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:
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.