Today’s reading is drawn from Acts 15:22-35.
In many nations and especially in the western hemisphere, the church faces an increasingly pluralistic society, and it is highly unlikely we will ever return to a uniform culture, if that ever existed in the first place. But the Book of Acts shows that we can thrive in this new world. The response of the apostolic council at Jerusalem to an influx of Gentile believers demonstrates that Christians must allow for cultural differences if they want their churches to survive.
The collections of people who responded to the gospel and banded together in the first century defy modern market research and principles of church growth. Modern thinking holds that groups of people with similar sociological backgrounds grow larger more quickly than ones with different backgrounds. Some argue that like attracts like, so churches should target people of the same race, demographic profile, and socioeconomic status.
The untidy collection of Christians in Acts upends that idea. Diverse churches sprouted up spontaneously in response to God’s grace.
Diverse Contributions The church offered …
- Advocacy by Barnabas on behalf of Saul (9:26, 27); by Paul and Barnabas on behalf of a slave girl to free her from oppressive masters (16:16–21); and by Ephesian believers on behalf of Apollos (18:27, 28)
- Charity and hospitality, often anonymous and large scale, to meet both social and spiritual needs (2:45; 4:32; 11:29, 30; 28:13–15).
- Ethnic reconciliation as deacons acted on behalf of neglected widows (6:1–6); as Philip carried the gospel across ethnic barriers (8:4–17, 26–40); as Peter met with the Gentile Cornelius and defended his actions to Jewish leaders at Jerusalem (10:1—11:30); as Paul and Barnabas brought together Gentiles and Jews at Antioch in Pisidia (13:46–52); as the council at Jerusalem accepted Gentiles as equals in the faith, sending Judas and Silas as emissaries to welcome them (15:1–35); as Paul recruited Timothy to spread the gospel (16:1–5).
The early church was a diverse, grass-roots movement that drew people together in innovative ways. It moved them toward one another and out into their communities in service and love. Like the early church, the modern body of Christ exists in a pluralistic society full of opportunities for unparalleled innovation and growth.