Grace to you, and Happy Easter!
Believers in the Lord Jesus were called two names in the Acts of the Apostles. The first was "The Way," and the second was "Christians."
If you thought those names were beautiful or intended to be cute, you are probably wrong. They were derogatory of the identity of the people who followed Christ.
"The Way" describes a movement, an unwelcome movement. It appeared about six times in Acts of the Apostles (See Acts 9:2, 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22). The first time it appeared in Acts 9:2 was when Saul (Paul) asked the high priest for an authorization to go and hunt members of "The Way" and bring them as prisoners to Jerusalem.
The second name, which has come to stick, is "Christians." It was a name given to Christians in Antioch because the people saw the believers as followers of Christ (Acts 11:26). It is as a title used only two other times— Acts 26:28 and 1 Peter 4:16.
Why were believers called members of "The Way" and Christians? One may not know completely the minds of the people who gave the names. Nevertheless, from biblical and historical evidence, we could arrive at some conclusions.
There was something about believers in the Lord Jesus that stood out among the people. They were seen as different, as well as people on the fringe of society and power. The name has something to say about their way of life and the uniqueness of their worship. For the outside observers of the early Church, the members had a different way of life. Their faith was their unique way of life. It was their core identity, which made them rare, separate from the rest. It was a New Way.
The story at Antioch was similar. Antioch was the 3rd largest commercial city of Ancient Rome, with about half a million population. It was the center of sports and entertainment. It was founded by Seleucus Nicator around 300 BC, who named it after his father, Antiochus. Also, it was the home of the temple of Daphne, known as the goddess of sensual pleasure and worshipped by the people. Prostitution by her prophetesses was part of the worship of this goddess. It was in this city that the members of The Way were first called Christians.
Why? Because, just as in the case of the nickname, The Way, the believers were different. Their understanding of worship, pleasure, social life, and sexual life was not like those of the culture in which they lived. Unlike many at Antioch, they were not part of the immorality that stamped the city. They believed in the fidelity of marriage relationships and the sacredness of sexual intimacy. In the eyes of the Antiochians, they were also a group of people who worshipped in a bizarre way. They were not like others in the pursuit of pleasure and self-gratifying entertainment. They were utterly distinct. The people of Antioch could see them and identify them, not because of their racial or language differences. In reality, many of the early followers spoke Greek as native speakers, not with a Jewish accent. Their uniqueness was their moral excellence and purity of creed.
In his "Mere Christianity," the English writer, C.S Lewis, wrote extensively about the distinctive identity of Christians. Part of which is their moral and creedal excellence. Much more, because profoundly renewed individual life.
Christianity would be consistent with her calling if believers do not want to be like the world, not in the sense of biological endowments, but regarding morality and spiritual life. We lose our identity if we no longer shine the light for everyone to see. The light must be the light of purity and unconditional love. It has to be of true sacredness of reproductive actions, of honesty and integrity. For short, it is the call to holiness, set apart, modeled after Christ.
If you are a Catholic, be bold. Be Christian. Be Catholic. There should be no in-betweens.
Pray: Lord Jesus, give us the grace to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth. Amen.
God love you. God bless you.
[Tuesday Week 4 of Easter: Acts 11:19-26; John 10: 22-30]
Author and Goal
Father Maurice Emelu Ph.D., provides a daily blog of reflections based on the Scriptural readings of the day from the Catholic liturgical calendar. The goal is to teach, inspire, encourage, and foster healing through the grace of God's word. They are written in a language that is appropriate for a general audience. You will find these reflections helpful for your spiritual growth, inspiration, and developing your thoughts. They may also be useful for ministers in preparing their sermons for liturgical celebrations.