Monday, January 28, 2013

A Strange Fellowship

One time I was at a pizza parlor and in walked a group of about ten people.  I tend to be a people watcher, so I looked at this group.  It immediately struck me that there was something strange about them.  So I kept looking to see what it could be.

It wasn't long before I was able to see that no two people in this group seemed to "go together."  There were no similarities that I could use to put a label on things.  It wasn't a group of three women with Gucci bags talking about where they got their last mani-pedi.  It wasn't a couple of dudes wearing the same team's jerseys getting a seat for the game that would be on TV.  They didn't have conference nametags on, and it wasn't a sports team in uniform.  It seemed a random collection of ages, clothing styles, hairstyles, economic status, etc.

It finally occurred to me that this group was probably a Christian church group.  Later on, I heard several of them talking about a bible study and things that were happening at church.  I had correctly identified them.

When I look back over my church life, I am sometimes amazed at who my friends have been.  In many cases, I see really nothing in common with those people short of being in Christ with them.  And that's the thing that overrides other things.  We then have found new things to do in common.  Things that I wouldn't do with other people more like me.

Not only are many of these people those who have minimal things in common with me, they aren't "normal" people in the usual sense of the word.  They aren't the types of personalities that I might wish I kept company with even if they did have much in common with me.  Many of them are altogether strange.  Of course, they might think the same of me if they really sat down to ponder it.  But that's the beauty of fellowship with those people we simply know as "Christians."  This alone should tell us that it is a work of God.  We certainly wouldn't have planned it this way.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

When Paul Reviled the High Priest

"And Paul, looking intently at the Council, said, 'Brethren, I have lived my life with a perfectly good conscience before God up to this day.'  And the high priest Ananias commanded those standing beside him to strike him on the mouth.  Then Paul said to him, 'God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall!  And do you sit to try me according to the Law, and in violation of the Law order me to be struck?' But the bystanders said, 'Do you revile God's high priest?' And Paul said, 'I was not aware, brethren, that he was high priest; for it is written, 'You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.'"  Acts 23:1-5

This passage is one that I occasionally think about, and wonder at the common interpretation.  The only way I've ever heard this passage interpreted is that Paul rebukes the high priest, which is a sin, and is corrected by the bystanders.  Paul then realizes his sin and apologizes, quoting the scripture that applies to his sin.  But something has never set right with me in terms of Paul's "apology."  It simply doesn't seem like an apology.  And something else caused me to come up with an altogether different interpretation.

This something else is when Paul says, "I was not aware, brethren, that he was high priest."  In the very next verse Paul says this: "But perceiving that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, Paul began crying out in the Council, 'Brethren, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees; I am on trial for the hope and resurrection of the dead!" Acts 23:6

Now, here's where things don't add up.  Paul claims to not know that Ananias was high priest.  Huh?  How could a Pharisee not know who the high priest was?  That seems pretty much impossible.  It would be like saying that retired Gen. Colin Powell wouldn't know who the president was.  I think Paul new exactly who the high priest was and that the man who issued the order was he.

I think far more likely is that when Paul said he wasn't aware that this man was high priest, he was giving a sarcastic jab to the high priest.  To put it in modern American English terms, Paul was in effect saying, "This joker is high priest?  Coulda fooled me!"  Nothing about this man or how he acted could give anybody a clue that he was God's high priest apart from being told about it.  He was so far out of character as to be unrecognizable as a priest.

I'm wondering if this interpretation would be overlooked by many who feel that an apostle would have such "respect for authority" that he would never say such a thing in that way to a high priest.  But in light of the words Jesus had for the religious leaders, I would suspect his apostle wouldn't be too unchristlike if he followed suit.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Are You "Divisive?"

"Division does not immediately come from disagreement but rather from those who take action upon it." - Kevin Johnson

I've heard countless times from church leaders that to disagree with the pastor/church/doctrinal statement, etc., means one is "divisive."  Holding to beliefs other than the official beliefs of the church is viewed as very problematic, no matter how much a hero Martin Luther is to them in holding to beliefs other than the official beliefs of the Roman Catholic church - an act and an attitude that started the Protestant Reformation - to which they heartily agree.

As you can gather from the above quote, division is caused by people taking action on disagreement.  Divisiveness is the state of causing division.  If I disagree with my church about something, but I resign myself to attending there in spite of my difference, I am not causing division.  I am helping the body remain intact as one.  On the other hand, if I disagree with my church about something, and they ask me to leave, the church is the one that is causing division.  They are dividing me from them.

Of course, there may be a good reason for the church to divide from an individual - such as a failure of church discipline to bring about repentance for a sin committed.  But simple disagreement over a doctrinal issue doesn't necessarily imply that disagreement is sinful.  So, to divide over such a thing, and to be somebody who has a habit of dividing over such things, is what division and divisiveness are.

In addition, to "cause division," as many like to put it, I would have to recruit somebody to my cause and sway them to divide from others.  This is what it means to cause division.  Merely disagreeing with church leaders is not in and of itself the causing of division.  Realizing that there may be others who disagree also and hold to the same view as you and having lengthy discussions with those people is not causing division, either.

So, whenever I hear references to causing division or to divisiveness, I try to make sure just who it is who is doing such things, if they are doing those things at all.