What if we wait to call ourselves Christians until someone calls us Christians

My OT daily reading was Genesis 32, the story when God gives Jacob a name…

Well, after they wrestle for a while and it appears as if God could not overpower him, he touched his hip so Jacob would have to settle down a bit.

So, Jacob wants a blessing (something material), but God gives Jacob a new name: Israel – he who struggles with God.

Not exactly what Jacob was looking for, perhaps.

But, a theme that comes up again and again in Genesis is God naming people.

Isn’t there a difference between “making a name for ourselves” and “someone giving us a name?”

I don’t know about your friends, but I’ve found that it doesn’t work out so well if you or I try to give ourselves a nickname. We are usually stuck with the one that we are given.

One time, I was given the nickname “Sizzlin’ Skillets” – at first I didn’t like it at all, but over time I tolerated it (and even enjoyed it) because the person who gave me the name gave me a gift. By renaming me, it was like he gave me an invitation into the inner circle of his world and let me know that I belonged.

Isn’t it interesting that the first time that a group of Jesus’ followers were called ‘Christians’ was in Antioch? (as written in Acts 11) The language in that story is peculiar. The author of Acts says that after persecution in Jerusalem, some of the followers of Jesus spread to remote areas and some stuff started going down in Antioch. When word got back to the “mothership” in Jerusalem, the “big wigs” sent Barnabas to do an audit of the activity. Barnabas affirmed this new community and even brought Saul of Tarsus to that congregation (instead of Jerusalem) and they stayed there one year strengthening the church.

“The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.” (Acts 11:26)

The language is a bit fuzzy. Did this congregation call themselves Christians (lit. “little Christs”) or did others name them Christians? I’m sure that there are arguments that one can make, either way. It seems that up until this occurrence, the church was content to call themselves “Jews” or people of “the way.” This story is the beginning stages of the discernment process for what the Jews would require non-Jews to do in order to be in the covenant family of God. (skip ahead to Acts 15 for more on that)

Perhaps what is happening in Antioch is that the disciples are being named and not making a name for themselves.

Once again, this is all going down miles away from the epicenter of the Christ event. (Jerusalem) As the story of Acts continues to develop, there is a residual correspondence from these remote enclaves of early Christianity back to Jerusalem.

Anyway, thinking about this dynamic of God “naming” Jacob as Jacob was trying to make his own name and the disciples in Antioch being known as “Christians” for the first time provoked some interesting thoughts, one which is a compelling challenge:

What if we did not call ourselves Christian until someone else called us one?

This is challenging for myself and maybe for you to consider. After all, we are “confessing” people, those who affirm the Christian faith in our individual lives and corporate worship venues.

But, isn’t the driving, biblical narrative for humanity supposed to be the hope, calling, dedication to be “image bearers of God” not just “information reciters?” So who God is should actually be in us, right?

Theologians have called this theological enterprise of being God’s image bearers as being the “icons” of God. Much like pressing on the Facebook icon app on our tablets should connect us to the Facebook program, people should connect to the living God through their connection to us and our communities if we are the icon of God.

If I were pressed today, if you were pressed today, would it lead someone to the living God?

Or would someone be tempted to give us a different name because we lead them to a different source?

The is one way to find out. Maybe we should be take the challenge of being named and not trying to make a name for ourselves.


Published by joeskillen

I'm a husband, dad of 2, Pastor at Eastminster Presbyterian Church in Wichita, KS.

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