June 7, 2013

Big Change in the Early Church

As I’ve said before, the biggest question that faced the early church and threatened to tear it apart was what to do with Gentile converts. The Jewish elements within the Church insisted that Gentile followers keep the full Jewish Law, just as Jesus had and just as they did. Kosher laws, circumcision—everything about the Jewish tradition was to be kept strictly and faithfully. Hadn’t Jesus Himself said, “Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have not come to abolish them, but to fulfill them. For truly I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished” (Matt 5:17-18)?

Peter’s experience with the Gentile Cornelius (Acts 10-11) placed a question mark over this position. Then the experience of Paul and Barnabas with Gentile converts added to the questioning. And it all came to a head in the council in Jerusalem described here in Acts 15, where there was “much debate.” Peter argued that the old ways no longer applied. And in any case, the old ways had been virtually impossible for even Jews to fulfill. “Now therefore, why do you make trial of God by putting a yoke upon the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?” (Acts 15:10). He went on to insist that the coming of Jesus had brought in a new order that made obsolete much of the past tradition. He argued for a much simpler faith centered now on the saving work of Jesus that applies equally to Jews and Gentiles. “But we believe that we shall be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will” (Acts 15:11).

Apostle James
Apostle James at Jerusalem Council

When the council’s debate and dissension were over, James, as the leader of the Jerusalem community, and who himself sympathized with the Jewish Christian position, summarized the discussion and gave his own recommendation, that aside from a few basic stipulations (see Acts 15:20-21), “We should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God.”

This was accepted by the body as a whole, and the decision was promulgated, but not without much continuing dissent from conservative Jewish Christians who believed in upholding the full Jewish law. For many decades this huge change in practice was a source of tension and division. But convinced that they were acting under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, Peter, Paul, James and the early church set aside this tradition for the sake of opening the full life of the Church to as many as would receive the saving message of Christ.

Chancery Update

Yesterday was a busy day at the Chancery. His Beatitude is still in France on vacation visiting his family, but Father Eric, Melanie and I reached him for a brief call to update him on various matters.

Andrew Boyd
Andrew Boyd

Our highly-valued and much-liked Executive Assistant, Andrew Boyd, is leaving for an excellent position in private industry. He will continue as director of the Youth Department, but we will be advertising early next week to fill the post of Executive Assistant, who primarily works as secretary to the Metropolitan.

The Sexual Misconduct Policy Advisory Committee (SMPAC) is working on final redrafting of the OCA’s policies in this area following the Holy Synod’s review and recommendations for changes.

Chancery officers met in a conference call with Father David Garettson, chair of the Metropolitan Council’s Human Resources Committee, to go over staffing and budget issues.

Maureen Ahearn (Pension Plan Administrator) and Jessica Linke (Chancery Assistant) had birthdays this week so yesterday we gathered around the kitchen table for “many years,” “happy birthday” and a cake.