Disagreement, Dissent and Depositions

The book of Acts is exciting on so many levels but mainly because we get a glimpse of the early church trying to figure out what to do when Jesus is no longer physically with them. When Jesus was around, being the church seemed a little easier. Conflict resolution often ended when problems or disagreements were brought to Jesus attention, he would quote scripture or provide divine insight and that was the end of that. But now that Jesus is no longer physically present, the disciples, apostles, and early converts were trying to figure out how to be the church in a new era. They did not always agree. But as we will see, the Holy Spirit works through disagreements as well.

The entire chapter of Acts 15 is about disagreement. First there is disagreement on whether or not gentile converts should be circumcised in order to be saved and late in the chapter, disagreement between Barnabas and Paul on taking John Mark with them on mission.

There are a few things to take note of in this chapter as we see the events unfold. First (as throughout the book of Acts), there is always an account of the work of the Holy Spirit through individuals. Paul and Barnabas have returned to Antioch to find that some believers have been teaching the exact opposite of what they have preached. Paul and Barnabas have gone to great lengths to make sure that the gentiles (non jews) understood that they were accepted as members of the body of Christ because they have received the Holy Spirit. This became an issue for many of the Jewish converts because they still believed that the restoration of Israel was part of the work of the early church and they understood Christianity to be a new sect of Judaism. The disagreement is resolved after going to Jerusalem and meeting with the Apostles and elders. We cannot escape the magnitude of this resolution. If this had been decided differently, what would have happened to the church? Maybe more important though, we get a great glimpse of the church at work in deciding over issues of conflict and how these conflicts are managed. The process for discernment was not left to one individual but rather was discussed and developed through a council of elders and apostles. Brilliant! “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us….”(Acts 15:28) This is an important aspect to how the church went about making decisions.

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Violence and Rest

If you like a nice peaceful story, Acts 12-14 are definitely not for you. Full of murder, and violence, yet still the undertone of Jesus present in our lives.  A brief overview.

First we start with chapter 12 — James is Killed by Herod’s violence, Peter is put in jail, yet God brings Peter to freedom. After going to May’s house, he stood and knocked until someone recognized his voice allowing him access (see voice print isn’t a new invention). We also hear of the soldiers who were guarding Peter were put to death by Herod, so Peter could escape, a parallel to Paul? Shortly after this Herod dies for not giving glory to God.

Chapter 13 turns from the violence to commissioning and the power of God against those who were false prophets. Paul and Barnabas also start traveling to share the history, lineage, and salvific voice of God through Jesus.

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The Other Pentecost

This Sunday, Lutheran churches (as well as other churches) will celebrate Pentecost Sunday. It is a day where the church celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit to the Jewish people in the beginning of Acts. It is a familiar passage in the beginning of Acts, but most people do not remember that this is not the only Pentecost that happens in Acts.

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Before the Ascension, Jesus’ gives the disciples the charge to go into the world to baptize, teach, and preach from Judea to Jerusalem to the ends of the Earth. The book of Acts moves in the same exact sense, hence multiple Pentecost happenings. The first was for the Jewish people and in Acts 10, we get the Pentecost for the Gentiles with the narrative of Peter and Cornelius.

The fact that Gentiles were to be included into this new church was mind blowing to Peter, so much so that in the vision he receives from God, he argues against what he is to do. Read that again. Peter ARGUES WITH GOD! He doesn’t do this just once and done, but rather 3 times, he argues about what God is commanding him to do. You would think after the last three time questioning, Peter would have learned his lesson. But, Peter has some gusto, you gotta give him that.

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Persecution is good for the Church

Persecution is good for the Church! The message of Jesus Christ has always flourished in places where people are hurting the most. In the former Soviet Union Christianity grew underground despite persecution. In Romania, for example, the Lutheran Church was severely persecuted for their faith. People were taken from their homes in the middle of the night and threatened with death if they did not denounce their Christian faith. However, the Church survived and grew underground. Now upon leaving worship they greet the pastor with the words, “A mighty fortress is our God.” Having lived under tyrannical rule they have experienced firsthand the power of God in their lives. One could make the argument that the demise of Christianity is that it became officially part of the empire with Constantine’s conversion. Once Christianity is co-opted into the power structures of the world it ceases to be a place for the least among us.

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In Acts 8 it is persecution that begins the Church’s evangelical mission beyond Jerusalem. “That day severe persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostle were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria.” From here we pick up the story of one of those evangelists, Philip. We see through his story how the church, driven by the Holy Spirit, is being called to the wider world. Every movement is away from being just a church of Jewish Christians in Jerusalem to a Church on the move. The power of the message of Jesus Christ is converting hearts. It is moving people away from magic and exclusion to the kingdom of God.

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Church Council Stoning

The church council in the Lutheran church acts like a board of directors.  They are elected by the congregation to serve as the governing body of the church.  There is an executive team that runs meetings and sets the tone of the council.

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When you talk with a pastor about their church council you will get one of three responses.  The first is someone telling you how wonderful and active their council members are.  They will tell the wonderful ministry that the church is doing and how the council has stepped up to take responsibility for the ministry of the church.  Usually this pastor is either lying or exaggerating the truth (I am sure their council is really doing well but maybe not THAT well).

The second response is a lukewarm response.  This is the pastor that say that there are some good things happening but there are some issues too.  This is where I feel most pastors and churches are.

The third is the pastor who has nothing good to say about their council.  They are frustrated with the leadership and they either are counting down the days until another one is elected or they are ready to get out-of-town.

In Acts chapter 6 the “first church council” was appointed.  One of the men that was chosen to serve was Stephen.  Even though Stephen tried to remain faithful to what he felt God was calling him and the rest of the community to do something however the rest of the council was not listening.  They did not want to hear what Stephen had to say.  So in Acts chapter 7 Stephen tries to give his defense.

The method that he chose was to retell the story of salvation from Abraham to Jesus.   Here are some of the highlights of what Stephen says: 

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The Spirit’s KO

This section of Acts seems to be the Holy Spirit’s initial fight. When a boxer goes professional they are measured by their first few fights. In Acts 4-6 The Spirit is a knockout!

From the very beginning of chapter 4 the Spirit humbles even Peter, who is on its side. From the very coming of the Spirit in Acts 2 until now in chapter 4 Peter has been talking. The Spirit seems to have had enough with Peter’s talking so he is sent to jail along with his corner, John. The Spirit humbles Peter first. It wants the readers to see that this match is about the Spirit, not about its workers.

Immediately after this is a series of interactions where we see that anyone opposed to the Holy Spirit’s work will get knocked aside as well. Imprisonment gets knocked out when the rulers and elders of the Sanhedrin have to release Peter and John. They don’t release them because of what the men do though, but because, “they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men” and were “astonished.” (Acts 4:13) It wasn’t Peter and John that won the fight against prison, it was the Spirit doing work through them.

After Peter and John leave prison they go to pray with the other apostles where the Holy Spirit knocks out the ground. As the apostles are worshipping the very way the Spirit told them, “The place where they were meeting was shaken.” (4:31) Not even the ground is stable against the mighty Spirit.

The apostles continue to do what the Spirit ordains and contain to see blessings as they share their possessions. In the middle of all this sharing another competitor emerges. Two of the apostles decide to keep some of their wealth to themselves rather than sharing EVERYTHING. The Spirit literally knocks these two out for good (5:5 & 10). It will not stand for people taking credit for its achievements.

The apostles are apparently unphased by the Spirits tyranny because the go on to healings and wonders (5:12-16). Yet shortly after another adversary emerges when the apostles are persecuted again. The Sadducees got jealous of the fame that the apostles were receiving because of how miraculous the Spirit was working through them. The Sadducees threw them into jail. Just like the last time, the Spirit released the apostles from jail to prove that no enemy of the Spirit will win.

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