To the exposition of the name Christ and the offices of the Savior, the Catechism appends a discussion of the name Christian, and that, too, with personal application to the confessing believer who throughout the Heidelberger is the respondent to the questions. “But why are thou called a Christian? Because I am a member of Christ by faith, and thus am partaker of his anointing; that so I may confess his name, and present myself a living sacrifice of thankfulness to him: and also that with a free and good conscience I may fight against sin and Satan in this life: and afterwards reign with him eternally, over all creatures.”
It must be evident from the outset that the question Why are thou called a Christian? cannot be taken in the same significance as the preceding questions concerning the names of Christ: “Why is the Son of God called Jesus, that is a Savior?” and “Why is he called Christ, that is anointed?” For the latter two questions are concerned with names that are directly from God, which cannot be said of the name Christian at all. The Son of God is called Jesus, not by man’s invention, not even by His human parents, but in God’s counsel, and by direct revelation. And He is called the Christ because He is the promised Messiah, the One that was ordained from eternity, and anointed with the Holy Ghost to be the Servant of Jehovah over His whole house, and, therefore, again by divine appointment. But this is not the case with the name Christian. In Scripture believers are never addressed as Christians, even though once they are referred to by that name. Their common designations are “believers,” “saints,” “brethren,” “elect of God,” “the faithful,” “servants” of God or of Christ, “beloved,” “children of God.” If is plain, then that the question Why are thou called a Christian? cannot be placed on a par with the questions that precede it about the names of the Savior.
Scripture informs us that believers were called Christians first in Antioch. We read in Acts 11:26: “And when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.” It is evident, therefore, that the name did not originate with believers themselves. They did not of their own accord call themselves and one another Christians, as, for instance, the Society of Jesus call themselves Jesuits. On the contrary, the name was invented by the people in Antioch. They called the disciples Christians. It must also be evident that it was not the Jewish element of the population of Antioch that thought of applying this name to the (followers of Jesus. They would rather designate them by the term of contempt Nazarenes, or the sect of the Nazarenes. It was the heathen element of the people there that invented the name. And in their parlance, the name denoted simply an adherent of Christ, Whom the apostles preached, and whom the disciples followed and confessed as their Lord. In popular slang the name was intended to denote members of a certain party or sect. In this sense, it is, no doubt, also employed by king Agrippa, and that, perhaps, with a touch of sarcasm, in the well-known words: “Almost thou persuades me to be a Christian.” Acts 26:28. There was, therefore, from the beginning a certain reproach attached to the name. And, perhaps, there is a reference to this reproach in the use of the name by the apostle in I Pet. 4:16: “Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God on this behalf.” For to suffer as a Christian meant to “be reproached for the name of Christ.” I Pet. 4:14.
Before long, however, the name was adopted and appropriated by believers themselves. If this had not been the case, the thirty-second question of the Catechism could never have been asked, or, at least, if it had been given a place in the Instructor, the answer would have been entirely different from the one here given. And for this adoption of a name, which had its origin in the heathen world, there must have been good reason. Believers must have considered that it was in God’s providence that they should be called
Christians by the world. And as they contemplated the meaning of the name, they also discovered that it was not at all improper as an appellative of the disciples of Christ, that, in fact, as a name by which they might be known in the midst of the world, and in distinction from unbelievers, it was very fitting. The name Nazarenes they could not adopt, not only because it was too expressive of the hatred and contempt on the part of their enemies against them and against their Lord, but also because it had no sense. As disciples of Christ, they could not call themselves after the name Jesus, for that name is altogether too unique and belongs exclusively to the Savior. He alone is Jehovah-salvation, and in the work which He accomplished under that name they could not possibly share in any sense. That the well-known Romish Society call themselves Jesuits is nothing less than presumption. But with the name Christ this was different. Christ meant Anointed, and by His grace they, too, that believed on His name, became anointed ones. It signified that He was God’s Servant par excellence and through His name they, too, were servants of the Lord. And so they soon adopted the name, that was at first imposed on them by popular slang, as their own. They called themselves Christian, their religion became known as the Christian religion, and their faith as the Christian faith.
And so there is a special meaning to the pointed, personal question of the Heidelberger in this connection.
Fact is, of course, that the reason why believers of today are called Christians is that even in the days of the apostles the heathen population of Antioch applied that appellative to them, and, soon after, they themselves adopted it. Hence, one is called a Christian because he is born in the Church visible in the world, or incorporated into this gathering of professing believers and their children. It follows that one need not necessarily be a Christian, that the meaning of the name Christian does not have to be applicable to one, in order to be called by that name. Fact is, that there are thousands upon thousands that are Christians only nominally, without having a personal part in the spiritual reality denoted by the name. In the light of all this, the question of the Catechism receives a new significance: why are thou called a Christian?
Are you called a Christian merely because you happen to belong to that group of people that years ago were called by that name, and ever since were known by it, in distinction from the heathen? Or does the name, in its true spiritual significance, apply to you personally? Do you know the meaning of that name, and knowing it, can you claim the right to bear it?
The heart of the answer to this question which our Instructor places on the lips of the professing believer is contained in the words: “Because I am a member of Christ by faith, and thus am partaker of his anointing.”
All that follows in the; answer is implied in this.
I am a Christian when I share in His anointing, and that, too, in utter dependence upon Him, by faith, and through His grace. Also this dependency is implied in the name. For I am not another Christ, but a Christian. He is the Head, I am member of His body, and as the member is nothing apart from the Head, or as the branch is nothing apart, from the vine, so I am nothing apart from Christ. The anointing is always His, and I partake of it. To be a Christian, therefore, I must abide in Him! “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except, it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned. If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.” John 15:4-7. And again: “But ye have an unction from the Holy One., and ye know all things. . . . But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you; but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him.” I John 2:20, 27.
The spiritual reality, therefore, of our partaking of Christ’s anointing is the fruit, of Christ’s imparting Himself to us through His Spirit, and of our partaking of Him, and appropriating Him by faith, of our drawing out of Him “even grace for grace.” Christ, the Anointed of God, who was obedient unto death, and merited for us an eternal righteousness, who was raised on the third day in glory, Who ascended up on high, leading captivity captive, and is exalted at the right hand of the Father, received the promise of the Holy Spirit, and in that Spirit returned unto His own, that He might impart Himself to them, and fill us with His blessings. And thus we receive His anointing, through the means of faith, which He works in us, and whereby we are united with Him and appropriate Him,
But just what is the specific implication of this participation by faith in Christ’s anointing?
We recall that Christ’s anointing signifies that He was ordained from eternity by God the Father, and qualified by the Holy Ghost to be God’s officebearer, the Servant of Jehovah, representing His cause in the world, that He might reveal unto us the full counsel of God concerning our salvation, fight the battle against sin and death, and having overcome all the powers of darkness, might occupy His place as the Firstborn of every creature in all the universe. That exalted position, according to which He has a. name above all names, and is King over all, He now occupies. He is made Christ and Lord.
Of His anointing we partake.
This means, therefore, that through Him believers, too, are ordained and qualified by His Spirit to be officebearers, servants of the living God. It means that in Christ they have the privilege and the calling, the will and the power to be and to function in this world, and forever, as God’s friend-servants. By nature, they have none of this. The must is, indeed, upon them, for God will not relinquish His demand upon man, that he love Him with all his heart, and mind, and soul, and strength. But by his willful disobedience, man has lost the right and the privilege, as well as the will and power, and all the qualifications to be the servant of God. Christ, however, as the Servant of God par excellence, and that, too, as the Head of those whom the Father gave Him, by His perfect obedience even unto the death of the cross, blotted out all their sins, obtained for them perfect righteousness, and thus He merited for them the right to be received again in God’s service. To partake of Christ’s anointing, therefore, means that in Him we have once more the right to stand as servants in the house of our God. In Him is our ordination as God’s officebearers, as representatives of His cause. But, in the second place, that we by faith partake of Christ’s anointing also implies that in and through Him we are qualified to function as servants of the Most High. The will and the power to fulfill our calling as Jehovah’s servants we also receive from Him, by His Spirit, and through the activity of saving faith. Christ not only took our place as the Servant of Jehovah, fulfilling all in our stead, but He also delivers us from the slavery of sin and the devil, and renews us unto willing servants of God.
And as the office of our Lord is threefold, that of prophet, priest, and king, so through our partaking of His anointing we also become servants of God in that threefold sense. Christ is our chief Prophet, and as such He is the fullness of all the knowledge and wisdom of God. At the head of His people He glorifies the Father, and declares His righteousness in the great congregation. But as such He also changes us into true prophets of God. For He revealed the Father unto us, He instructs us by His Spirit and Word, He delivers us from the darkness of our understanding and the perversion of our mind, and by His grace we are called out of darkness into the marvelous light of God, so that we have the true knowledge of God. Here this knowledge is still in part, for we see as in a glass darkly, but presently it will be perfected, and then appear on a plane of heavenly glory, unspeakably -higher than that of the knowledge of God Adam possessed in the state of rectitude in the first paradise. For then we shall see face to face, and know even as we ape known, and walk in the light of God’s countenance forever.
Christ is our only High Priest. And as such He represented us in His humiliation, and offered Himself as the perfect sacrifice for our sins. As such He still represents us with the Father, and intercedes for us. But as our High Priest He also makes us partaker of His anointing, and forms His Church into a holy priesthood. He makes us priests of God. He removes the enmity against God that is the motivating power of our flesh, and instills into our hearts the love of God, dwelling in us by His Spirit, and cleansing us from the defilement of sin, so that we may become living sanctuaries of God, consecrated to Him in true holiness. Also this is as yet true only in principle. But in the perfection of God’s tabernacle this shall be perfected on the plane of heavenly glory. In the New Jerusalem there is no special temple, for the simple reason that the entire glorified Church is become a perfect sanctuary of God.
And so He is our eternal King. And as such He fought and finished the battle for us in our behalf, against all the powers of darkness, the devil, sin, and death. He crushed the head of the serpent, and is seated at the right hand of the Majesty in the heavens. And He reigns over us, and leads us on the everlasting glory. But also as King He causes us to partake of His anointing, so that by His grace we also become kings with Him under God, and are formed into a royal priesthood. He delivers us from all unrighteousness and perversion of our will, according to which we desire to do the will of our father the devil, and instills into us a new righteousness, according to which it is our delight to do the will of God. He gives us the right to reign over all things, enables us to fight the battle of faith, and makes us partakers, even in the midst of battle, of His own victory. And especially with a view to our royal office as believers, it is evident that our partaking of Christ’s anointing is still imperfect, and that we have but a small beginning of the new obedience, the first fruits of the Spirit. For not only have we not as yet entered into the glory of our royal dominion with Christ, and not only are we engaged in a daily struggle against sin and Satan, but outwardly we suffer defeat, and in the world we have tribulation. Yet, we may be of good cheer, for we are more than victors. And when Christ shall be revealed, and we shall be manifested with Him in glory, it shall appear that we always had the victory, and we shall reign with and through Christ, as servant-kings of God, over all the works of His hands in the new creation.
This threefold aspect of our partaking of the anointing of Christ is plainly indicated in the answer of our Heidelberger to the question: “But why are thou called a Christian?” For it points to a threefold calling of believers in this world, which follows from their partaking of Christ’s anointing.
First of all, their calling is to confess His name. This is their calling and privilege in virtue of their prophetic office. They are made prophets, in order that they may confess the name of Christ as the revelation of the God of their salvation. They are to the praise of the glory of His grace in the beloved. They must show forth the praises and marvelous virtues of Him that called them out of darkness into His marvelous light. And they must do this in the midst of the world, antithetically, holding forth the word of life over against the lie of sin, and in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation.
Secondly, the Catechism describes the calling of believers as consisting in this, that they present themselves a living sacrifice of thankfulness to Him. This evidently refers to their priestly office. To consecrate themselves, with soul and body, with all their heart, and mind, and soul, and strength; with all things, and in every department of life, in home, and school, and shop, and office, to the living God,—such is their calling as priests of the Most High, and that, too, in opposition to a world that devotes itself to the service of the devil and unrighteousness.
And so, finally, the Catechism refers to the royal office of believers in the words: “and also that with a free and good conscience I may fight against sin and Satan in this life: and afterwards reign with him eternally over all creatures.” O, indeed, in this battle, and in this warfare alone, one may fight with a “free and good conscience,” for fighting they have the assurance that they represent the cause of the Son of God in the world, and that they are more than victors through Him that loved them. And although in this world this cause must often appear as suffering defeat, they have the blessed assurance that in the day of Christ their God will vindicate their cause, and cause them to enter into the glorious victory of their Lord!