In order to get across the concept of the word "Christian", let me first give a little context and background. I want to frame the word "Christian" within the Ideas of ancient classical Religion and then classical Rites of Initiation, Religious Ordeals and Rites of Passage. This may seem odd and strange--- but I think it has much do with why the followers of Jesus Christ (Yah'shua the Messiah) were termed "Christians". For the sake of managing these critical ideas in a small space, my comments here are very rough and conceptual.
My opinions are generally based on a synthesis of readings from a wide panorama of comparative religion works, Atheist materials, Bible Higher Criticism works, Studying the parallels between Jesus's (Yah'shua's) sermons and the DDSs (Dead Sea Scrolls), and some of the Theosophical works of Blavatsky and Kingsland-- along with historians as Alvin B. Kuhn who wrote Shadow of the Third Century ...
In the ancient classical world, religion was, very generally, a system of prophetically prescribed appeasements designed to connect human beings to a Deity, the Heavenly Worlds, or higher powers that was believed to control their lives.
The people making the appeasement offerings to a Deity felt separated from the Deity, and lacking in power to deal with the higher powers and need intermediates to relink them or bridge them back into better contact with Deity (or Higher Levels of Power). This "relinking" is often attempted by the implementation and offering up to the Deity; practicing morals, ethics, sacrifices, good habits, valuable articles of human worth, and most critical Rites of Passage where advanced knowledge of the universe, human kind and deities was gained.
The word "religion" also is associated to "linking back" (relinking=Religion) to another important religious leader's spiritual experience (as prophets), trusting in that person's communicated experience about deity, instead of your own direct, untrained or fundamental experiences with the Higher Powers. The Prophet who sometimes claims to have direct contact with The Higher Powers (Deity/God) asks you to do certain specific types of appeasement works/rituals, claiming that it will help make you acceptable to God.
Religion and Rites of Initiation set the Contest for the Meaning of the ancient label "CHRISTIAN"
Religions in the ancient world had methods of educating its followers on how to appease the higher powers, and gain higher knowledge and control to better deal with the higher powers that ruled the universe. These religions had instructional methods that were far more comprehensive than just teaching intellectual skills as we commonly see in the lecture format at a modern university.
In the ancient world masters of religious education had their students go through a powerful 'discovery learning' process often referred to in our times as "rites of initiation".
For this exposition I am going to break down Rites of Initiation down into three smaller phases:
(1) The Initiation -- the preparation for the Ordeal usually by verbal/written information
(2) The Ordeal -- the actual hard, part where knowledge/worthiness was gained through personal trials and related experiences of practicing the principles learned in the initiation.
(3) The Passage -- confirmation of the worthiness obtained through the Ordeal-- celebrated with your religious peers often with ritualized ordinances.
During the Initiation the initiate would be taken-in to the cult and instructed with rules, regulations and given verbal information about skills and the coming Ordeal -- and the tests of worthiness that were to come.
During the Ordeal, the initiate would go out into the world and practice those skills verbally taught to them -- and succeed or fail -- and learn by experience -- take his/her knocks -- most importantly be tested in the use of those new learned skills.
Last, the tested initiate would return back to the cult and be evaluated for success (worthiness). If found worthy he would then complete the three phase process by passing through the RITE OF PASSAGE ritual/ordinance.
The three phase rites of initiation then may continue on to the next higher step or learning cycle -- and spirals upward toward higher learning and higher powers. These initiation rites are very powerful learning experiences and impart learning to the intellect and very deeply into the attitude of the learner/initiate. These experiences build very firm "testimonies" and view points about the self and the external world.
These three phase 'discovery learning' experiences were managed and controlled by master educator PRIESTS or a Master . The priests would control the conditions of the learning very closely-- and thus keep controlled the learning outcomes of the initiate. Priests would manage each of the three phases of the initiate's progress.
- The Initiation, -- was often done in a controlled environment -- in secret.
- The Ordeal was usually done in the real world --
- The passage rituals were also often done in a controlled environment -- in secret-- often in an exclusive meeting chapel or temple edifice.
In actual surviving cult records from the 'pagan' classical world, it was not uncommon in the ancient world for the cult leader or High Master to assign a "right hand man" or general manager titled "Peter" (meaning roughly translated, 'little stone keeper'), who was the overseer of the rites of initiation. Various rites of passage were often associated with little stone tokens that had symbols scribed on them -- kept in pockets of the Peter apron.
In some 'pagan' mystery religions, the Peter would give Initiation lectures at a veil -- he would refer to this library of stone tokens and their inscriptions as mnemonic devices -- or keys to the larger critical teachings that he imparted. These keys to large skills and knowledge would aide the initiate when applying the skills he/she learned in the initiation phase when tested in the Ordeal phase out in the hard testing ground of the cruel world. Other attendants to these pre-Christian cults were the organizational administrative offices of "Bishop", "Deacon"... .
Some of the Gnostics had over 14 major cycles that initiates would pass thorough taking a lifetime of study, preparation and ordeal adventures -- each with separate initiate (endowment) sessions and 14 progressive secret ceremonial environments, the last being the holy of holies.
Some pre-Christian era cults practiced variations of pre-Christian era Baptisms, washings, Bread and Cup Sacraments, Washing of Feet....
This general "rite of initiation" paradigm found in common with many religions in the classical world was common knowledge among religious people around the time of Jesus Christ (Yah'shua the Messiah).
The LABEL and Meaning of being " CHRISTIAN"
The special annotation of "CHRISTIAN" to followers of Jesus Christ's 'cult':
It is amazing to see that Jesus Christ's (Yah'shua the Messiah's) 'cult' had a "Peter" office. This must have been because Jesus (Yah'shua) wanted his followers to relate to what they were already familiar with in their religious/cultural environment. And later the Apostles formed the administrative offices of Bishop and Deacon too -- Early Christians would have known that other religions had the very same offices, and known the function of those offices from former experiences and cultural knowledge.
The "Peter" officer did not have his initiates go through elaborate ORDEALS before receiving a RITE OF PASSAGE or receiving gifts of higher powers. Instead this is what Christ's Peter said:
Ac 2:38: "Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ (Yah'shua the Messiah) for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost (Ruach haQodesh)."
This is what made the 'cult' of Jesus Christ (Yah'shua the Messiah) different so that the followers of His Apostles were labeled "CHRISTIANS".
THIS IS WHY...
"CHRISTIANS" were those who skipped the ORDEAL phase of a religious rites of initiation experience-- and replaced it with what their CHRIST did for them on the cross. This is especially punctuated with the Apostles' command that those who heard the Word and Believed were to be immediately Baptized (rite of Passage without an expected required Ordeal)
IN OTHER WORDS
The "CHRISTIAN" relied on what Jesus (Yah'shua) did for them on the cross as their ultimate ORDEAL.
Joh 14:6: "Jesus (Yah'shua) saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me."
Note that in the Book of Acts that immediately after hearing the Gospel (the first phase in a classical initiation cycle) the person hearing the Word about the Good News of What Jesus did on the Cross, -- the instructed initiate then skips an ORDEAL -- and immediately goes through the rite of Passage -- BAPTISM! (Note in some cases the Passage is even not needed before the Gift of higher powers are conferred).
Such skipping of the ORDEAL phase in re-linking process to Deity would send a powerful message about Jesus' (Yah'shua's) identify to the ancient person who was knowledgeable of religious processes.
The Ordeal was really the heart of religion systems in the classical world-- and Jesus (Yah'shua) replaced it with his own Ordeal on the Cross for us!
CHRISTIANS are those who abandon religion and rely on a Relationship with Jesus (Yah'shua) alone for relinking with God "CHRISTIANS"
Note that may mystery religions that used the three phases of initiation recycled them with passages into higher and higher levels, until the higher heaven/powers were obtained by the initiate.
Christians however were given this mandate by Paul:
Heb 10:19: "Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus (Yah'shua) ... "
In other words Jesus Christ (Yah'shua the Messiah) removed the need for going through many cycles of initiations, Ordeals, and Passages-- access to the higher power is there for all who receive Jesus Christ (Yah'shua the Messiah) as Lord!
Those who embraced the "Christ" as the sole solution to re-linking back to Deity -- forsaking the entire ancient religious paradigm of priests, temples, rites of initiation and so forth were dubbed "Christians".
(contributed to an Internet Bulletin Board by "Steve R")
I would like to add a few comments to the very interesting observations above.
The observation that we skip the "salvation Ordeal" is entirely correct and is what distinguishes Christians from pagans. This does not mean, however, that there are no subsequent ordeals to be passed through or that these ordeals have no brearing on our spiritual development and therefore our heavenly rewards.
In actual fact, the Bible describes several "initiations", the first of which (baptism) requires only a profession of faith in the One who has passed through the saving ordeal for us. This initial trusting confers certain "powers" associated with the gift of the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit).
One might say, therefore, that the primary initiation in Christianity operates on an entirely different basis to paganism, but that such secondary initiations that follow bear closer resemblances, particular with the respect to priesthood.
We learn in the Epistles that whilst every man and woman had a priesthood calling in the Body, that certain qualifications have to be met before such persons are ordained. Thus we are taught by Paul that Elders and Deacons must first meet certain moral conditions before bearing these high and holy offices.
In a more general sense, which pertains to all believers, the apostle John describes in the Book of Revelation the Seven Overcomings that all who name the Name of Christ must pursue. It is very clear that in order to "overcome" in these areas that considerable spiritual struggling must take place which may in turn be likened to "ordeals". Having "overcome", these persons may then make the "passage" into higher spiritual realms corresponding to the Seven Heavens of Paul, three Glories of Paul, and the Many Mansions of Yah'shua (Jesus). These "overcomings" are, in the New Covenant Church of God, taught through a series of covenants and lectures.
The classical pagan system is not, therefore, entirely absent in Christianity. But what is absent in paganism is that which matters the most: the Ordeal of Christ done on our behalf, the blood-sacrifice of God-Ordeal which leads to eternal life. This paganism could, and never will, achieve, because eternal life is through Christ, and Christ alone.