i was reading a post from one of my links about the emerging(ent) church and he mentioned in passing the importance of Acts 15 to the early church. it occurred to me that our church community is having an Acts 15 moment right now. in quick review Acts 15 is the Council of Jerusalem where Paul argues that the church is about freedom and Jewish law should not be imposed on the Gentiles in any form. he had to cross tongues with many leaders in the early church and eventually gained the support of Peter (after his Cornelius vision).
there is a bit of a "schism" after this and Paul and Barnabas break some new ground based on the freedom of grace amongst the Gentiles. the church of the time now changes drastically with this chapter in Acts. the church becomes a church and no longer just a Jewish sect. i say that by no means intending to distance myself from Jews because Jesus is a Jew, i only mean to say that the freedom gained for believers in Acts 15 has rolled out over the centuries so that grace continues to be paramount and law ... is not.
our community struggles with what we have called the "Ways to belong" discussion. some would very much like to allow for more to "belong" in our circle in the various ways that their lives dictate they can belong. we are very intentional, we are very accountable, and we have a high standard of behaviour. we ask that our members commit to the group and then live out that commitment. that usually means that the discussion boils down to, "where is so-and-so? i haven't seen him, he hasn't been part of this discussion and he needs to be." i fully believe that we should honour our commitments, make sure you hear that. honour our commitments.
what about the couple who is being called to live and work on a farm out of town? they have a special connection to the land and they believe that God is calling them to life there that is freeing and helpful for them. are they less members of our community because they cannot be present for our discussion? no they are not. they still attend all that they CAN attend.
what about families with young kids? at least one of two parents can't be present for all discussions that happen within our membership, does that make them less members of the whole because they cannot take part in all of the discussion? no it doesn't.
what about the guy who works evenings? he can't attend and be part of the discussion but does that make him less a member of the whole? no it doesn't.
what about anyone who has any priority that gets in the way of attending? is even a superficial priority, still a priority? yes it is. does that make him less a member of the whole? no it doesn't. who decides priorities in the individual's life? the individual does. i suppose that the whole can certainly remind the individual of the commitment and ask they decide between what is superficial and what is living intentionally amongst the whole ... but in the end, the individual prioritizes.
it's astounding to me that this discussion has come down to attendance. where is the freedom? where is grace? on a regular basis we ask the membership to commit to one another and part of that commitment is to take part. if we WANT to take part but we CANNOT take part the choices either become to LIE about our commitment and then do as we can, or we have to somehow "step back" from our commitment in order to be honest with what we perceive is possible in our lives. essentially we demand that the individual lie to himself and to the whole in order to maintain their membership so that the rest can feel better about accountability to one another.
i find little freedom in the rules. i suspect that Paul and Peter didn't find freedom there either. let's be honest about our commitment to one another and be who we can be as members of the body of Christ without losing "other" priorities. we are a group who are very intentional, very intense. we are conscienable and purposeful. we also need to be honest about what we can add given the reality of our life situations. that does not take away from membership within the whole, its intent is to be more inclusive, more freeing to contribute where we can contribute. it does not hurt the whole to say that we cannot contribute in a certain area of our lives together, we just get to relax into our situation and contribute where we CAN contribute.
grace is what matters. practicing love, grace and forgiveness within the body of Christ is what matters. we have to allow people to add what they can, where they can and we cannot force a commitment that their lives will not allow them to follow through on. it'll only cause lying, guilt and resentment as we inevitably fall short and see one another fall short.
we're having our own little Council of Jerusalem. blessings on you as we struggle at this thing together.