|Volume 22 Number 1 January 2020||
Louis Rushmore, Editor
Someone inquired, “Were there Christians before the Pentecost of Acts 2?” Probably most Bible students are aware that the name “Christian” appears three times in the New Testament. “And when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for a whole year they assembled with the church and taught a great many people. And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch” (Acts 11:26 NKJV). “Then Agrippa said to Paul, ‘You almost persuade me to become a Christian’” (Acts 26:28). “Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter” (1 Peter 4:16).
From Acts 11:26, one can easily see that the words “disciples” and “Christians” are synonyms for the same group of people. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the word “Christian” as “1 a: one who professes belief in the teachings of Jesus Christ, 1 b: disciple.” Even after the first recorded use of the name “Christian” (Acts 11:26), those wearing that name were still called “disciples” (Acts 11:29).
Many of the disciples of our Lord previous to the Pentecost of Acts 2 (Matthew 5:1) remained disciples of Jesus when the events of Acts 2 were about to unfold (Acts 1:15). The term “disciple” continued to be applied to members of the Lord’s church after its establishment and for about 10 years before the name “Christian” was used of them in Acts 11:26.
Disciples of Jesus were not called “Christians” until Acts 11:26, though even then, the terms “Christian” and “disciple” continued to be used interchangeably. Disciples of Jesus continued with Him throughout His ministry and persevered after our Lord’s sacrificial death on Calvary’s cross. They were the same group of people irrespective of when the name “Christian” was applied to them.
Where Two or Three
Are Gathered Together
Louis Rushmore, Editor
Curiously, some in a congregation have evidently construed something Jesus said to mean that congregations of the church ought to be small, rather than grow in number. The Scripture at the center of this inquiry is, “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20). I must profess that I have never heard of such an interpretation of that verse.
Part of the context in which the phrase “where two or three are gathered together” is as follows. “Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:18-20 NKJV). Enough of the context appears here to show that our Lord was speaking exclusively to His apostles. Verse 18 pertains to Christ’s authorization of the apostles to speak doctrinally on behalf of God. Elsewhere, the result of their decisions on behalf of God and directed by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:20-21) was called “the apostles’ doctrine” (Acts 2:42).
Usually, even members of the church lift Matthew 18:20 from its context (which they should not do) to teach about the presence of our Lord as Christians assemble to worship. Yes, Jesus, Who possesses all of the qualities of the Godhead, is omnipresent (Psalm 139:7-10; Matthew 28:20), and Jesus further said that He would be present during Christian worship (Matthew 26:29).
Matthew 18:20, though, does not teach that truth. Neither does Matthew 18:20 say anything at all about the size of a local congregation of the Lord’s church. On the contrary, occasionally thousands of early Christians assembled together at least sometimes (Acts 2:41; 4:4). The number of disciples assembling were called a “multitude” (Acts 4:32; 5:14; 6:2, 5; 15:12, 30).