“Beware of Low-flying Bigots! “

The following article appeared in The Call in 2013
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Some sects of professing Christians maintain that no believer should go by any other name than ‘Christian’, because that is what the early Church knew themselves as, citing the Bible as their prime evidence for this. However, let us look at where this word appears in the Bible. It can be found in three places:

Acts 11:26And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.” This Greco-Latin word Χριστιανός /Christianus was undoubtedly given to believers by the pagan population of Antioch, most likely as a dismissive term, and was not how they addressed or thought of each other and themselves.

Acts 26:28Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.” From Paul’s audience with King Herod Agrippa and Roman Procurator Porcius Festus, we learn that the Rome-educated Agrippa, brought up in the Jewish faith, comes close to an intellectual, outward assent to the Apostles testimony that Christ fulfilled the Prophets. He uses the word common amongst outsiders – ‘Christian’ – but Paul does not use it. Rather, he distinguishes between the outward perception and the reality. “I would to God, that not only thou, but also all that hear me this day were both almost, and altogether such as I am…” (Acts 26:29) “Such as I am,” says Paul! Not one who may be outwardly labelled a ‘Christian’, but one who can say “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)

1 Peter 4:16Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God…” The previous two usages of the word prepare the way for this. They are super-ficial, they do not show an understanding of what it meant to be a disciple, to be a member of the early Church, to be a ‘saint’. When a person suffered for being a ‘Christian’ he suffered not because anyone truly understood that to which he was bearing witness, but because of what they perceived him to be. Disloyal, a fanatic cultist, a bad citizen, a traitor to the Emperor, a blasphemer, a performer of erotic rites (‘love feasts’), an eater of flesh and drinker of blood, even a fire-raiser and an atheist. The early Church had a message of love and salvation, but many were deaf to it, hearing and seeing only the superficial ‘Christian’.

It has been claimed that the name was adopted by believers, maybe as a convenient identification, or maybe to take the sting out of it as a term of reproach. This is not unlikely, and the term ‘Christian’ is one with which most believers, including ourselves, are comfortable. Thus it came into being in the same way that 17th century disciples became known as ‘Quakers’ first as a term of abuse and then by adopting the name. But still, there is no more scriptural evidence to suggest that ‘Christian’ was divinely ordained than ‘Quaker’ was, save that providence may have led the way into each. In Peter’s time, each assembly of believers (and not the building in which they assembled) was known as a Church, and its congregation as ‘saints’. Peter himself called them “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people…” (1 Peter 2:9)

By contrast, these days the term ‘Christian’ seems to be a very broad and liberal definition. Rather than insist on the nomenclature and criticise anyone who doesn’t, it behoves us to strive to be ‘as Paul was’, when he appeared before Festus and Agrippa.

There is a danger in adopting a name levelled slanderously at us. Nowadays the most frequent term used by outsiders is ‘bigot’. This is mainly due to our testimony with regard to a single issue. But our testimony is one of God’s love. “How can you claim to ‘love’ us,” ask our detractors, “If you do not agree with our self-image and with our socio-political agenda?” Hard as it may be for them to understand – we simply do! In the famous parable, the Samaritan simply sees a man beaten and left for dead by thieves and helps him. He never once asks the man who he is, what his ethnic heritage is, what his sexual orientation is, what his class or political beliefs are, what his religion is, whether he is an honest man or himself a thief. He simply helps him, and at his own risk.

That was one of Christ’s models for what a person who was ‘as Paul was’ would be like. His charity would be unthinking and unhesitating, informed by no bigotry. But there would nevertheless be things to which he could not, in all love, assent without shattering the peace of God in his conscience. To label this kind of person a ‘bigot’ is to redefine the word by bending it wholly out of shape. What part of a believer’s testimony to telling the truth would it be if we ever accepted this term as being divinely ordained for us, or even convenient to adopt?

Whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire. Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way…  Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison.  Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing.” (Matthew 5:22-26)

We put this question: For our righteousness to be greater than that of the scribes and Pharisees, how would we ‘agree’ with an adversary who has insulted us in this way? What canst thou say?

 

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