There is much wisdom here!
Thursday, April 27, 2017
I came to faith in my late teens as a Southern Baptist. My father then came to faith and ultimately became a deacon of the church. One of the things I remember about the Southern Baptist convention is hearing about various individual churches who split from the convention over doctrinal differences. In fact, it isn’t uncommon to hear of an individual church that splits from within either, where half the church remains Baptist while the other half goes off and founds another new church. While that may seem odd to Catholics we have had that too…at first it was called the reformation, but since then we have had splits as well. This is why we have SSPX Catholics, Evangelical Catholics, Celtic Catholics, and about 50 or so other “independent” catholic churches all of which schism from the Church for various doctrinal reasons. It may happen more frequently and fluidly in Protestant denominations, but it still happens in the Catholic church. In today’s reading (Acts 15: 1-6) we see the first potential doctrinal split and the first council (Council of Jerusalem) that was formed by the Apostles and Elders of the Church to address that split.
In verse 5 we have believers who belonged to the council of the Pharisees standing up and proclaiming that gentiles need to be circumcised and required to keep the laws of Moses. This is interesting because Pharisees (parush or parushi from the Aramaic) are a split in the Jewish order that means separate. They are literally a group or party made up from Jewish scholars and scribes who ardently adhere to Jewish purity laws. In the Gospels, we often see Jesus addressing this group in a way that kind of tells us that they adhere to the letter of the law without consideration for the spirit of the law. Not all of them, of course, but every group has some bad apples. So now, we have this group who literally means split, who have come to faith in the Messiah, and are now bringing their doctrinal beliefs into their new faith. This probably/shouldn’t be surprising to us. Wherever we go we bring ourselves and the sum total of our knowledge and understanding of God. It was no different for them.
What is interesting here is how this first potential split was handled. Neither Paul nor Barnabas stood up and singularly laid down the “law” as it were (even though they probably could have). They instead set a precedent. They gathered the Apostle and Elders (presbyters) together into what we call now the Council of Jerusalem. After much discussion, Peter lays out what we might consider one of the first official canons of the Church. (Which is tomorrow’s reading Acts 15: 7-21.) Which was supported by Paul and Barnabas.
This is interesting for many reasons, but most of all I think because it shows us how we should deal with potential doctrinal fallacy/issues. It shows us that misinterpretation, and insertion of human understanding is going to happen for one. When we come to faith we bring our own understanding and experiences. We interpret through the lens of that understanding. How this should be handled we are taught by the church fathers in their example. No one singularly lays down the doctrine, instead they form a council of apostles and elders. They use both scripture and experience to form and inform themselves. Then they proclaim what they believe to be the truth and they set down canon to be followed.
In the next several readings after this, we see that once the canon is established they go out and teach this canon to the churches. They debated, they used scripture and experience, they set down canon, and then they went and taught. What is just as interesting as the process of establishing this is how the church received the new information. They went silent and listened, and then they rejoiced.
I think these are very important passages to consider as sometimes we come into personal/group conflict with the teachings and doctrines of the Church. It’s important to realize that rebellion is sin we seldom see for what it is, because when we are rebelling we think/believe we are correct. I don’t think conflicting with doctrine is inherently sinful as all of us (as I said before) bring ourselves into our understanding of faith. None of the Apostles chided the Pharisee believers for their thinking. Instead, they took it as an opportunity to define the faith. What makes our questions rebellion is when we do not go silent and listen after the Church leadership has followed the precedents established by the early Church.
God loves obedience. We bring ourselves into the faith, and sometimes the issues we face are much bigger than what we by ourselves can muster in understanding. Sometimes we need the guidance of people who have a bigger picture of understanding. It is up to us to stay rooted in the truth.
Today we pray for all those who would lead us, that they would have the wisdom of the early leaders of the Church.
Food for thought and prayer.
Here I am, Lord, send me.
Monday, April 3, 2017
This is one of the most oft quoted scriptures I know. Even people who don’t hold a specific or Christian belief can quote this one phrase, “Let he without sin cast the first stone.” Usually, it’s a deflection phrase when you bring up something someone doesn’t want to deal with. The issue there is that there is a difference between casting a stone at someone, and encouraging someone to deal with a ‘sin’ in their lives that is destroying them (literally and/or spiritually). That said, we who call ourselves Christians, don’t often recognize the difference in that either. For the record, we might understand that if we approach it one way (loving, compassion, prayerfully, with real concern) we are helping. If we approach it the other way (condemnation, accusation, bitterness, anger, self-righteousness) we are guilty (sinning ourselves). That is a post for another day though. Today we examine the reading of what was REALLY going on in this passage and how we might apply it to our own understanding.
The Pharisees brought a woman to Jesus who was caught in the act of adultery. This was their attempt at a trick. If Jesus said to them, “Nah, let her go.” Then they could say he was false as he did not uphold the laws of Moses, and could be considered a sinner. If he said, “STONE HER!” then he was one of them, but not a savior. You see there where they probably thought they were pretty clever. Seems kind of like a win-win situation for them. It’s a picture of the hideously limiting way we think of God and His ways, sometimes. They entered into this thinking only A or B was possible. Now, let’s also point out that they were more than willing to sacrifice another human being to prove their point too. That is an oft overlooked, but extremely over-used, human thing to do. We are often “so correct” that we are willing to sacrifice others to prove our own righteousness.
Jesus didn’t hesitate. He bent down and started writing things on the sand floor. I’ve spend loads of time wondering exactly what he was writing and there are a couple of possibilities. One is that he was writing the specific sins (not related to this case) of the men who were standing in judgement. The other possibility, that my limited mind can come up with, is that he was writing down what part each man played in this specific case. Things like “Pharisee Smith got the guy to the woman’s house. Pharisee Thomas dropped the woman off at the house.” Because the law stated that when someone was stoned they had to be blameless of the crime. Now, the reason I speculate it could be either is because if I was full of myself and thinking I was all kinds of righteous (in this matter) and then Jesus busted out some sin I was secretly hiding, I’d walk away too. Talk about letting the air out of my balloon of holy! The other thing (their connection) is a possibility because the whole thing was a set up anyway. It kind of makes sense that Jesus was calling them out for their own part in how her sin came to be anyway. All that said, it wouldn’t surprise me if it was something else He wrote that I might not even be able to fathom. Maybe He was writing times and dates of when each of them slept with her. It’s a mystery.
Whatever He wrote cleared the house. It took the air out of their accusation and left the woman standing alone with Jesus. He didn’t break Moses’ law (there by keeping him sinless) AND He gave the woman compassion in not condemning her even though He was blameless. It was an act of His Messiahship, and a picture of how He might deal with us at some future time. She was guilty, so are we, and there are plenty of people willing to condemn us for our guilt, but in grace He might spare our eternal lives.
There is a lot to learn from this passage, if we meditate on all the facets of what it really means. This is especially true of our goal is to be more like Jesus today than we were yesterday. God, grant us, through your Holy Spirit, the wisdom to be as He who is the light of the world.
Food for thought and prayer.
Here I am, Lord, send me!