Magazines 2022 Jan - Feb The Early Church overcame societal divisions – We can too

The Early Church overcame societal divisions – We can too

18 February 2022 By Larry Hurst

Imagine the Church leading the way in reconciling societal divisions, writes Larry Hurst.

I recently saw a headline that read, “Time to heal divisions.” Canadian society certainly struggles with divisions – none of us need to be schooled on the various polarizing topics.

But where does that reality rub up against the assertion in Colossians 3:11 that “there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised?”

I read this verse recently while preparing a sermon.

“Wait a minute,” I thought. “We the Church have overcame societal divisions before. Can the Body of Christ not do so again?” Just imagine if the Church could lead the way in reconciliation.

Consider the many polarizing issues in the first century church. Centuries of control and mistreatment from various Gentile nations had resulted in centuries of mistrust and animosity from the Jews. History had left unhealed wounds and visible scars.

Jewish worship was so different from what Gentiles had experienced in their religious activities. Dietary habits were important to most Jews, but to the Greeks, not so much. Slaves and artisans in the Roman Empire did not get a day off. The Jewish people observed the Sabbath as a day of rest.

All the historical, cultural and social baggage did not go away the moment a Jew or a Gentile became a follower of Jesus. The New Testament is rife with accounts and allusions to the tensions that resulted between Jewish Christians and Gentile followers of Jesus.

Several of Paul’s letters are written against a background of those tensions. It all seems to come to a head at the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15). Although compromise is a dirty word for some, what resulted is undoubtedly a positive example.

Admittedly, the gains of the early church in the first century dissolved into anti-Semitism that would disfigure the Body of Christ for many more centuries. And, yes, Church history also includes many other examples of fractures and factions, divisions and discord.

And yet, surely, we can learn lessons from our history?

What would it take for the church to lead the way in 2022 to show our Canadian neighbours there is life beyond our differences?

Perhaps a starting point for breaking free of the handcuffs of polarization could be some core values. Core values that all of us could, or should, agree on.

  • Mutual respect that comes from a recognition of the image of God resident in all humanity and renewed in our brothers and sisters.
  • The Great Commandment: loving God with our whole being, loving one another, and loving our neighbour.
  • Can we not agree that such love includes our responsibility of public safety for all who enter our premises?
  • Perhaps most importantly we could remind ourselves that unity is God’s goal, Jesus’s prayer and the reality of life in the Spirit.

Could this be our time to shine? Did the Spirit baptize us into the Bride of Christ for such a time as this? Can the church of the Lord Jesus Christ lead the way in showing the watching world a different way?

Larry Hurst of Regina served in pastoral ministry 40 years and remains active in transition ministry. Photo by Nadine Shaabana from Unsplash.

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