How do you think the Early Church dealt with dispute? Well today we’re going to dig into just that! This blog post is an adaptation of a sermon I co-wrote at the beginning of June, based upon the reading: Acts 6:1-7.
Just a few weeks ago, we celebrated Pentecost, which is often considered to be the birth of the Church, when the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples, allowing them to speak in different languages and empowering them to share the good news of Jesus. You can see the events of Pentecost acted out my me and my penguin pals, in this animation from our YouTube channel:
These events caused huge numbers of people to turn to God and to be baptised. But even after this one big, important day, the church continued to grow.
As we continue reading through the book of Acts, we see the church continuing to grow in number. In these early days we see a wonderful picture portrayed of what that early church looked like, full of gathering together, praying together, sharing resources and worshipping God. This animation of the early Church based upon Acts 2:42-47 depicts this wonderful example of the Church:
But we don’t have to read much further before we see conflict arise. Like in our reading today in Acts 6.
But before we dig into this story, I wanted to challenge you all to a quiz!
Question 1. This is Alfredo Linguini, and he is a wonderful chef. But what is it that enables him to be a great chef?
Yes! Remy the rat is sat upon his head, controlling his movements and helping him to cook.
Question 2. This is Simba, from The Lion King. In this scene, he has run away from home, is starving in the desert, and is being circled by vultures. But, by the end of the film *SPOILER ALERT* he has not only survived, but defeated Scar and taken his place as King. So, what was it that enabled him to survive & go on to do all of these things?
Yes! Timon & Pumba, a fab meerkat and warthog duo, take him in, look after him, and raise him.
*takes a short break to dance to Hakuna Matata*
Question 3. This is The Doctor, from Doctor Who. Currently he is trapped inside the Pandorica. How is it that he is able to escape?
Yes! Rory uses the iconic Sonic Screwdriver to open the Pandorica and free The Doctor.
So, we can see that all of these characters were helped and empowered to do great things, by something or someone else. As Christians, we believe that the Holy Spirit, that came at Pentecost, is what helps and enables us to go out and to do wonderful things to serve God. If you want to learn more about who the Holy Spirit is, I have a blog post all about that which you can read here.
But, time to head back to our reading – and how the early Church dealt with dispute.
Our story begins with a disagreement. As the early church had begun to grow, there were lots of different people all gathering and living together. But the Hellenist Jews felt that their widows were not getting a fair share of the food that was distributed each day. So, this disagreement is bought to the attention of the 12 apostles and they need to figure out a solution.
So, what options do we have?
Well the first solution the apostles appear to consider, is how they themselves can fix the problem. Can they be the ones in charge of distributing the food, and making sure everyone gets a fair share? But they quickly come to the conclusion that this is not a good solution. The apostles know that they have been called by God to preach and to share the good news of God with those around them. They know that it would not be right for them to neglect this task in order to do something else.
It’s worth noting here that the passage does not say that this ministry of preaching was any more important than distributing food. It is just that this is not the task that God has given the apostles to do. We all have our own gifts and skills, and tasks that God has called us to do – we should focus upon these tasks rather than becoming distracted by other tasks we see around us. Because we know that we are part of the body of Christ and there is a role for each person.
It’s also worth saying, that just because the apostles were the leaders of the church, this also doesn’t mean that their job was the most important. Each part of the body needs all the other parts in order to function properly – the early church needed both preachers and distributors of food, in order to function well.
So, we can see that this job of distributing food is vitally important. But the apostles cannot do it themselves. So, they need to appoint other people to complete this job.
But this wasn’t a simple task of writing a notice for notes and news and making an announcement in the Sunday Service asking for people to volunteer. This role was vitally important and they apostles needed to choose the right people for the job.
So, who should they choose?
Should they choose the person who is controlled by a friendly rat upon their head?
Or has a Meerkat and a Warthog as friends?
Or has a sonic screwdriver to get them out of any situation?
I’m sure it won’t surprise you that the disciples didn’t use any of these techniques to choose who would be in charge of distributing food. They chose people who were “full of the Spirit and wisdom”. So, they chose 7 people: Stephen, Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicolas. 7 people who were full of the spirit and wisdom. This was the qualification that they needed for the job.
Now, we don’t know much about some of these people and what happened to them afterwards, but we do know a little about some of them. Stephen went out and told people all about Jesus and was killed for his steadfast faith. Others planted churches and shared the gospel far and wide.
They were just ordinary people, but they were full of the Spirit and wisdom. And it was this Spirit that enabled them to both distribute food and care for those in need, as well as to preach and plant churches and go out into the world. The early church did not spread all across the world and still be with us today because the apostles were doing all the work, but because ordinary people, such as you and me, were empowered by the Spirit to serve, to preach, to plant churches, to distribute food, to care for the sick, and to serve God in whichever way God had called them.
What has God called you to do? How are you using your gifts and skills to further God’s kingdom?