The cross and me - 1

William Aikins on July 20, 2020

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.  The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Galatians 2:20).

For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified (1 Cor. 2:2).

              I took in a webinar the other day sponsored by a well-known Christian polling organization.  The topic was the “state of the church” in the U.S. in light of the Coronavirus.  According to the presenter, COVID 19 has accelerated the disruption in our already deeply disrupted society. The psychological, social and financial impacts on people are stark.  The pandemic has also sped up many changes in the church and will “bring about opportunities to disciple people in a deeper way.”  The data that was presented to substantiate these claims was based on extensive research conducted among “practicing Christians”, Christian leaders and non-Christians.

              What struck me was a definition used by the researchers.  People were identified as “practicing Christians” who “attend church services at least once a month.”  I was reminded of an analogy I heard when I was young.  “Just because you live in a garage, doesn’t make you a car.  Neither does simply sitting on a seat in a church building make you a Christian.”  I wonder whether our inability to gather in our facilities to worship shouldn’t challenge us to first of all rethink this definition.  Perhaps we might even cultivate a deeper understanding of what it means to be a Christian in the first place.

              According to the historian and theologian Luke, who wrote the book of Acts, the designation “Christian” was first used of “the disciples” in the city of Antioch in Syria (Acts 11:26).  The significance of this term being applied to followers of Jesus by the average person in Antioch reveals several things about what it meant to be a “practicing Christian” in the early church.  Christians were outspoken about Jesus being their true leader and were constantly evangelizing. They were also well versed in both the Hebrew Scriptures as well as the teaching of the Apostles (the word of grace – cf. Acts 20:24).  Finally, they formed a distinct society where Jews and Gentiles, of various ethnic and linguistic backgrounds, came together in in close fellowship with one another.  However, “the one thing that distinguished this ethnically mixed group of people was their outspoken identification with ‘Christ’.”[i]

              This brings me to the words of Paul, that premier “practicing Christian”, whom I quoted at the beginning.  “I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me,” he says.  What does Paul mean?  Why was he so concerned to emphasize “nothing but Jesus Christ and him crucified” when he talked and taught about the Good News with the Corinthians?  It is hard to imagine Paul, or any of his contemporaries in the first century, saying that once-a-month attendance at a sacred gathering makes one a Christian.  Christians are not just fans of the One who laid down his life for them, spectators of some religious play in which they may or may not participate, they are crucified with Christ!

              Surely Galatians 2:20 has something to say to me about what it means to be a “Christ-person” in the midst of these troubling times.  Life will probably never be “normal” again after the current pandemic.  Indeed recent events that have been tearing our cities apart in the U.S. have revealed other “viruses” which have been lurking beneath the “old normal” in me and in our society.  It would be good for us all to ponder Paul’s words and ask whether we shouldn’t consider the possibility of a “new normal” – one where the Crucified lives in us, changes us from the inside out and gives us new ways to be his wounded body in a broken world that desperately needs that kind of “practicing Christian.”

 



[i]Stephen J. Strauss, “The Significance of Acts 11:26 for the Church at Antioch and Today”, Bibliotheca sacra, 168 no 671, 294.