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The Jerusalem Church (4)

The church started with the notion of “no one said anything he owned was his own,” where needs were being met daily in a timely fashion, to in time missing the needs of some, either through overlooking a segment of folks who had developed a need (which is largely what happens today), or when some of the charity or sources of charity within the congregation no longer could maintain the level of support necessary to include everyone. Whatever may have been the cause, it ended up with some people whose needs were not being met and who were then being overlooked. When that happened they cried out in complaint to the apostles for assistance.

Can you imagine how this might be handled today? One cultural group has a problem in a mixed and diverse congregation, and a very large congregation at that, of the size of which we understand nothing. This was a congregation in which folks could not possibly have known every person who was a member just because of the sheer numbers — where groups of Christians had to have been strangers to one another. Add to this that there were only a few places that such a large group could even meet in Jerusalem and none of them were indoors; there were only the areas surrounding the Temple and on the outside of the Court of the Temple and the Roman circus, and none of these was built to house a body of this size comfortably.

As an aside, there is not a hint of truth to the notion that they met in several houses — the text says they went from house to house, teaching and taking their meals, but nowhere does it say they met as the church that way, nor does it ever imply that they ever met as the church in small satellite assemblies — rather it always implies that they all met together as a church publicly — which is after all what the word translated “church” means: a public assembly of purpose.

Can you imagine the logistical problems of dealing with the sheer numbers and the needs of such a group? Now add to this the rather small problem of a not very popular group having a very public difficulty and you then have all the makings you need for trouble, and a fine opportunity for a quarrel and heated discord.

I could line up on one side and someone else on the other and we could set up debates and write papers to publish our views and we could seek to convert disciples to our side. We could establish and organize in opposition. I would start with the accusation: “This is what happened,” and the other could say, “It’s not true.” Then you would have all you need for division and disorder. What if, in this case, the apostles had complained that their honesty and integrity had been called into question? They too could have acted just like brethren might today — but then we would not have a model for the perfect church, would we?

The record in Acts 6: 2 says that the apostles “called the multitude of disciples together.” This confirms what I just said about how they met and it also serves to lay to rest the tradition of the men’s business meeting. Is it not interesting how the word of God teaches so much by saying so little?

What happened next is that the apostles proposed and the congregation disposed. They said, “Choose out from among you seven men” of the given qualifications they listed. This was to allow that the things being left off could be taken care of and without the apostles having to leave the duty of teaching to take care of it themselves. Who is it that was chosen? Interestingly enough they are all Greek men (of Jewish descent) who met the qualifications.

There is not a single Hebrew name among them: Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, Nicolas, and Stephen. It seems the majority party selected men from the offended class: the minority party. This certainly helped to diffuse any smoldering disputes in a deluge of generosity. And some would say that there is no pattern to things.