A week ago tonight I was at a John 17 event. The John 17 Movement is a wonderful set of connections in the Phoenix area that has Christians of various faith traditions praying and worshipping together. Some events are big and some are small. Some are on Protestant ground and some are on Catholic ground. It is a wonderful example of ecumenism.
What’s that? A sin? Ecumenism is a sin? One world heresy. Indifferentism is what some people say in that the truth is watered down.
But does it have to be seen that way? We hear from Paul in 1 Corinthians that the greatest gift is love. Paul believed in truth but it is not the greatest thing. In fact, the seemingly unanswered prayer of Jesus in the actual John Chapter 17 includes unity in the petition. If we in our respective denominations lift up our experiences and faith community domains with walls to them, we should be careful to first discern that we are not throwing the baby with the bathwater— and Jesus’ prayer for unity of his people with it.
So one way to discern where some common ground could be on what makes a Christian people is looking at where the Christian term started.
Now those who had been scattered by the persecution that arose because of Stephen went as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to no one but Jews. There were some Cypriots and Cyrenians among them, however, who came to Antioch and began to speak to the Greeks as well, proclaiming the Lord Jesus. The hand of the Lord was with them and a great number who believed turned to the Lord. The news about them reached the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas [to go] to Antioch. When he arrived and saw the grace of God, he rejoiced and encouraged them all to remain faithful to the Lord in firmness of heart, for he was a good man, filled with the holy Spirit and faith. And a large number of people was added to the Lord. Then he went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a large number of people, and it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called Christians (Acts 11:19-26).
and began to speak to the Greeks as well— The backdrop is that Peter had broke new ground with preaching the gospel to Gentiles. Organically, these followers of Jesus were able to embrace this with the universality of the gospel to anyone who believes.
proclaiming the Lord Jesus—- If we blink we will miss it. The simplicity of proclaiming the person of Jesus. Christianity in its pure sense is meant to be a cult of personality and this personality is the risen Messiah Jesus of Nazareth. They did not proclaim formulas but Jesus. Everything else is secondary.
and they sent Barnabas [to go] to Antioch— Not just any apostle. His real name was Joseph the Levite. But they gave him the Aramaic nickname of Barnabas because it means “son of encouragement”. He had a temperament to see the best in people. He was even willing to stand up and sponsor a former mass persecutor named Saul of Tarsus who would later be so much more. He had a heart to see the individual through God’s eyes.
he arrived and saw the grace of God— What does it mean to see the grace of God? What was covered above hits it right on point: Christocentricity with a “Here comes everybody” welcoming atmosphere.
he rejoiced and encouraged them all to remain faithful to the Lord in firmness of heart— He affirms them all to walk collectively in relationship with Jesus. Is Jesus your personal Lord and Savior? Great! But do not stop there. Jesus is the head of the Body of Christ and we are called into such unity.
for he was a good man, filled with the holy Spirit and faith— In his flesh Barnabas knew how to be a bigot of many kinds. But in cooperation with the Holy Spirit he decided not to be one. He did not arrive to this vision of a developing church through good moral training but through a formation of the Holy Spirit.
And a large number of people was added to the Lord- Next step in going from personal conversion to corporate and communal living. Reproduce in the formation of Christ. That is the number that is added.
For a whole year they met with the church and taught a large number of people— Above they were a scattering. But the right person with the right calling comes in as a sent one under authority and now they are a church. We see three chapters later that Barnabas was himself an apostle. No matter how much that church grows they are in need of the apostles teaching (Acts 2:42, 2 Thessalonians 2:15).
…to look for Saul… he brought him to Antioch- The logical conclusion is that ego not be the main trait but God’s election. Barnabas discerned before anything that Antioch is not meant to be his own show and discerned that it was time for the best of the old ways in the knowledge of Saul the former Old Covenant scholar to bring that perspective to be properly unveiled in the grace of God.
and it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called Christians— With all of the above behind them, they were first called Christians. To be a Christian then meant something event to the skeptics of their day. I pray it will be again so that they will glorify the Father in heaven.
This is a beautiful story and it can play out today. Who is the Christian that can be a Barnabas for both valid expansion and unity in the kingdom of God? Do you as a Christian have a dividing line between you and someone else that does not remotely have the fingerprints to Jesus?
Incidentally, if you are a non-Christian and reading this, I want to apologize to you. We Christians are a work in progress. I assure you, Antioch does exist if you take a step back and really look. And for a Christian that has been off-course on this, you can specifically look back to Acts 11 with the Holy Spirit and find the Antioch point near you that rallies at the Cross of Christ.
Finally, back to John 17. There were 120 of us. After some wonderful praise and worship and a message from Joseph Tosini we counted off by 12 and were split into groups of ten. We were given about six verses from John 17 and had a chance to share with each other. There was good insight and my group, organically, did not share much about what kind of church any of us went to until the end. It was good. We were just Christians and together encounter Christ in grace.
So at the end of the day, I am a Christian. More specifically I am a— nah. I’m taking a break from that for one day.