the truth. Much that is called Christian demands careful scrutiny and often calls for extended study before it can be honestly called Christian.
There are many cults that have arisen out of the bosom of evangelical, orthodox Christianity and now challenge Christianity. These cults and sects are neither orthodox nor are they Christian. One of the most pernicious and parasitic of these cults is that which supports the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society and is more widely known as Jehovah’s Witnesses. These followers of Russel believe neither the deity of Christ nor the temporal existence of Christ as the Son of God.
In Christianity Today Bishop J. A. Pike of the Episcopal Diocese of California is quoted because he is alarmed about the superficial upsurge in church membership which is seemingly supported by some vital statistics which indicate that church membership rolls are not keeping pace with population expansion.
We do not necessarily share the same concern with Bishop Pike because his concern does not fall within the realm of the Reformed heritage, but it does point up the fact that “all that glitters is not gold.’
Historically, Paul had to remind Titus, too, that “all that glitters is not gold.” He warned Titus that he should be on his guard for counterfeit Christians on the isle of Crete. There were those who professed to be Christians but were really pseudo-Christians.
The problem of pseudo-Christianity is not a new problem, therefore, but is a problem which is always contemporary with the pure preaching and teaching of the Scriptures. There are always those who are apostates from the truth whether by bold-faced profession or by deviation from the straight line of the Scriptures and the Confessions. The problem of dead Confessionalsim and neo-orthodoxy certainly falls within the category of counterfeit Christianity.
The situation which we have cited is a situation which certainly poses a problem for us. We can take the attitude that what is happening in the nominal Christian church world is the inevitable thing and therefore there is nothing that can be done about such a situation. We can also assume the attitude that these deviations are really none of our concern and that our only calling is to maintain a pure church within the sphere of our denomination.
Whatever our attitude toward this situation in nominal Christianity may be, we can certainly point to certain definite causes for the decline of true Christianity in the midst of much counterfeit Christianity.
The first ear-mark is indicated by a dire lack of the pure preaching of gospel in nominal Christianity. The Christ of the Scriptures is maligned or is not preached at all. Christ is presented as a pleading, begging Savior of all men or as the good example who was the greatest of all social reformers but was sadly misunderstood by the Jewish leaders of his day. Because Christ is not truly preached and “the Way” is maligned, the sacraments of the Christian Church are either not used at all or improperly understood. Along with the decline of pure preaching and improper use of sacraments is a laxity of Christian discipline. The key-power which Christ gave to his church is sadly misused or is left entirely unused.
Let us hold fast, therefore, to the faithful word as those who are taught that we may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince all controverts.