Thursday: Conflict Within the Church

Of course, nothing human is perfect, and it wasn’t long before trouble began within the early community of faith.

For starters, not everyone was pleased with the entry of Gentile believers into the early church. The disagreement was not over the concept of a Gentile mission, but over the basis on which Gentiles should be allowed to join. Some felt that faith in Jesus alone was not sufficient as the defining mark of the Christian; faith, they argued, must be supplemented with circumcision and obedience to the law of Moses. To be a true Christian, they asserted, Gentiles needed to be circumcised. (We can, in Acts 10:1–11:18, see the extent of the division between Jews and Gentiles through Peter’s experience with Cornelius and the reaction that followed.)

The official visits from Jerusalem, which monitored Philip’s work among the Samaritans (Acts 8:14) and the work with Gentiles in Antioch (Acts 11:22), may suggest some concern about the inclusion of non-Jews in the Christian community. Yet, the reaction to Peter’s baptism of Cornelius, an uncircumcised Roman soldier, is a clear example of the disagreement that existed on the Gentile question among the earlier believers. The inclusion of an occasional Gentile such as Cornelius may have made some feel uncomfortable, but Paul’s intentional efforts to open wide the doors of the church for Gentiles on the basis of faith in Jesus alone resulted in deliberate attempts by some to undermine Paul’s ministry.

How did certain believers from Judea try to counteract Paul’s work with Gentile Christians in Antioch? Acts 15:1–5

Although the Jerusalem Council, in Acts 15, ultimately sided with Paul on the issue of circumcision, the opposition to Paul’s ministry continued. About seven years later, during Paul’s final visit to Jerusalem, many were still suspicious about Paul’s gospel. In fact, when Paul visited the temple, he nearly lost his life when Jews from Asia cried out, “Men of Israel, help: This is the man, that teacheth all men every where against the people, and the law, and this place” (Acts 21:28; see also 21:20, 21).

Put yourself in the position of these Jewish believers who were concerned about Paul’s teaching. Why do their concern and opposition make some sense? What can we learn from this about how our own preconceived ideas, as well as cultural (and even religious) notions, can lead us astray? How can we learn to protect ourselves from making the same kind of errors, no matter how well-intentioned we are?



Thursday: Conflict Within the Church — 5 Comments

  1. I was reading the bible chapter that speak about Cornelius and the conversion of the other gentiles. Why after they were converted in the house they were speaking in tongues?

      • I don't lay claim to exhaustiveness on that one, but it does help to read the book of Acts itself! The picture we have is of an entirely Jewish church, centred on Jerusalem. Come chapter 6 we have the first problem: the widows of Hellenistic(Greek-speaking) Jews feel they are being overlooked, and the apostles(who had, one assumes, overseen this) recognise that they have to devolve power down. Result: the ordination of the seven deacons(chapter 6). After persecution sets in there is some scattering of the believers, but what outreach they do is to Jews, or to those of Jewish connection such as the Samaritans and the Ethiopian eunuch(chapter 8).
        Now for Cornelius! His sole connection with the Jewish church was his generosity and the fact that he prayed to the true God - how he learned of him is not stated. Chapter 10 is devoted to Peter's call to come and instruct Cornelius - and note the sign needed to assure Peter that he wasn't jumping too far ahead. It is at v.44 that we find mention of the Holy Spirit descenting on the listeners and their speaking in tongues; this is said to astonish those who had come with Peter, 'men of Jewish birth'(NEB).
        Put simply, the professing church even with the apostles around, needed more than the odd nudge to get it to fulfil its worldwide commission: it wasn't, and couldn't be a matter of preach to the Jews, and that's the job done. A lesson for us still!

        • I Cor 14:22... Some jewish christians were yet to appreciate that the wall of partition had been broken down and that in Christ Jesus, there is neither jew nor gentile. The fact that gentiles could also speak in tongues was a sign to them who were still in doubt. As a follow-up to Peter's vision of unclean meats, this further demonstrated that both jews and gentiles had the same standing before God based on their faith.

    • Hi Oliver, I did a little research and personally am convinced that the speaking in tongues (other languages) was where the spirit allowed the men of God to speak and many heard and also the men of God were able to understand those who spoke back. I think the key is to read (As suggested by Barry) the whole of Acts 2 and also read 2 Cor 12-14. I was a little unsure when I read 2 Cor 14:1-5 but the Holy Spirit impressed me with a clearer meaning, when I began looking at several translations here:

      I hold the philosophy that a total study of the subject would warrant one to believe that the speaking of tongues was a gift that the Holy Spirit gave to the disciples and those surrounding as a form of edification that allowed the Early church to demonstrate that they were connected with God and that many could hear the word. I personally believe that God is a God of purpose and order and there is not enough evidence in the pre and post Christ to support that men spoke to God directly in a strange tongue (a language not unique to the earth). Were you able to read more on the issue? What are your thoughts?


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