Summary: This continues in my expository series through the book of Acts.
Christians, and perhaps particularly evangelicals in particular, are undergoing what seems to me to be a bit of an identity crisis. What word fits us?
o “Christian” – Unfortunately, that’s a loose term, a bit of a “catch-all” which is used to encompass anyone professing allegiance to Christ, including plenty of folks who wouldn’t consider themselves “born again”—even though Jesus was pretty plain in saying, “you must be born again!”
o For awhile, “fundamentalist” didn’t have the connotations it does today. Its origin was a tract called “The Fundamentals”, written in the early 20th-century as an apologetic against the rise of modernism and theological liberalism—and every one of us, I’d hope, would be in sympathy with the five fundamentals identified in that tract. But then the mainstream media got hold of that term “fundamentalist”, and it began to be used to define everybody who does anything loony in the name of whatever religion, and thus we have “Islamic fundamentalists”, etc.
o “Evangelical” is a better term; it’s in our movement’s name. It speaks of those committed to the truthfulness of the entire Bible, and our commitment to propagate the truths of the Bible, most significantly the gospel. But even this term has been watered down; people call themselves “evangelical” who do not share even those minimal commitments, and one denomination, the “Evangelical Lutheran Church”, is anything but…evangelical!
o Further, there’s even the question of how much it matters to have the right “label” attached to yourself. Now, don’t jump to a conclusion; there are some things to be said on both sides of that coin. In fact, let’s talk about it!
How much difference do “labels” and “categories” make? Are they unimportant, or might they serve an important cause? What are the limits of labels and categories?
o I’ve begun using the term “Christ-follower”; if you’ve been paying attention, you’ve heard the term crop up regularly in my messages. I like it best, and it jibes with something we find in today’s text; see if you notice as we read!
Did you catch it? “The Way” – This term, of course, was one used commonly to describe followers of Christ; I believe that this paradigm, if not the word itself, is one we ought to resurrect today, because Jesus’ call to us is to “follow” Him, to move along a pathway, not merely to sit on our blessed assurance, content that we have a home in the sweet bye-and-bye.
I. The Way: Paul’s Purposeful Path
:21-22 - The eastern part of the Roman empire had now been evangelized, and thus Paul, by the leading of the Holy Spirit, determines that Rome is his next destination (the map on the screen traces his trip thus far), but not before checking up on churches in Macedonia and Achaia, taking up a collection for the poor in Jerusalem, and delivering it to them personally. Rome already had a Christian community, though, so his plan would be that Rome was in his sights, would be a stopover on his way to Spain, the westernmost part of the Roman empire, but a very strategic stopover as the center of the world, more so than even today we’d think of New York City being that. There was an urgency about his sense; “I must see Rome!” The rest of the book of Acts moves us toward Rome, and the final chapter of Acts finds Paul arriving at his destination, setting up shop, and encouraging the believers there. But we’ve got a lot of ground to cover between Ephesus and Rome!
II. The Way: A Temporary Roadblock
Before he’s able to leave, though, a riot breaks out due to Paul’s teaching. One commentator suggests that the danger to Paul is quite understated here, that Paul’s life was in real danger. Here are some things Paul says in later writings, very possibly describing this event:
“I fought with beasts at Ephesus.” (I Corinthians 15:32)
God “delivered us from such a deadly peril.” (II Corinthians 1:10)
Priscilla and Aquila “risked their necks for my life.” (Romans 16:4)
Luke’s use of “the Way” here suggests that the outbreak, the ruckus, wasn’t directed merely at Paul or the leaders alone, but rather at the entire group of Christ-followers. Unfortunately, for many professing Christians, “the Way” isn’t as apt a description in their thinking as, for instance
o “The Decision” – Christian faith is reduced to a one-time decision to “get saved” or “be born again”; it’s all about whether you’re in or you’re out, and once you’re in, everything is peachy-keen hunky-dory seashells and balloons.
o “The Church” – The question here becomes, “is he in church?” Doesn’t matter if the “church” preaches the gospel, or whether it’s like so many today that have forfeited the gospel for theological liberalism, or pragmatic self-helpisms, or so-called “prosperity theology”; just “as long as she’s in church!” How ‘bout this one: