Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Christianity Threatened traditional Jewish Traditions

The Sadducees had already brought Peter and John before them and told them to no longer proclaim Jesus as the Savior. Peter and John responded by praising the Lord and continuing to spread the Good News. The people of Jerusalem continued to respond, even to the point where the sick were carried out into the streets and laid on cots and mats in order for Peter's shadow to fall upon them as he came by, hoping for healing. The Book of Acts states that "they were all cured."

The High Priest of the temple (A Sadducee) was "filled with jealousy" and arrested the Apostles and put them in prison to await punishment. However, in the night an Angel of the Lord "opened the prison doors, brought them out," and told them to "Go stand in the temple and tell the people the whold message about this life." Peter and the others returned to the temple and began to teach. Later that day the High Priest arrived and called together the council and all the Elders of Israel, and sent for the prisoners to be brought to them. The police returned and stated that the Apostles were no longer inside, but the prison had been "securely locked and the guards standing at the doors." He soon learned that they were in the temple teaching. Again they were arrested and brought before the council.

The High Priest accused them of teaching in Jesus' name and placing his blood (or death) upon the Jewish leaders of Jerusalem. Peter's answer, "We must obey God rather than any human authority." This angered the Priests, but Peter's next words almost signed his death warrent: "The god of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom YOU had killed by hanging him on a tree." Uh oh! When they heard this, "they were enraged and wanted to kill them."

Peter and the others were saved from death by a leader of the Pharisee's on the Council, Gamaliel. He warned of making them martyrs and causing even more trouble with the Roman rulers of Israel. He also warned that "if this plan is of human origin, it will fail, but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them- in that case you may even be found to be fighting against God."

The Council was convinced and had the Apostles flogged.

How did the Apostle's respond to the whipping, which split their skin, and the public humiliation?

They "rejoiced that they were considered worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name." And despite being told once more to not speak in the name of Jesus, they continued to "teach and proclaim Jesus as the Messiah."

What can we learn from this? We are called to go "boldly" to proclaim Christ the Savior to the world. We may face trials, tribulations, ridicule, or even physical threats and responses, possibly even death, but if we are listening to God's will and following his plan, we will never be "overthrown."

God never leaves us. He never abandons us. He is always there. Even after we have walked away from him. That is his forever, prevenient grace. He loved us before we were born, he loves us today, and he will love us tomorrow. We fail.

I know I fail often.

He never does.


Monday, November 23, 2009

The Church in Jerusalem...Socialism?

The Apostles and the converts to Christianity were truly on fire for God as "when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness." The Book of Acts 4:32-35 says "the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common...There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need."

Wow...they were...Socialists!

This used to bother me. I'm a devout Capitalist, and a believer in things like Popular Sovereignty, Republicanism, Separation of Powers, Checks and Balances, and Civil Liberties. I believe in personal liberties, equality, and the basic idea that you can achieve anything you are willing to work for.

Then I started considering why the early church was this way. First they did not know how long Christ would be away from the earth, and many wanted to sit around and wait for his return. Second, it makes sense as far as spreading the Good News to have the devout followers in one place, working together to extend the blessings of God's promise to everyone. Many missions were undertaken to spread Christianity thoughout not only Israel, but to the various ends of the Roman Empire. Of course these were originally meant only for Jewish converts, but that would soon change.

So this communal living arrangement worked for the early Church in Jerusalem, but ultimately it failed. Why? Some waited around and did not want to work. Bickering between the various Jewish-Christian groups (particularly the Hellenistic and Jerusalem Jews) caused schisms, and then the growth of various heresies over the next three hundred or so years of history.

It is also worth noting that the Essenes movement (prior to Christ) also believed in Communal living and that the end times were here, and this may have played a part in the early development of the Church in Jerusalem.

In fact is was expected that those in the commune give everything to the Church. One story is told in Acts 5 about Ananias and his wife Sapphira. Apparently they sold a piece of property, gave some of the money to the Church, but told everyone they had given all. Peter was very grave about this saying that Ananias had not just lied to the apostles, but to God. Ananias and his wife then died on the spot for putting the Spirit of the Lord to the test. Why did this happen?

This is one of those passages that gives me pause. It doesn't seem to jive with everything else that had happened from the birth of Christ to the formation of the Church in Jerusalem. The only thing I can think of is that this happened so God could show the people that this Church was real, the Holy Spirit was real, and they were not just playing at creating something new. The passage goes on to state that a "great fear seized the whole church and all who heard of these things." The word fear is not a true translation of the ancient Hebrew/Aramaic as I understand it. It does mean fear, but it also means respect and honor. I wonder if the tale of Ananias and his wife was really a "course correction" for the early church?

More to come...