Friday, April 23, 2010

The Ugly Side of Acts 6

It’s been a while since I’ve written a Bible or church related post. I don’t count my spiritual work post because it was about general spirituality.

The church we’d been going to the last 8 years appointed deacons two or three times in that period. As the church identified the need for new deacons and ramped up into eventual nomination, topical sermons were preached. Acts 6 always came up in those sermon series. I imagine it’s the same in most churches that have to appoint new servants.

The sermons usually centered around the need to appoint deacons so that the apostles can attend to higher priorities. It’s kind of like how Moses let himself get bogged down in judging every Israelite case of “He stole my chicken!” rather than leading them through the desert like he was supposed to.

In the church, we sometimes seem to have too high a view of those who came before us. We figure if they at least got an honorable mention in the Bible, then they were like totally holy and didn’t struggle with the same things we do. We seem to think the same about our leaders today. Hey, if he’s the pastor, surely he’s holier than me. Otherwise I’d be the pastor.

That’s not the case. Not in the least.

The landscape of society is littered with souls who make claims about churches they’ve attended. We’ve all heard them, churchgoer and anti-churchgoer alike: “Yeah, I tried going to a few churches, but everyone was phony. They weren’t really nice to me. They just wanted my money.” “I tried to go to a church, but everybody there knew each other and there wasn’t room for a new person.”

I’ve heard all kinds of stories like that.

But I’ve also seen things in the church. I’ve seen the results of human nature. Normally nothing bad, but we’re human. Cliques form, and favoritism reigns in some churches. Ok, it reigns in all of them to differing degrees.

I can hardly claim innocence though. I have friends, and I have people I’m not that friendly with. There are people who aren’t friendly toward me. In the church, we’re called to love one another, but does that mean we have to like each other the same amount? I don’t think that love and like are the same thing.

With that groundwork laid, let’s check out Acts 6. I personally use the ESV for study, but I use the King James for posting because there’s no copyright to worry about:
1 And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration. 

The Holy Bible : King James Version. 1995 (electronic ed. of the 1769 edition of the 1611 Authorized Version.). Bellingham WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

This is in the early church, and it takes place in Jerusalem. Let’s not forget that the first Christians were Jews. The Messiah is a Jew. The Apostle Paul was a Jew. Every writer of the New Testament with the possible exception of Luke was Jewish. Let’s not forget that. But we’re not talking about “carbon copies”. This verse deals with 2 distinct camps: the Hebrews and the Grecians (or Hellenists).

I shouldn’t have to explain what a Hebrew is to you. If you’ve made it this far into this post, I’m assuming that you already have that background knowledge. (Hint, it’s a Jew). But the Grecians (Hellenists) being referred to were also Jews.

What? Following is a very condensed history, written largely off the top of my head. It is not meant to be exhaustive.

The nation of Israel was conquered by the Assyrian Empire and scattered during the days of Hezekiah. That’s when the “Angel of the Lord” slew 180,000 Assyrian soldiers while they tried laying siege to Jerusalem. About 150 years later, the nation of Judah was conquered by Babylon’s King Nebuchadnezzar (I typed it right on the first try without Spell Check’s help!). Some Jews, like Jeremiah, were allowed to stay behind while many were carried off into captivity. Then, Persia led by Cyrus, conquered Babylon.

The Jews were allowed by Cyrus to return. Many remained in Babylon, but some returned with Ezra the priest. Later, Nehemiah came and started rebuilding the wall. It’s kind of hard to build a temple when you can be attacked by anybody at any time because you don’t have any defensive fortifications.

Then Alexander-the-greatest-butt-kicker-who-ever-lived conquered Persia. He gave the world a common language and culture: Greek. He conquered it, so he got to make that decision. During this time period, many Jews adopted the Greek language, lifestyle, and customs.

That’s where we find ourselves in Acts 6. Apparently, the Hellenists were being neglected. I like to think of this as the first documented case of favoritism within the church. Or the first case of a clique forming within the church. And I’ve never heard this brought up in a sermon on deacon selection. I have heard this in a few places, and the MacArthur Study Bible backs me up. The ESV Study Bible touches on the issue but assumes the best intentions, which is probably a good tactic. By the way, if you’re interested in either of these fine resources (two of my favorites and most-used), you can buy them from my Amazon affiliation. The FCC requires that I mention I would receive compensation if you buy them this way, but it won’t affect the price you pay.

In closing, 2000 years ago, the church dealt with the same issues we’re going through now. This was in the days when the people who personally knew Jesus were still leading. The church is no more perfect today because it’s still made up of fallible people.
Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
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