God’s People, part 248: Christians

Read Acts 11:1-26

“But when Peter came to Antioch, I had to oppose him to his face, for what he did was very wrong.”  (Galatians 2:11, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

Part 248: Christians. The suggested Scripture above continues on with the account of the beginning of Gentile inclusion in the early church. While Luke didn’t have the time or space to fully recount the difficutlies in that debate of whether or not to include them, and the concessions that would need to be made to do so, it goes without saying that it was more difficult than the text lets on.

Peter’s reporting to the church leadership, of which he was a part, is a literary way of saying that eventually the church came on board, which is true; however, it would be more accurate to say that they did not come on board easily or right away. In fact, more than changed minds and hearts, circumstances are what led to the eventual acceptance of Gentile Christians.

The Apostle Paul’s own writings paint that picture all too clear. In Galatians 2, we learn that while Peter was eating with Gentiles when he was not in the presence of James, Jesus’ brother, and the other leaders, he kowtowed to them when they were around. According to Paul, he angrily scolded Peter and called him out publicly in Antioch. He basically called Peter a hypocrite and then argued the case that Gentiles should be included and that Peter was in the wrong. What’s more remarkable than what Paul wrote was what he did not write. Paul stated his case and then abruptly ends without sharing the conclusion to the big debate. The truth is that is probably indicative of the probability that the debate did NOT end there.

Peter and the rest of the Apostles, no doubt, continued to wrestle with this issue and Paul continued…FOR YEARS…to advocate for Gentile inclusion. In fact, his letter to the church in Rome shows us that his advocacy of Gentile inclusion led him to his eventual arrest, trip to Rome and, eventually, death.

This brings us to an important fact, the earliest church was distinctly Jewish and did not so easily want to blur the lines around that identity! The earliest Jesus followers were not known as “Christians”; rather, they were known as The Way. Make no mistake about it, they saw themselves as the The Jewish Way, meaning that they saw themselves as the fulfillment of Judaism as followers of the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

The term “Christian”, which means Christ Followers, was only later attributed to them by outsiders in Antioch. Like other great movements, such as Methodism, the Jesus followers did not choose their name; rather, it was given to them and it eventually stuck. These Christians would eventually go on include Gentiles, thanks largely to people like Paul, Luke, Timothy, Silas and probably Peter in the end; however, Christianity would eventually grow into a predominantly Gentile religion thanks the Great Jewish Revolt and the destruction of Jerusalem and the Second Temple. Western Christianity’s center, from that point forward, slowly (or quickly in the grand scheme of things) moved from Jerusalem to Rome. Eastern Christianty moved to Syria, Egypt, India, and even as far east as China.

We should be challenged by these facts. We should, first and foremost, reflect on the fact that Christianity has never been a homogeneous group and that there was never that “old-time religion” where everyone agreed on everything in perfect harmony. That may be idyllic, but it certainly is not a realistic view of Christian history.

Whe should also be challenged by another fact: despite it’s bumpy history, Christians became known by outsiders as those who followed Christ and became like “little Christs”. In other words, despite human bickering and differences of opinion, God’s glory and self-revelation in Jesus Christ was still made known to the world through those Christians, which set Christianity on a historic and baffling rise to prominence and power. We can argue the pros and cons to such an assent, but there can be no doubt that Christians throughout the past two millennia have sough to share the Good News of Jesus Christ to a broken world still very much in need of Salvation. For that, we should all praise God and be thankful.

Jesus. Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is. Jesus Christ is LORD.

Jesus, you are our Lord, and I submit to you and your authority. Amen.

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