Life with God: Week 11 – the Fellowship of the Saints

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Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews.  But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists also, preaching the Lord Jesus.  And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord.  The report of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch.  When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose, for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord.  So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.

Now in these days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch.  And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius).  So the disciples determined, everyone according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea.  And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul.
– Acts 11:19-30

 

“In the world there must bee of all sorts.” [1620 T. Shelton tr. Cervantes’ Don Quixote ii. vi.]

 

 

    You’ve heard the saying: “it takes all kinds…”. Now you know where it came from. Don Quixote, by Miguel de Cervantes: one of the earliest novels written. Written between 1605 and 1615 AD, it tells the story of a man who dreams of being a knight in shining armor, but whose actual adventures end up being a bit closer to a Saturday Night Live skit. Well maybe a bunch of skits because it’s a long book, full of many epic misadventures. The quote comes from one of the many places in the book where Quixote’s friends are trying to talk some sense into him and let him know that the age of knights riding off on grand adventures have passed and that knights can do good work at home as well… but Don Quixote tells them that it takes all kinds (of knights), and some of them are made to be constantly on the move, in the sun, rain, and snow, and always looking for a new adventure. This is of course implying that, while it may be okay for some knights to sit at home, but not for Quixote. He’s the one that always has to be looking for trouble.

    Churches, like armies of knights, also take all types. Also, as in Don Quixote, there are sometimes people in churches that seem to intentionally look for trouble… people who, when things get stirred up, seem to always be near the center of the mess. People like Barnabas – who stood up and vouched for a former persecutor of the church… a man who stood by approvingly, while Barnabas’s friend Stephen was beaten to death with rocks. Letting someone like that in the doors of the Church is just asking for trouble, and yet, Barnabas took Saul by the hand and led him in, standing as his defender against the criticism and concerns of the Apostles. People like Barnabas who, upon hearing that the Gentiles are receiving the Holy Spirit as well as Jews, do not stop to think about the implications of inviting uncircumcised former pagans (and even Roman soldiers) to fellowship and eat with, pray beside, and even celebrate communion with, will have on the very young and very fragile community of believers. People who seem to have a nose for trouble and lack the sense to stay out of it. And yet… and yet… and yet… the in the whole New Testament, only Barnabas was ever called “a good man“, and he joins the ranks of Stephen, Philip, and a few others, as being described as “full of the Holy Spirit”. I can recall a person trying to call Jesus Himself “good teacher” to which Jesus remarked that only God is good – so for Barnabas to be called “a good man” is a steep compliment.

    The Church also took people like Peter, who had to be told over and over and over again until he finally understood – and even then, sometime he would “forget”. Three times Jesus told him he was going to be crucified in Jerusalem and rise on the third day, and Peter didn’t understand or believe it until it actually happened. He swore up and down that he could never deny Jesus, and yet he did that three times. Three times Jesus asked him, if he truly loved Him, to feed his sheep. Three times, God sent Peter a vision telling him that whatever God made clean could not be called unclean, regardless of tradition and past teaching, and Peter would still struggle with this later in the life of the Church. It was upon this slow learner that Christ bestowed the keys of the Kingdom and said, upon this rock He would build the Church and the gates of hell could not stand against it.

    Let’s not forget Saul/Paul, probably the biggest name in the book of Acts and of much of the New Testament. From the church’s perspective, he was considered a menace, conspirator, and murderer of people just for following Jesus. He was a Pharisee, one of the groups of Jews that the Christians, and Jesus Himself had problems with, and a Roman citizen as well – giving him political ties with the nation holding Israel under oppression. He had no credentials for starting churches or teaching in them since He never met or followed Jesus in the days that Jesus was alive on earth, unlike the other, more than 100 disciples there at Pentecost. Why would anyone let this man come near their church?

    These are just the top names mentioned in Acts and do not account for the beggars, tax collectors, former lepers, prostitutes, and other unsavory type characters that made up the early Church. Indeed, who is to say that Paul himself was not the first to write about it taking all types, when he wrote about the Body of Christ having many members. Maybe he even got that idea from Barnabas, whose actions certainly seemed to support that belief. Perhaps it was Peter, in his slow processing of the experiences he had with God finally realized it. Regardless of who discovered it first, it remains true both then and today: it takes all types to make a church.

    We rejoice because of that, for one set of gifts cannot take care of all the work there is to do. We also have confidence in our diversity, knowing that Christ calls us all individually, and if He didn’t have a reason for us being part of His church, we wouldn’t be there. There is a place and purpose for all of us in God’s Kingdom, and God will guide us to it, if we will only seek Him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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