Erika F. Puni, Director, General Conference Stewardship

Summary: This article will explore the question, what is a Christian. It will also illustrate how Biblical stewardship is an expression of Christianity—the lifestyle of a Christian.

The Book of Acts points to Antioch of Syria where the disciples—followers of Jesus Christ—were first called “Christians” (Acts 11:26). This notation which describes the early believers of Christ is significant in helping us understand the characteristics of these people who were committed to the way and life of Jesus. In this article, I will explore the question, what is a Christian? But I also want to illustrate how Biblical stewardship is an expression of Christianity—the lifestyle of a Christian.

Understanding the “Christian” context

Acts 11:26 is the first of three Bible texts (Acts 26:28, 1 Peter 4:16) that uses the term “Christian,” it is in looking at the totality of Acts 10 and 11 that we can see clearly the broad meanings carried by this name for followers of Christ in the first century. Note the following observations from the biblical text.

1. Acts 11 uses the word “Christians” as a synonym for these other terms “disciples” (11:26), “witnesses” (10:39), and “brothers” (11:1). The use of “disciples” with “Christians” in the same verse conveys the idea that Christians were students and followers of Jesus Christ. He was their master and teacher, and they followed His teachings. “Witnesses” was Peter’s preferred term to explain the role of the twelve who spent time with Jesus during His earthy ministry from His baptism to His ascension and including the historical event of His resurrection (Acts 1: 21, 10:39-41). Peter’s point in this testimony is that “witnesses” have an intimate knowledge and personal experience with Jesus. “Brothers,” on the other hand, is Luke’s picture which depicts the apostles (the twelve key leaders of the church at Jerusalem) as a close knit community of people, and this was certainly the case with the first twelve who shared a common life with Christ. While the emphasis of the term “Christians” is on the aspect of following, the word definitely has elements of acknowledging the Lordship and Messiahship of Jesus—He is the “anointed” and “appointed” of God (Acts 10:36, 38, 42).

2. Another key observation that provides richness to the use of the word “Christians” in the context of Acts 10 and 11 is Peter’s acknowledgment that God has no favorite people, and He accepts “all” persons regardless of their place of origin. For Peter, Christians comprise of individuals from “every nation” (Acts 10:34-36, 45; 11:1, 18), even those from outside of the Jewish society.

3. The most important observation that stands out in the context of these two chapters is the connection between “Christians” and the Gospel commission—the making of disciples for Jesus (Acts 10:33, 47; 11: 21,24; Matthew 28:19-20; ). In Acts 10 we see the three modes of making disciples (go, teach, baptize) in Matthew 28 this commission comes together in Peter’s ministry to Cornelius at Caesarea; while Acts 11 records the spread of the gospel to other areas outside of Jerusalem (Antioch included).

4. One final point that we must not overlook is the offering of prayers and the giving of gifts by Cornelius (Acts 10:31), and the receiving of the gift of the Spirit by the Gentiles (Acts 10: 45-47). This aspect of giving is also noted in the life of the church at Antioch where disciples gave gifts to Barnabas and Paul in support of other Christians (11: 37-30). Christianity is about sharing the good news of Jesus (11:20) and giving to people in need.

Fundamentals of Christianity

Our brief analysis of the Acts passages reveals the following features of early Christians.

1. Christians know Jesus Christ personally, and have an intimate relationship with Him.

2. Christians believe and acknowledge that Jesus is divine, and that He is the anointed of God—the Messiah.

3. Christians follow the teachings of Jesus in the Bible in both words and deeds, and they value time of devotion with Him in prayer.

4. Christians are mandated to be involved in God’s mission in the world to make disciples of all peoples. They are “witnesses” of the Risen Lord.

5. Christians have open hearts that accept people of different color and culture into their fellowship and community—the church. They are “brothers,” individuals who possess love and affection for Christ and other Christians.

6. Christians as a matter of lifestyle give generously in support of God’s cause which includes the needs of the poor in the world.

Stewardship and Christianity

On the basis of our study we can conclude that the word “Christianity” is synonymous with the Biblical concept of stewardship for the following reasons.

1. Stewardship is about an experience with the person of Jesus Christ: Creator, Owner and Redeemer. It’s about knowing Him personally as Savior and Lord. Christian stewardship has to do with having an intimate and on-going relationship with Him twenty four-seven.

2. Stewardship is about obedience to God and the teachings of Jesus as revealed in all of His Word, the Bible. Such obedience is manifested in the Christian appropriating time for Bible study and prayer.

3. Christian stewardship raises awareness of the spiritual obligation of Christians to make disciples which results in personal involvement in witnessing and evangelism.

4. Stewards live the principles of God’s Kingdom which promotes acceptance of all peoples regardless of their social status and ethnicity.

5. Christians recognize that all of life including our earthly possessions are gifts of God given freely to serve Him, and to help others. That the Christian’s purpose in life is to honor and glorify God in all things.