Christ is risen!
“We have to protect our distinctives!” What, was this man serious? He was actually arguing to preserve some ideas and actions that were separating us from another group that wanted to merge with us. The two companies did the same thing. We offered the same services and we used the same materials to make our products. But this person was literally terrified that “our unique corporate culture” was in jeopardy if we did the smart thing and merged. All in the name of “protecting our distinctives.” What does that even mean?
Look at our lesson today in Acts 14:20-28; 15:1-4:
IN THOSE DAYS, Paul went on with Barnabas to Derbe. When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to lconion and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they believed. Then they passed through Pisidia, and came to Pamphylia. And when they had spoken the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia; and from there they sailed to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work which they had fulfilled. And when they arrived, they gathered the church together and declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. And they remained no little time with the disciples. But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” And when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question. So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, reporting the conversion of the Gentiles, and they gave great joy to all the brethren. And when they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they declared all that God had done with them.
OK, here’s the situation, Sts. Paul and Barnabas are really racking up the Gentile converts. I mean Gentiles are turning to the Orthodox Christian message in droves. And this is making some of the Jewish converts to the Faith VERY nervous. They are reading the writing on the wall – there are more Gentiles than Jews and if this conversion thing keeps up, we’re going to be outnumbered! But that’s not these folks only concern. They also had the legitimate concern about how are the Gentiles being formed in the Faith. They didn’t have the centuries of formation in the Way of God the Jews had. They didn’t know the Prophets and the Holy Scripture. They were coming into the Faith totally unprepared in these people’s minds. So, what was their solution? All the Gentiles had to become Jewish first if they wanted to become Christian!
Well, needless to say, when Paul got wind of this, there was “no small debate.” Yeah, no kidding. Paul argues that these Gentiles don’t have to become Jewish converts first. He says the Holy Spirit is strong enough to make up whatever may be deficient in the formation of the Gentiles. This dispute becomes so strong that it will lead to the very first Council of the Church in Acts 16 where all the Apostles gather and discuss “seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things.” (See Acts 16:28)
Today, the path to Christian unity lies in dialogue. The path to healing in a parish, a church, a family, always must include face to face meetings and discussion. We cannot escape the soul forming power of communion in honest, and even sometimes strenuous, debate based on two immovable attitudes – our love for Christ and our love for one another. We cannot move ancient foundation stones of wisdom that harm the very people Christ meant to save, but neither can we assume we know everything the Holy Spirit means to say to us all! Being Orthodox on Purpose always includes being willing to talk!
P.S. From June 16-27 all Autocephalous Orthodox Christian Churches will send representatives, including their Patriarchs, to Crete for the Holy and Great Council during the Feast of Pentecost. As with the discussions in our devotional today, there is “no small dissention and debate.” But this is normal and can be life-giving if we humbly love one another. Keep up with the Council by going to orthodoxcouncil.org. Be informed, be loving, and pray for our bishops as they labor together and witness to the conciliar unity of Orthodoxy to the world!