A reading, a reflection, and a prayer
Acts 15: 22 – 35
Then the apostles and the elders, with the consent of the whole church, decided to choose men from among their members and to send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They sent Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leaders among the brothers, with the following letter: ‘The brothers, both the apostles and the elders, to the believers of Gentile origin in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia, greetings. Since we have heard that certain persons who have gone out from us, though with no instructions from us, have said things to disturb you and have unsettled your minds, we have decided unanimously to choose representatives and send them to you, along with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, who have risked their lives for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will tell you the same things by word of mouth. For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to impose on you no further burden than these essentials: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from fornication. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.’ So they were sent off and went down to Antioch. When they gathered the congregation together, they delivered the letter. When its members read it, they rejoiced at the exhortation. Judas and Silas, who were themselves prophets, said much to encourage and strengthen the believers. After they had been there for some time, they were sent off in peace by the believers to those who had sent them. But Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, and there, with many others, they taught and proclaimed the word of the Lord.
When I first worked for Cytûn, I was asked by a fellow URC minister, who seemed surprised by my appointment, “Doesn’t it require tact and diplomacy?” “Indeed it does,” I said. “I see,” came the reply, “I must say I had not noticed these gifts in your ministry hitherto.”
I wonder what Christians in Antioch thought of Paul arriving to exercise his hitherto unnoticed gifts of tact and diplomacy on the subject of Gentile Christians’ obedience to the Jewish law? Paul had observed to the Galatians (5.12) that he hoped that those who advocated circumcision for all male Christians would go the whole way and castrate themselves. The church in Antioch had reason to be apprehensive about this pastoral visitation.
I remember, prior to my ordination, a Church District Council visitation to the church where I was a member criticising the choice of hymns in the worship they attended – led by a minister who was a noted musician! The visitation did not end well. Nor did the visitation to my own pastorate which came armed with the message from District that my expenses arrangements should be improved.
But Paul, Barnabas, Judas and Silas make a better District Council visitation group. They have come with a compromise to unite Jewish and Gentile Christians – abstain from food proffered to idols, from food containing blood and from fornication. Everything else is between you and God. The members in Antioch rejoiced.
How wise of Paul and his friends to stick to the bare essentials and allow the congregation to decide the rest under God. How wonderful it would be if the councils of our church could follow their example.
Lord Jesus, you call people of all races and nations to your Church:
may we make this not a cause of tension but an enriching experience for all.
You call people of all temperaments and gifts to your Church:
may we not misunderstand one another, but rather cause each other to rejoice.
You call people to share in leading and governing your Church,
locally, regionally and nationally:
give them tact, diplomacy and wisdom.