Guilty or not guilty?
As a young man who grew up in church. I have always been discontented with being just a “Christian”. I have always known that there is more than identifying with Christ because I have a Christian name. I have always needed explanations on why church is the way it is today. This has prompted me to study the New Testament passionately. When I read the book of Acts, what I read and what I see around are two different things. Recently I began to study that book to understand who a Christian really is.
The people called Christians were first identified at Antioch as recorded in Acts 11: 19 – 26. But a background of the whole story would really help us see why the so called Christians came to be. Antioch was a mega-city of its time and being such a large urban center, there were all kinds of pagan and idol worship, immorality, social injustices and other sins thriving in this city. This was a city needing transformation and redemption.
In this particular portion of scripture, Luke picks up the story from Acts 7. After the martyrdom of Stephen, the church in Jerusalem broke and scattered to different places. One particular group of Jews came to Antioch and shared the gospel with their fellow Jews but neglected the Greeks who were in the city. They didn’t want anything to do with the gentiles. Some however were not comfortable with this idea of isolating the gentiles from the good news. They decided to do something and they began sharing the good news of Christ with them.
It didn’t take long for news to reach Jerusalem. The elders in Jerusalem heard that Greeks in Antioch had believed and in large numbers. Barnabas, one of the disciples in Jerusalem was sent to confirm the news. On arriving at Antioch, he found that it was true that many gentiles had believed in Jesus. But there is one thing that needed to be done – the converts had to be discipled. This enormous task needed an extra hand. Barnabas went to Tarsus to fetch for Saul and for one year, the duo camped in Antioch to thoroughly disciple the converts.
For one whole year, Barnabas and Saul (Paul) labored to transform the Greek converts into a special group of people. This group after one year, when the outsiders of this city that was full of sin, idol worship and immorality gazed upon them, all they could see is the Christ in them. There were visible marks of Jesus in them till the most appropriate descriptions of their deeds, character and lifestyle were similar to those of Jesus. They nicknamed them “Christian”, meaning like Christ or belonging to Christ. It is recorded that their generosity was unmatched to a point that during the time of a great severe famine, they shared and provided for those in need within the city and even sent gifts to those in Jerusalem via Saul and Barnabas.
When I compare these real Christians with us – modern believers who identify as Christians, sometimes it is confusing. This is because, to be Christian today, all one has to do is join a church and be consistent in attending services, activities and events. What the people of Antioch labeled on Jesus’ disciples then may not apply to many Christians today. It is weird that we identify with Christ and His teachings only while among other believers and forgo our core responsibility of preaching Christ to those who are yet to know Him.
The average church goer has been made to understand that all religious activities like evangelism, praying for the sick and the salvation of unbelievers are reserved for the pastors and the clergy. This does not measure up to the standards of the Christians who were in Antioch. It is also striking to see that it was the decision of few normal believers that brought salvation and radical transformation of a whole city. They didn’t wait for confirmation from Jerusalem in order to obey instructions that Jesus had given them before His ascension.
As a disciple who desires to be identified as a Christians, I want to be guilty of breaking religious and cultural barriers like the disciples in Antioch. I desire to see my neighbors worship my King and escape a Christ-less eternity. I want to be guilty of being a Christian in lifestyle and character.
***Peter Kale (not his real name) is a missionary serving among an unreached people group in Northeastern Kenya