Lines of demarcation

A church bulletin from nearly a quarter-century ago included an article about drawing circular “lines” around those with whom one agrees.  We might call these “lines of fellowship” (in a popular but slanted use of the word “fellowship”).  I found the piece in a file.  Here it is:

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You don’t even have to take time to read the whole thing to get the point.  The circle-lines show who was out and who was in.  It’s no accident, of course, that the circles get smaller.  The layout helps to make the point clear, eventually coming to the point of including only the one person who was drawing the lines.

Some exclusionary lines may on occasion be necessary, but I figure we should at least draw them faintly and humbly, and it’s probably better not to draw many lines at all.  The question of who’s in and who’s out is better left to God.

When considering the narratives of the gospels and Acts, I have in recent years been thinking about the line of demarcation between Jew and Christian.  It may seem easier to consider Jews as outside the Christian “circle” from the beginning, but I’m not sure that that line-drawing is any more helpful than the kind depicted above.  I found interesting that Ben Witherington, a well-respected commentator now in his prime, had written this:

That Apollos is identified as a Jew by Luke has fueled the speculation that he is not here presented as a Christian, which is unlikely in light of what else Luke says.  The term “Jew” here then would primarily be an ethnic, not a religious term.  

I try to keep from facile assumptions about immersion qua Christian initiation, but I am still curious as I encounter Witherington’s phrasing “ … he may have become a Christian on an occasion when he was visiting other Alexandrian Jews in Jerusalem at the synagogue of the freedmen (Acts 6:9).”  If not immersion, which is apparently not the case with Apollos, what would mark “becoming a Christian”?  Public profession of some sort, one might suppose. . . .

No hard-and-fast lines or immutable patterns may be derived from Acts 18 for determining who’s inside a circle.  Whatever the historical case in Alexandria for Apollos,

  • the text says he had not been immersed but did “have” the “Holy Spirit” (whatever that means)
  • the text doesn’t see fit to note that Priscilla and Aquila immersed him

I am better off not sharpening my pencil to draw lines of demarcation between not-Christian, almost-Christian, maybe-once-Christian, and/or actually Christian.  It could very well serve God’s purposes better to see the scenario as more fluid, less rigidly bound.  What could have happened if Priscilla and Aquila had simply excluded Apollos as a “non-Christian because of X” makes me very uncomfortable.

It’s not as though I think everyone’s in; it’s just not up to me to draw the lines.

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3 thoughts on “Lines of demarcation

  1. Diane Emmons 03/09/2016 / 9:54 pm

    Your last statement sums it up so well!

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  2. Steve 03/10/2016 / 9:55 am

    Good post…for all readers, especially those of us from C of C who have honed our skill sets to draw very definitive lines of fellowship over the years…unfortunately. Although God’s grace is quite a large umbrella term–applied to so many situations and contexts, I do find Luke’s comment summarizing/quoting Paul after his initial discussions with Jews about faith in the Messiah to be interesting/instructive: “When the congregation (i.e., synagogue congregants–13:14-15) was dismissed, many of the Jews and the devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who talked with them and urged them to continue in the grace of God.” (13:42-43) That is not as definitive (should I say, ‘demarcative?’) a statement as Luke writes earlier concerning the outcome of some priests when they were taught the gospel: “…and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.” (6:7) But in some sense, it appears the process of salvation and the grace that pervades that process had enveloped a number of Jews–who had not yet ‘crossed over’ in their commitment to Jesus–yet, were in some way in God’s grace–because you can’t continue in something you aren’t in.

    On the other hand, there don’t appear to be any converts to Christ in Acts that are not immersed–for whatever reason one chooses to give. So that visual ‘demarcation line’ seems to be pretty consistent throughout Luke’s treatise.

    Thankfully God will sort all of that out at some point. I think your point is well taken: we need to do less demarcating and a lot more declaring/demonstrating the gospel of good news and let God do what He does best after that.

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    • Brian Casey 03/14/2016 / 7:09 pm

      I did (and do) appreciate reading this, Steve. This can get pretty complex, can’t it?

      I had a glance at those earlier Acts descriptions. ​Maybe this comes as much from my current predisposition viz. Apollos (and chapters 16-20 in general) than from logic or exegesis, but 6:7 and 13:42-43 both seem to deal in process as much as with status. The urging to continue (i.e., from their Jewish-proselyte status) in the grace of God seems to go along with what I speculated about Apollos, as you seem to allow. In 6:7, I found that the tense of the verb “became obedient” is actually imperfect, denoting a continuation over a period of time (something like “were becoming obedient” could a good rendering of that, as I’m sure you know … and I’ve also learned that there is a spectrum of the imperfective aspect, so ?). Your more logical/theological point that one can’t continue in something he’s not already in is a good one! For me at least, even that realization (thanks for it) points to fewer lines, or dimmer lines, or something. I know I don’t have to clarify myself for your sake on this next bit, but for anyone else who sees this: I’m certainly not saying that one shouldn’t progress, continue, move forward in knowledge, obedience, etc.; it’s that Acts in particular presents — to me, at least — a lot of Jews “in process” toward faith in Christ rather than their always being labeled as either in or out. The bird’s-eye view of all this is the motion from Jewish to post-Jewish Christian, and I love pondering all the individual advancements and motions — Lydia, Crispus in Corinth, Aquila, Apollos, and more.

      I’m in process, too. Sometimes slower or less well directed than others!

      BTW, I imagine it’s easier for you (than for me) to “let God do what God does best,” but it’s easier for me now than it once was.

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