Friday, October 05, 2007

The First Christians

Acts 11v26b
It was at Antioch that the believers were first called Christians.
I must have read that verse loads of times. It always struck me as an interesting footnote in history, but nothing worthy of major study.

But I listened to a sermon from Mars Hill Bible Church the other day on Acts 11 and the preacher (Doug Pagitt) dug into it a bit deeper and asked the one question that I'd never really asked before:


The disciples had a collective name already before this time, they appear to have been known as followers of 'The Way'. Why should they suddenly gain a new name?

The thing that I'd never really thought about was that there must have been something distinctly different about the disciples in Antioch from the others to merit the use of a new name. These guys were culturally different from the church in Jerusalem, perhaps they did things in a different way from the church in Jerusalem. Perhaps what we see here is the first denominational divide...

The word 'Christian' is based on the word 'Christ' which is a Greek word. Not a Jewish word. There is a cultural difference here. These guys viewed the world in a different way from the Jews, is it too much of a leap to wonder if they did Church in a totally different way? Hence the need for a new name. Hmmm.

But for all that, the next interesting thing is that the first recorded act of this new denomonation was to send aid to the other denomonation. We don't really see this today - sometimes denomonations appear to be rivals rather than simply different parts of the body.

Healing (again)

I've blogged about healing before, but it came up again in our housegroup last night...

Its a new housegroup, and I don't know the folk in it that well, so I didn't throw all my doubts about healing into the discussion, but I did observe that I have never actually seen anyone healed of anything more serious than a headache or a sore back (Yes David, I know that certain sore backs are a major thing, but bear with me).

Several of the others in the group claimed healing and recounted their stories. And before you make assumptions about me here, let me state that I totally believed all their stories.

But while one of the stories related to a potentially life-threatening condition being healed, in every case the illnesses or conditions that were healed were all completely unverifiable by medical science. In the serious case, the doctors weren't really sure what was wrong and thus were surprised when things improved rapidly, but still didn't know what was wrong. In all of the other stories the healing involved things that are known to just clear up by themselves, although it has to be said that major coincidences were going on there if God wasn't involved.

But I still came away from the meeting with no greater faith in healing than before. Apparently God heals sometimes and sometimes does not. But some conditions clear up spontaneously even when nobody is praying. The skeptical side of my brain says 'what if its mostly psychological?' - perhaps the benefit of 'praying' for healing has no supernatural effect but does have some physical or psychological effect which simply works.

Perhaps this is why we see frequent healing of aches and headaches, etc. but not frequent healing of cancer or broken bones or (as the atheist website has it) amputated limbs.

But you see, the problem I face here is major. For I believe that it is God who heals the minor things, the tennis elbow, the headaches, the back aches, the intestinal difficulties. But when I don't see the serious illnesses being healed, the question I find myself asking is not 'Why doesn't God heal these?' but rather 'What if God is unable to heal these?'

As doubts go, that one is pretty major.