ACT3 added the word “network” to our name last year. The reason for this is both pragmatic and utilitarian. The word “network” had its origin in technology, so far as I can tell, but it has become a useful modern word to describe “an informally interconnected group or association of persons, as friends or professional colleagues” (Merriam-Webster online dictionary, 2013).
ACT3 has always been about people, partnerships, building bridges and promoting Christ’s mission for more than two decades. We have always felt that this ministry was called by God for others, not for me or our name. I have honestly never understood why Christian ministries compete and promote themselves like products. I see nothing of this kind of emphasis in the teaching of our Lord or in the actions of the apostles. These brothers and sisters were first called “Christians” because of their following Jesus, not a party or a sectarian religious program. The first mention of the name “Christian” was as a designation for Jesus’ followers. It is given in a narrative that occurs in Acts 11.
1 Now the apostles and the believers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God. 2 So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him, 3 saying, “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?” 4 Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step, saying, 5 “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners; and it came close to me. 6 As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. 7 I also heard a voice saying to me, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ 8 But I replied, “By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ 9 But a second time the voice answered from heaven, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ 10 This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven. 11 At that very moment three men, sent to me from Caesarea, arrived at the house where we were. 12 The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. 13 He told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, “Send to Joppa and bring Simon, who is called Peter; 14 he will give you a message by which you and your entire household will be saved.’ 15 And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. 16 And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, “John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” 18 When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.” 19 Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that took place over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, and they spoke the word to no one except Jews. 20 But among them were some men of Cyprus and Cyrene who, on coming to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists also, proclaiming the Lord Jesus. 21 The hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number became believers and turned to the Lord. 22 News of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. 23 When he came and saw the grace of God, he rejoiced, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast devotion; 24 for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were brought to the Lord. 25 Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, 26 and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for an entire year they met with the church and taught a great many people, and it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called “Christians.”
As this story reveals the term Christian was first used of all believers in Antioch where Jesus’ disciples (i.e., learners and followers of him) were led by the Spirit to open the way of salvation to non-Jews in a culturally radical way. As a result of this action believers became known as Christians. I believe this is the way that we will recover Jesus’ mission and our unity today – we acknowledge that those who have the Holy Spirit, and who confess that Jesus is Lord, really are our brothers and sisters. We stop putting up social, political and ideological barriers that keep us apart. We wildly and freely love one another as he has loved us (cf. John 13:34-35). Because of this we can embrace our diversity with radical grace. By this means, diversity can become our strength if we are Christians above everything else. Whatever else we are is a distant second.
In the ancient Letter to Diognetus (2nd century) we read: “There is no violence in God. God sent Christ not to accuse us, but to call us to himself, not to judge us, but because he loves us.” Christ came to reveal to us that God loves his entire creation, the whole world (John 3:16-17). Jesus did not come into the world to condemn the world but that the world might be saved through him.
The late Brother Roger of Taize wrote: “Having the desire to welcome God’s love is enough for a flame to be kindled little by little in the secret recesses of our being. ‘Filled by his love, the heart opens to others’” (quoting Fr. Staniloae, twentieth century Russian Orthodox theologian).
The Holy Spirit stirs within us the love of Christ. If we prepare our lives with the flames of his love we will be awakened to the wonder of eternal love. The wonder of love is truly the “mark of the Christian.” It is this subject which I will consider in depth in my next book: Our Love Is Too Small. Pray for me as I think and write. A true network of people and ministries must be rooted in God’s love to accomplish anything of lasting importance. This is why writing this book is vitally important to the work of ACT3 Network.
Remember, during July we are asking all our friends to help us in this work with a designated President’s Capital Campaign gift. Visit our home page to read my appeal and make a one-time gift.