Vicar's Voice, 15 September 2019

…a great number became believers and turned to the Lord…

I hate labels. I mean the way we tend to stereotype people and relegate them to a personality type, or Myers-Briggs classification or psychological type or even by the colour of their hair or their age. We even define people sometimes by what they do for a living. For example, Westerners tend in polite conversations to quickly move on from pleasant introductions to, “and what do you do for a living?” As if a person’s occupation defines who they are. This is so we can put them in a box and subsequently limit our imagination of how that person functions by their job.

This ignores the fact that somehow, they might have been working all their lives in the wrong vocation. They succeed because of hard work and drive but in their heart of hearts they don’t really like what they do. But they soldier on year after year, faithfully serving especially because as luck would have it, they have married and now have a family to support.

In the account of the history of the early church (the book of the Acts of the Apostles) as followers of Jesus spread throughout the eastern Mediterranean region sharing their message of hope and salvation, congregations began to meet and gather in clusters. A ‘church’ (from the Greek word ekklesiya meaning ‘gathering’) was formed. The apostles in Jerusalem heard of this and sent Barnabas to help to lead the congregation. 

As it happens this does not escape the attention of the local unbelieving community who labelled the followers of ‘The Way’ (followers of Jesus) as ‘Christians’ (Acts 11:26). This was meant as a term of derision and contempt. To label someone a Christian meant you were insulting them and questioning their intellectual capacity to believe such superstitious nonsense. To believe that some Israelite had risen from the dead was just too ridiculous to believe, everyone knows that could never happen, to believe such a fantasy indicates some mental deficiency. 

I think I have just inadvertently described what the unbelieving world is currently like in 2019. But in the first century there was a growing awareness that the number of Christians were increasing and opposition to their cause was increasing. To discredit them however possible was the aim of every unbeliever. In 115 AD Pliny, a Roman historian, claimed that Christians were cannibals (eating the flesh of Christ) and engaged in incest (loving their brothers and sisters in Christ). If anyone seriously believed him, I would be surprised but he was attempting to discredit Christians in his letter to the Emperor.

Today of course many of us (about 2.6 billion across the globe) are proud to be labelled as Christian and some would be willing to die for that privilege, as many have done so through the ages. My prayer today is that we would be called Christian because people see in us the nature of Christ. That we would be known for our love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-26), keeping in step with the Spirit of Christ. Especially, “by this all will know you are my [Jesus’] disciples” (John 13:34). The reality that we are identified by who we are in Christ, not a man-made label.

In Christ’s love and for one another,