“… it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called ‘Christians’.” Acts of the Apostles 11:26
The story of the first community described as “Christians” impresses me. Jews who believed that Jesus was the Christ fled from Jerusalem after the Pharisees stoned Stephen to death. Some of them took residence in Antioch and began to share the Gospel with just the local Jewish population. But, being a city of trade, they wound up evangelizing to people from other parts of the Mediterranean as well. By God’s will, this community grew and were further strengthend by a man of great encouragement and a Jewish scholar who was once a persecutor of the Lord’s followers. In about a year, they had blurred lines of ethnicity, language, and nationality to the point where they were all considered to be the same people; Christians.
Two-thousand years of history and over thirty thousand denominational and non-denominational churches has distorted this simple view of early Christianity. Throw in the establishment of new nations, the pursuit of wealth, technology and wars, and the modern faith barely resembles what we read about. The divisions among us are undeniable.
We have made other things more important than being identified as followers and imitators of Christ. This is not the fault of forces outside of the church. We Christians have chosen to take the precious seeds that we should be sowing on good ground and carelessly throwing them on pathways of popularity where we lose favor, stony ground where we die of our shallowness, and into the thorns and weeds of worldly worries. No wonder people are putting Christianity and church membership aside. We have put Christ aside for the sake of nationalism, social reform, and affluent consumerism.
The lesson of our fore fathers and mothers in Antioch is simple: follow and imitate Christ above all else. This is not to say that we shouldn’t engage in political discourse. But, we must not let our differences divide us. Going to see a movie, reading a good book, or pursuing a leisure activity like golf is cool. But, if we are known for these things rather than for our pursuit of holiness then we have failed to offer the salt the world needs to heal and preserve wounded souls. Without this, what good are we as Christians (Matthew 5:13)?