Choosing Sides

Ever found yourself between a rock and a hard place? Or what about in the position to make a decision that you know will make so many people happy but make so many other people upset? Ever experienced divisiveness?

If 2020 has taught us anything, it's that mankind is separated by SO MUCH! Our churches are no different. Our church, for example, have people that CAN'T STAND the "orange-man Donald Trump." And sitting right next to them in a worship service are people that have TRUMP 2020 flags flying from the bed of their pickup truck. We have people that won't leave their home because of the fear of the virus and others that get way too close to others. We have folks that lean heavily into the BLM movement and think that police forces should be de-funded and others that rebuke the BLM organization and think that police forces should be defended.

And here we are. That proverbial rock and a hard place that I mentioned earlier. What's a pastor to do?

Luke is writing the book of Acts and its very clear that the enemy is at work in the early church. Believers are getting arrested, the Apostles are being thrown in prison, sin has entered the church in a very greedy, evident way through Ananias and Sapphira, and by the time you get to chapter 6 there is significant division in the church.

The crowds have gotten too large to meet in one gathering. Over 20,000 people now call the Jerusalem church their home. That's a whole lot of Facebook opinions! 

Now comes the issue of division. Acts 6:1 shares it in detail:

"Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution."

There it is! Do you see it? How about a little context....

The Jerusalem church was primarily made up of Christian Jews. Hellenist Jews were from Diaspora. Their native language was Greek, not Aramaic or Hebrew. They used the Septuagint instead of the Hebrew Scriptures. (Enter your Baptistic KJV-only joke right here). 

Many of the Hellenist Jews traveled to Jerusalem for the Passover and Pentecost and were converted by the Spirit through the preaching of the Apostles. They decided to stay and join the fellowship of this grass-roots Christian church. ALSO, many older folks have returned to Palestine to live out the rest of their lives. They were the minority (older and Hellenist) which makes us understand why they were overlooked in the church.

The Hebraic Jews were the natives. They spoke Aramaic and Hebrew. They used the Septuagint and they were sons and daughters of Palestine. There were racial, cultural, political issues that already divided this young church.

Now, as churches often do (unfortunately), the more organized they became the less harmonious they became. Somebody once said

"Christians become very unchristian when they get organized. They debate church polity, doctrine, and philosophy, and that's just over the subject of coffee flavor."

So here we are. The Hellenist Jews and Hebraic Jews finally get after each other, perhaps in the middle of a good old-fashioned church business meeting. The Hellenists complain that their widows are being overlooked and not being served food. This complaint got to the pastors and they knew they had to intervene.

These are always challenging for pastors. Let's hope it wasn't a group of church members waiting in the lobby for the pastor after a Sunday morning worship service. (Christian, that pastor is WORN OUT! Can it wait until Monday?)

I can imagine what those elder meetings were like. In fact, I know exactly what those elder meetings are like. I've sat in them. I still sit in them. It's almost as if this chapter was put in the book of Acts for such a time as 2020. And it gives us a few friendly reminders:

  • Christians are not robots

As much as we submit to an absolute truth in the authority of Scripture, and as much as our church puts out a statement of faith, articles that highlight current event struggles, and even teach through issues that are necessary to address, OUR PEOPLE ARE STILL MADE UP OF CREATIVE INDIVIDUALS. As much as we might want to try to remove their moral hard-drive and reprogram it, or give their system a bit of a software update, we remember that there isn't a whole lot we can do to change who they are. Nor should we try. We preach against behavioral modification and in favor of simply submitting to the truth of the Word of God. 

Ever thought about which hill is worth dying on? Here's my suggestion: die on the hill of the Gospel. Die on the hill of truth. Notice the Apostles didn't take sides. They found a common ground.

  • Shepherd through the issues

I was speaking to a group of pastors recently and asked this question:

"Fellas, your folks have been quarantined, reading the opinions of hundreds of their social media friends, watching the media cast their spin on the issues, watched politicians viciously attack each other, and they've become consumed with fear, anxiety, confusion, and frustration. Have they heard the voice of their under-shepherd? Have they heard from you?"

The Apostles saw the division, heard the concern, and responded accordingly: they addressed the flock. Check out Acts 6:2-

"And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples....."

Notice what the Apostles DIDN'T DO. They DIDN'T avoid the topic, they DIDN'T downplay the issue, they DIDN'T keep their opinion to themselves. They PRESSED INTO their flock. They communicated. They led. They shepherded. Pastor, it's not enough to stay silent and avoid the issues in hopes that they take care of themselves. Get in front of the flock that the Lord has instructed you to shepherd. Be the voice of leadership and comfort.

  • Focus on the major, delegate the minor

The division we see today in the church have different levels of importance. I find the divide so clearly in our social media feeds and in the conversations of our folks. For example: MASKS. Should the government regulate masks or should they allow me to keep my freedom? Do masks even work? Are masks another tool of the Anti-Christ (good grief)? I see it in our church. Some won't come if we have to wear masks, some won't come if we don't enforce it. Hey rock, meet hard place!

What did the Apostles do? They spoke up and then DELEGATED. Verse 2-3:

"And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. 3 Therefore, brothers,[b] pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty."

The Apostles realized that there was a real need. And as minor as the need might have seemed, it was significant enough that it could have caused significant division in the church if it festered. So they addressed it. They didn't take sides! They didn't openly support the Hebraic Jews and tell the Hellenists to just adapt, they didn't openly support the Hellenistic Jews and tell the Hebraic Jews to cut it out. They found commonality in division and delegated the responsibility to men who would find the solutions.

  • Make sure the Gospel remains the point

This concept has sort've become a junk drawer philosophy. Nobody argues that the Gospel shouldn't be central to the work of the saints, but we've made "the gospel" into a thousand different ideas and principles. What did the Apostles decide? Check out verse 4:

"But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” 

How powerful! In a season of division, they focused on the very thing that united the flock: PRAYER AND THE WORD. Pastor, it's so good to simplify your over-complicated structure. Do you know what unifies your church? PRAYER AND THE WORD. Remain faithful to that and the Spirit takes care of the rest.

And verse 5 brought the result that we all pray for:

"And what they said pleased the whole gathering"

Man, that bow seems nice and tidy, doesn't it? Our context may result in a church member leaving, a deacon resigning, a few grumbles. But ultimately, prayer and the Word of God unifies the body.

Your people will demand that you choose a side. Society will demand that you choose a side. Your loved ones will demand that you choose a side. Make sure the side you choose is the side of Prayer and the Word!  
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Chuck Smith

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