Conform me this morning Jesus to your image….
“They are all zealous for the law, and they have been told about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or walk according to our customs…”(Acts 21:.20-21)
Again, Gods timing is amazing! This chapter I am reading this morning fits perfectly into where I am at in changes taking place both at ODC and Toney UMC.
In Acts 21 Paul returns to Jerusalem and spends time with James and the council telling them all the great things God has been doing in his ministry. They spend a few moments to praise God for these things, but then they push on through it to the more important issue to them: which was not the divine workings of Jesus through the Holy Spirit, but man made workings of their traditions, sentimental items, and customs.
The Christian church had been established in Jerusalem for many years now and existed in relative peace with the Jews there. Paul however, a Christian comes to the church in Jerusalem and all the Jews want to beat him and stone him. And the Christian church itself in Jerusalem brought charges up against Paul. Why? Why do they want to stone Peter and yet leave James and the council and church in Jerusalem alone? All were followers of Christ.
Because the church in Jerusalem still followed the law of Moses. These Jewish Christians remained close to and kept their Jewish practices, customs, traditions, sentimental items, and “way things have always been done” after becoming believers. They may have believed differently, but they “blended in” with non-Christians enough to be ”ok” in their eyes.
Paul however, proclaimed a gospel of the free grace of God and forgiveness to all. He may have been ok if he stuck to proclaiming that Gentiles did not need to follow Jewish customs and traditions first in order to become Christians. But he started “meddling” and went farther than that. The big issue and charge was that Paul was also teaching the Jews in the Diaspora (Jews dispersed in other regions and countries) that became Christians that they also may abandon the law of Moses and being bound to its required practices, customs, holidays, and traditions. It was not Paul’s “meddling” with God that got him in trouble, it was his meddling in church practices, traditions, “look”, style, and sentimental attachments that riled the Jews up enough to want him dead.
We in the church today get riled up in the same way over things other than the Jesus. When I pastored a local church, one Sunday I moved the altar from behind the altar rail you kneel at to in front of the rail for a sermon on the Lord’s Supper I was doing that day. I was practically charged with committing heresy for doing it! One Sunday I read the Scriptures from my cell phone and two people left the church because I did not read from leather and paper. Our house church meets on Wednesday and Monday evenings. When I tell people this I do not know how many people reply back to me in shock, “You do not meet on Sunday mornings?!?” We are in the process of renovating our sanctuary at the church I am at now and the main issues and “touchy conversations” center around replacing the “original pews” and modifying the altar railing.
The church in Jerusalem praised God and wanted Paul to continue efforts to make disciples that imitate Christ, however that praise stopped when he did not follow their traditions and “way of doing things.” The disciples he was making disciples did not imitate them as well so they wanted to stone him and take him out. In most churches today this attitude, if not openly declared, is firmly instilled in the polity and DNA of the church. We want you to make new disciples that conform to the image of Christ, so long as they conform to our polity, practices, customs, church structure, and traditions as well. Or else the church will overtly or covertly make it known to you that you have crossed the line.
To Paul, all these other things he denounced as a departure from the purity of the gospel: of keeping the priority of Christ Crucified, Christ Risen and the forgiveness of sins. Of Simply Jesus. His purpose and outlook was not looking back and keeping things the same to imitate the church in the past, but looking forward to what changes needed to be made to grow the church in the future.
Pray over your personal relationship with Jesus. Are there any religious practices you are clinging to, or more importantly requiring others to cling to was well? Are your steadfast in your obedience to Scripture and Christ, yet flexible enough to allow, accept and even join in with others who’s practices and customs differ from yours. Are open to change in from “the way things have always been done?” Paul was flexible enough to worship with Jewish Christians and gentile Christians, and to change styles and formats to grow God’s church, are you?
Pray over any past or current areas in you faith where you have shown prejudice resisted fellowship with, or been hostile towards other Christians, leaders or churches not over going against Scriptures and Jesus’ Gospel of Grace, But because of a difference of personal practices, customs, or traditions. In Jesus’ name. Please pray the same for me. God bless you my friends!
Please share your reflections on chapter 21 with us. in the comments box below.
Gary Liederbach- Lead Follower
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