11 June 2013Acts 11:19-30
“When he came and saw the grace of God, he rejoiced, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast devotion.” (v. 23)
This passage speaks about the effects of the persecution following the death of Stephen (Acts 7:59-60) in spreading the believers to distant places, whilst the verses after this passage speak about continuing persecutions and their consequences. The passage comes after Peter has reported to the Jerusalem church his experiences of Gentiles (non Jews) coming to faith in Joppa with the Holy Spirit being given to those who were not circumcised (Acts 11:1-18). The passage itself reminds us of the debate within the Church about whether the gospel (good news about Jesus) was for Jews only and if not, whether Gentile converts should be circumcised. Luke (the author of Acts) describes the hand of the Lord being with those who proclaim the gospel to the Gentiles and how when Barnabas is sent, he saw "the grace of God". Here Luke is making a point about salvation being through the grace of God rather than through obedience to the law.
In verse 26 the term 'Christian' was first used to describe the disciples in Antioch. Before this the disciples had generally been known as 'followers of the way' (eg Acts 9:2). There is a lot of coming and going in these verses with people travelling to and from Jerusalem. In verse 27 we are told that there is a prophecy given by Agabus from Jerusalem about a famine, which Luke says was fulfilled during the reign of Claudius. We then notice that the disciples decide to support the church in Judea in a bid not just to be compassionate but also to keep up the lines of communication open. The support is mutual.
We can see that the Church is still in the process of defining itself by asking these questions: Who can be a member? What should identify members in terms of practice (ie circumcision or not)? What should we call ourselves? How should we organise ourselves and keep in touch? All of these are basic and fundamental questions and they demonstrate the struggles going on within the fledgling Church.
- Should the Methodist Church change its name? If so, to what? If not, why not?
- The hymn for today ("Come, all who look to Christ today") suggested in the Methodist Prayer Handbook speaks of a welcoming church for all. What should this mean, and how far from this are we?