My wife and I were peacefully sitting in a local restaurant about to be served breakfast which was our treat for the week. So before the food was served, we engaged in our customary behavior to offer thanksgiving for the food that was soon to be served. The restaurant was only the vehicle through whom God would serve to us our food for the day. So hand in hand, we prayed together.
In our minds, others who were in the restaurant at the time just became invisible while we engaged with our Father in thanksgiving for what was about to be set before us. It was as if we were alone at the moment of intercession. The rest of the occupants of the restaurant did not exist.
And then arrived the blessing of the occasion … the steaming hot food. As the waitress, who had witnessed our prayer, set the plates before us, she asked, “Are you Christians?” We simply responded, “Yes, just Christians. That’s all.” That answer invoked a series of requests on her part. She asked these two strangers to offered prayers for her family. As a mother of three, she was in desperate need of supplications for herself, two small children, and one teenager.
It is for this reason that we stand for being known as Christians only. That label was good enough for the Holy Spirit to tag the early disciples (See At 11:26; 26:28; 1 Pt 4:16). So we will stick with the same. We seek to be Christians only without some label for ourselves, or some unique sign post for those with whom we sit on the first day of the week. We are all just Christians. We are not “A” Christians, or “B” Christians, or even “C & D” Christians. We are Christians after Christ. Please don’t tag a label on our Christianity.
The restaurant encounter reminded Martha and myself again what it means to present ourselves before the world as just being Christians, without the shroud of some religious institution. In the midst of a religious world that has invented every imaginable name under which adherents would hang their religion, we have chosen to exalt Christ alone by being known to identify ourselves to be simply “of Christ.” This is gospel business. In doing this we are focusing on and exalting Christ, not on ourselves or some favorite religious sect, or common religious heritage. We choose to focus exclusively on Christ, not on some man, some movement, some doctrine, or some imagination of men that would huddle individual adherents under the banner of a particular sect that maintains a common traditional heritage.
When Paul wanted to encourage the frightened Christians in Rome that they were not alone in their stand for Christ, he did not refer, as some would today, to a particular religious institution that was identified by some favorite name of man. He simply wanted the Christians in Rome to know that the “churches of Christ” sent their greetings to them (Rm 16:16). He gave them no “brand name” reference that would bring them comfort in a time of isolation in the seat of Christian persecution. Neither did he seek to give a unique name to all those who had obeyed the gospel of Christ. He simply wanted the Christians in Rome to know that there were Christians meeting everywhere under the name of Christ alone.
If we would be literal in our interpretation of his encouragement after mentioning several groups meeting in homes throughout Rome, then we would justly translate the Greek word ekklesia (“assemblies”) to be used in the common era of the times. Those in Rome thought that they were alone in meeting for Christ in the seat of Roman government, and a center of Nero’s persecution of Christians. So Paul wanted the disciples in Rome to know that there were assemblies for Christ throughout the Roman Empire. They were indeed not alone.
What is strikingly different today is that if some would presume to write a letter of encouragement to a group of persecuted Christians, they would probably state that there were people assembling under the name of a Jewish feast day—Pentecost—who send their greetings. Others would possibly write that there are people assembling under the name of a favorite doctrine, or methodology, or even a favorite personality. Some would even try to encourage the persecuted in Rome by saying that they were assembling under a sign post outside their building that glorified themselves. And to emphasize their point, they would refer to themselves as either “first,” or “second,” or “full.”
But the Holy Spirit did not resort to such sectarian misdirection. He directed the hand of Paul to encourage the Christians in Rome that there were others throughout the Empire who were assembling under the name of Christ alone. And that is good enough for us. When people observe us in public, we want to be identified to be of Christ only, not people who have institutionalized as a unique sect under the name of Paul, or Cephas, or Apollos (See 1 Co 1:12,13). We were not baptized into the name of any man, neither was any man crucified on our behalf. So when the world observes our gospel behavior, we do not want them to feel that we have ulterior motives. We seek to exalt Christ alone.
Therefore, we will absolutely not allow ourselves to be called after any man, or Jewish feast day, or unique doctrine, or unique history, or whatever. If you don’t mind, we will be called after Christ, which means that we will be known as Christians only. So don’t try to pigeonhole us with some sect. That by which we allow ourselves to be called reveals whether we are of the gospel of Christ . . . or not. We are not brand-name disciples of Christ. We are Christians only. Therefore, when people see us living the gospel of Christ, they will inquire concerning our hope, knowing that they are not going to be converted to some religious institution.