How should New Testament Christians refer to those who have not yet been immersed into Christ?  Jesus, Paul and Peter used the term pagan when talking about those not yet a part of the followers of Christ.  These people often worried about what to eat and wear (Mt 6:32).  They loved only those who loved them (Mt 5:47).  Their habits included lust, drunkenness, idolatry, etc, etc. (1 Pe 4:3)  Many new Christians had a struggle not to revert to their old pagan ways (1 Cor 12:2) (1 Cor 5:1).  They were admonished to live such good lives that the pagans would see their good deeds (1 Pe 2:12).

However, pagan can suggest heathen, irreligious or hedonistic which would not define most of our friends and neighbors.  Perhaps a better term for them would be “outsiders” (NIV, NAS), “them that are without” (KJV) and “the outside world.” (AMP).  This wording has long posed a dilemma for today’s Christians (Col 4:5) (1 Th 4:12) (1 Ti 3:7).  Probably the best known book in the brotherhood on this topic is “Who is my brother?” by F. Lagard Smith.  He offers 5 levels of fellowship from universal to congregational.  Even then, some have said that this is too inclusive and treats “outsiders” as brethren.

It appears to me that we should recognize the good that “outsiders” often do towards Christians as well as the other way around.  When a recent wind storm knocked down many of our tree limbs, some of our neighbors came over and worked hard with us in cleaning up the mess.  The quintessential example of this was Cornelius, the devout and God-fearing centurion who gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly.  God sent him an angel and an evangelist and he and his family were immersed in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins (Acts 10:3, 24, 48).  When “outsiders” treat us with kindness, we should praise their behavior and let them know that they are doing things that Jesus taught while offering to teach them further.

–Jim Bailey