"I've had it with organized religion!"
Acts, #24 in the series. Acts 6
Jumping into casual conversation usually works for me, pretty much anywhere. However, most of last year when I flew across country some six times, people were not talking. 'Prisoners to our masks, the lot of us were faceless strangers passing without acknowledgment, one and all. Strange. Sad. Isolating, to be sure. That simply cannot be the new norm for human interactions in the various places we frequent. No way.
My favorite conversations revolve around faith. When talking with people near and far, I've heard one indictment of the Christian faith so many times, "I've had it with organized religion." [In truth, in these conversations I'm not planning to talk about the Church anyway! The church--macro or micro, and attending it, is an outward activity of our heart, showing our desire to know more about God and to be with his people--to honor the Sabbath and to keep it holy... you know what I'm saying? But first - "are you a person of faith?" That's my opening question.] Anyways . . . just taking that point about 'organized religion' at face value raises a question for me: ~~>would you want to be a part of any organization if it was not organized? Not likely.
Come with me back to first century Jerusalem, where God has added to the young church's numbers and then multiplied them! Regarding Ananias and Sapphira, he actually subtracted! But now, we see division--only not by God--as God never divides, but from within.
Indeed, many more Jews are coming to believe the gospel message. How many people being referenced here in Acts chapter six, do we think? About 25,000, said one of my old favorites, J. Vernon McGee. . . Dang. The backs of the 12 apostles are breaking, doing all of the teaching and pastoral care--including administering food and funds amongst them. [Remember these people were being persecuted, had lost their jobs, had no way to feed themselves] Unfortunately, congregational murmuring has grown to grumbling and grumbling to loud complaining--as though that helps the problems!
The apostles' response is both remarkable and significant. First they get a grasp of where the problem lies...1 Instead of letting things fester, they call a meeting to address the problem - just. like. that. They do not rush to judgment without observing, asking and listening to both sides; this is key where dissension or problems in community arise. And then - I love how the apostolic leaders employ what they learned about leadership from the Lord! Remember, Jesus chose the 12, poured everything He had into them and mentored them for three and a half years. These men are the product of team leadership, servant leadership, in practice.
They know what their God-given priority is: teaching the Word of God and leading in prayer. There are some great leadership tactics that emerge from this passage as we see the apostles agree they must keep the main thing, 'the main thing.'
Notice that the apostles involve the community in the selection of seven men to serve them, but they do not allow the community to decide on the criteria for the selection of the seven. What was the requirement? In order to be chosen, the men would have to be "full of faith and of the Holy Spirit." That alone is interesting--remember the seven were primarily chosen to distribute food, acting like administrators . . . why would they need to be full of faith and the Holy Spirit for that? Let's break it down a little further.
The seven leaders need be: 1) Known from their sphere of influence within; 2) Men who could serve on a team - "seven men"; 3) Trusted among the people - "of good reputation"; 4) Empowered for the task - "full of the Holy Spirit"; 5) Competent and intelligent - "full of wisdom"; 6) Responsible - "whom we may account over this business". from Acts 6.1-7
So seven are chosen and the people are pleased. The apostles "commission" them before the church--they lay their hands on them and pray for them--setting the model for church leadership today who 'set apart' those called to serve in various ministerial roles, whether to the mission field, serving on deacon boards (like this first seven made up) or leading a church ministry.
What happens as a result? The Gospel message flourishes--the good news of Jesus Christ spreads out even further--"rapidly"!
The Church is meant to be orderly . . . it thrives when well organized. When those who have the spiritual gift of administration use that gift to serve the folks in the body, when those with the gift of hospitality use their gift to welcome and serve people, etc., it frees the ministers to do the work of the teacher and exhorter, and it is a beautiful thing.
So when someone tells you they have had it with "organized religion", that is not what they really mean. Ask the next question: 'what do you mean by that?' Likely, their issue is with the hypocrisy they have seen in Christians or seen in 'the Church'. How to respond to that very valid criticism--ask the next question, show your concern ~ for this is the love of God to be shown by the people of God. Amen?
Love to you,
1 - The problem was between the Grecian or (Hellenistic) Jews and the Hebraic Jews--the difference? "The Hellenistic Jews are those who speak mainly Greek, and formerly lived outside of Palestine. But they have settled in Jerusalem—retired, as it were, to the homeland. Nevertheless, they still have affinities with lands of the Jewish dispersion from which they came. The Hebraic Jews are those who speak mainly Aramaic, and were born in Jerusalem or Judea. A parallel in modern Jerusalem would be the distinction between Jews who were born in Palestine (sabras) and those who emigrated to Israel from other
nations."2. So, while they are all Jewish Christians now, they divide over language, customs, etc. Alas, the Grecian Jews, (who feel they are sometimes treated like second-class citizens by the Jews born in Jerusalem), feel their widows are not being cared for as well as the Hebraic Jews.
2 - Paul Kroll, Grace Communion