Daily Archives: February 5, 2008

What Are the Essentials?

Some people mistakenly think that the early Christian Church was an ideal time of growth without challenges or theological disagreements. But nothing could be further from the truth. The book of Acts details how the apostles and elders struggled to understand God’s plan to include Gentiles in His Church. It seems that they were getting on the job training and inspiration as God called them to walk way outside of their comfort zones.

Some Jewish Christians found themselves at odds with Gentiles and some leaders, such as Paul and Peter. Probably the most clear example occurred in Acts 15:1-35. What amounted to the first ecumenical council met to discuss whether or not Gentiles had to follow Jewish customs if they were to be accepted as Christians.

The chapter on the Jerusalem Council covers a disagreement that arose in Antioch over whether or not Gentile Christians had to be circumcised and follow other Jewish laws. The dispute began when some Jews from Judea came and insisted that Gentile converts had to follow “customs taught by Moses.” This made sense to some Jewish Christians because the Jewish law came from God and Christianity started as renewal movement within Judaism. Paul and Barnabas argued against requiring Gentiles to act like Jews. The dispute was taken to Jerusalem to be decided by the apostles and elders.

The issue was far from trivial because it captured a key question as the Jewish and Gentile cultures clashed and new, revolutionary Christian concepts emerged. The key question was, “What exactly is essential to be a Christian in good standing within the Church?”

The above question had two major drivers – the need to keep Gentile Christians from falling into pagan, polytheistic practices and the desire to harmonize relations between Jews and Gentiles despite the religious barriers created by many distinct, Jewish religious practices. Gentiles came from a polytheistic, pagan culture that existed in sharp contrast to both Judaism and Christianity. Notice the discussion centered on practices not beliefs or doctrine.

Jews and Gentiles had been interacting as Christians ever since the mass conversions at Cornelius’ house in Acts 10. But it appears that how they interacted and what was required to be a Gentile convert may have varied from town to town. The Jerusalem Council was convened to resolve the debate once and for all.

A thorough debate took place. God had already made it clear that the Christian Gospel was for Gentiles too. Peter, Paul, Barnabas and James built a case that made requirements of Gentiles without putting stumbling blocks in their way. Gentiles would have to break from some pagan practices without having to completely conform to Jewish ones. They had to abstain from meat scarified to idols, food that had been strangled or was not properly drained of blood, and sexual immorality. The apostles and elders accepted these limited essentials and then sent a letter to the church in Antioch declaring their decision. This provides insight into how today’s Church can address some of its disagreements over doctrine and morality.

What are the essentials? Is being a Christian more about what you believe or what you do? How do we live as Christ followers in a world that is just as pagan, pseudo spiritual and relativistic as the cultures encountered in Acts’ account of the early Church?

Random Thoughts from Morocco

Here is a hodgepodge of random observations from my trip last summer to Morocco.

  • Mint tea is really good. I wish it was America’s national drink and not Budweiser.
  • Morocco is a microcosm of what progressive Islam could look like in other countries. Part of the country is very traditional. Part of it is somewhat mystic. And part of it is very modern and urban. How these worldviews collide and interact will be interesting in the next ten years.
  • Just like there are many different demonimations of Christians, there are lots of different branches of Islam. Many of the Muslims we met were more secular than religious. Evidently, being a lukewarm believer is not just a problem for Christians.
  • Moroccan architecture focuses on open spaces for fellowship and entertaining. American architecture has become more about private entertainment and cocooning. was very neat. I liked the open spaces in the homes. This was achieved by having sofas that line the sides of the wall in the room, creating more spaces to sit and opening up the center of the room.
  • The smog in Casablanca was bad. The city was nothing like the movie. I actually said at one point, “Thank God for the EPA.” That’s hard to expect coming from a Republican who works in the forest products industry. 🙂
  • You haven’t lived until you have gone to a Suk out in the middle of nowhere. Think Wal*Mart meets neighborhood bazaar circa 1900.
  • Our team went into some remote areas of the country. We stopped at a little store that did not have water. But this little mountain hut had Coca-Cola. Evidently, it gets shipped in on the back of a mule.  
  • The Medina in Fez was huge. You could literally get lost in it and never find your way out. Be careful stopping too long at any one shop unless you want to buy something. I had one shop owner try to sell me his daughter when he found out that I was an American.
  • Cork comes from the bark of trees. And Morocco is one of the largest exporters of cork in the world.
  • I experienced the greatest generosity in my life from a Berber family in a small mountain town. They don’t have much, and they treated our team to a great big meal. I felt so unworthy of it all. I will never forget how they blessed us. We were able to take a love offering to repay them. But I don’t think I could ever really repay them if I emptied out my bank account. Their generosity put me to shame.
  • Our team worked at an orphanage based on a family model. It was the best model that I have seen so far. A husband and wife team agrees to come raise 8-12 kids from birth until they reach 18 years old. Most of the kids come in a two year window. That means the couple must make a 20 year commitment to raise 8-12 children that are not their own kids. Many of these couples come from all over the world. I met a man from California named Eddie who was getting ready to take the plunge with his wife. Eddie’s commitment and sense of call really touched me. I tend to think that giving a one year commitment to something can be a stretch. These people offer a huge chunk of their life and think nothing of it. I was humbled and convicted even more of my own selfishness.
  • God opened my heart to Muslims on my trip last summer. I used to dismiss them as all crazy extremists. But that is far from reality even though I happen to believe that their religion is based on lies and not the truth.
  • If you want hot, go to Fez in the middle of the summer. I almost melted away twice.