16 Oct 2018
The second chapter of Acts describes the early church as living together in a harmonious and generous community. But it was not always this way. Jealously and selfishness quickly marred the peace of the community. Ethnic tensions developed as the church became increasingly diverse. Even leaders found themselves add odds with each other. By the time we reach the fifteenth chapter of Acts the church is embroiled in a crisis which not only undermined the witness of the church, but threatened to tear the body of Christ in two.
At issue was whether new believers had to become Jews to follow Christ. Paul and Barnabas recognized the seriousness of the issue and sought to discuss the issue with the leaders of the church in Jerusalem. There the leaders listened carefully to both sides of the issue. The discussion brought to centre stage the way the Old Testament Scriptures were interpreted. Up until this time it had been done through the lenses of their Jewish experience and cultural background.
But then Paul and Barnabas recounted the way God was working in the hearts and lives of Gentiles. Furthermore, they noted that God had poured out his Spirit upon the Gentiles just like he had on the apostles during Pentecost. This startling information forced those listening to come face to face with their own biases. God wanted to save Gentiles too! They did not need to become Jews to experience his saving grace. In following the Spirit’s leading, the church accepted a position contrary to their traditional interpretation, and a major division was averted.
In today’s diverse church we often find ourselves understanding scripture in conflicting ways. I invite you to examine your own attitudes when this occurs. Do you get defensive of your own interpretations, or are you willing to identify your own biases and be open follow the leading of the Spirit?