Ever since the dawn of its existence, the church has been busy arguing about what’s essential to the Christian faith and what isn’t. This wasn’t too hard to figure out when the church was entirely Jewish, because they all knew what it meant to be a good Jew. From a Jewish perspective they just had to adjust their theology to seeing Jesus as the prophesied Messiah and understand what he had done for them. But once the Holy Spirit started saving and baptizing non-Jewish people, these Christian Jews started to get confused about the rules. Sure, non-Jewish people might be able to think like them about Jesus, but were they willing to live like them? Would they abide by their laws and customs?
Soon, different parties/denominations within the church arose. One of those parties claimed that you couldn’t really be a Christian unless you were circumcised, because that was a physical mark that God’s true people had always carried. But this requirement didn’t line up with the evangelistic experiences of the apostles and so they told their stories to the Jewish Church. They explained that they had seen non-Jewish people baptized in the Holy Spirit, even though they weren’t circumcised. They explained how the Holy Spirit had worked in them to perform many signs and wonders among non-Jewish people and how all kinds of people with different rules and customs were being saved by God. And so the apostles contended with the church that the Jewish act of circumcision was not essential to the faith.
The church continues to fight today about what’s crucial to the faith and what’s not. On one hand, this can be tedious and tiresome because there are many things we fight about that just aren’t important enough to argue about. Nobody thinks the same and we should be okay with minor theological differences in the church. But on the other hand, there are important church issues that come up that are worth talking about and sorting out. For example, if the apostles hadn’t made their points clear about circumcision, I bet the church would have had a hard time reaching many men throughout the centuries.
At church last night we sang songs of repentance and then opened up the mic in between songs for anyone to come and repent either on behalf of our church or the American church. The first person to take the mic was a brave visitor who felt the conviction to repent on behalf of the division in the church and how denominations tend to judge one another for their differences. This was a great start to the night and right in line with much of what I’ve tried to do in uniting Jackson pastors together. As a Free Methodist, some of my best companions in ministry are Baptist, Nazarene, Wesleyan, non-denominational, and the like. Using the Bible as our guide, we’re united on the core beliefs of Christianity and branch off on other things. Such diversity and understanding is expected to be found within the church. Figuring out what’s worth fighting about takes discernment. But honestly, if you always come to the table with love, respect and dignity, theology becomes a conversation. And when you are just having a conversation with a friend, you begin to realize what’s really worth fighting about and what’s not.
*This devotional was created out of the themes of Acts 15:1-21 found in today’s reading at CommonPrayer.net.