Acts 21: 17 When we (Luke and Paul) arrived in Jerusalem, the brothers welcomed us warmly. 18 The next day Paul went with us to visit James; and all the elders were present. 19 After greeting them, he related one by one the things that God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. 20 When they heard it, they praised God. Then they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands of believers there are among the Jews, and they are all zealous for the law. 21 They have been told about you that you teach all the Jews living among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, and that you tell them not to circumcise their children or observe the customs. 22 What then is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come.”
This passage illustrates the continued process by which the new Gentile (non-Jewish) Christian community negotiated its relationship with Jewish Christians – who continued to observe the law of Moses.
This was Paul’s second visit to the council in Jerusalem. During his first visit, the council agreed that Gentile believers would not be required to uphold the Jewish law (Acts 15). This was not an easy position for Jewish Christian leaders to accept, but Paul was persuasive and won the day. However, there had since arisen rumors that Paul had been teaching Jewish Christians they should stop observing the law of Moses or having their children circumcised. Not cool. This was a false accusation, but it certainly stirred up resentment toward Paul among the Jewish Christians living in Israel.
So, why should we care about this episode?
What we have here is a Jewish communty struggling to retain its identity as God is doing things outside the box. New expressions of faith have always been hard to swallow for those raised in a “traditional” culture. Affirming the new emerging culture can feel like rejection of the old. A similar dynamic is playing out in the church in our day.
Some of you may feel like the church culture which nurtured and formed you, which has been a blessing to you over many years, is being rejected for something new. You may feel slighted or taken for granted. You may be thinking, “Don’t people remember who built this church?” It can seem like you’re being tossed aside like yesterday’s news.
Please understand that affirming the new does not mean rejecting the old. The truth is, without innovation, the church you love may have no future.
For those of us who are church leaders, we need to be sensitive to those among us who value “traditional” expressions. How do we continue to invest in the church we’ve inherited while opening ourselves to new cultural expressions – at the same time?
It’s not easy.
Heavenly Father, you are always doing a new thing, yet that doesn’t mean we’re always ready to follow where you lead. Give us grace to skillfully negotiate a way forward that values what has been, while being open to what is emerging. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.