Chapter 4 of Marshall Leggett’s book Introduction to the Restoration Ideal deals with the name God’s people should be known as. Leggett points out that in the New Testament there are several names that that God’s people were called.
The most common, used of 200 times, is the word brother or brethren. This is a good word to describe God’s people because it denotes the family relationship we are to have with one another. The Church is God’s family, He is our Father, and we are brothers and sisters.
Another term that was used for the followers of Jesus is the word disciples. This word represents the reality that God’s people follow Jesus. We are not just students, but we are devoted to following the example of Jesus in every area of life. We are His disciples.
Two other terms used to for the followers of Jesus are believers and saints. As followers of Jesus we believe in God, His promises, and in the person and work of Jesus. We are saints because we have been set apart, cleansed, and made holy by God.
Leggett goes on to write:
“But none of the names for Jesus’ followers in the New Testament fulfills Isaiah’s prophecy—except one—the name CHRISTIAN. It is a ‘new name, better than of sons and of daughters, an everlasting name that shall not be cut off’ (Isaiah 62:2, 56:5).” (p. 37)
In Acts 11:26 we discover that the followers of Christ were first called Christians in Antioch. Some people will tell us that the name Christian was first given to Christ’s Followers by enemies of the Church wishing to make fun of the disciples. But looking at the meaning of the word called one gets a very different picture. Leggett quotes H. A. Ironside to make his point:
“The Greek word translated ‘called’ really means, ‘oracularly called,’ or divinely called.’ The evidence bears that out. The disciples were first divinely called Christians at Antioch. This was God’s name for them. Now that the work of evangelizing the world had really begun, God said, as it were, ‘I am going to give you the name by which I want My people known’—and He gave them the name ‘Christians.’” (p. 37)
Now why is this important? Remember the Restoration Movement sought to restore unity in the Church. The reason the founders of the movement saw the name thing as important was because having a common name was a reminder of the similarities we share as followers of Christ. Yes, we maybe Baptists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, or Evangelicals, but over all those we are Christians. Having a common name helps give us a sense of unity, in spite of our many differences.