Sunday, November 23, 2014

All The Saints (part 4)

As a result of Peter’s plea, James, grasping the movement of the Creator God’s Spirit, along with a Scriptural and historical justification for that movement, says “Brothers, listen to me.  Simeon has explained how God first concerned Himself to select from among the Gentiles a people for His name.  The words of the prophets agree with this, as it is written, ‘After this I will return, and I will rebuild the fallen tent of David; I will rebuild its ruins and restore it, so that the rest of humanity may seek the Lord, namely, all the Gentiles I have called to be My own, says the Lord, who makes these things known from long ago.’” (Acts 15:13b-18)  Remarkably, it is determined that the tent of David is to include the Gentiles (resonances of Isaiah 54:2---make your tent larger???), and that this has always been the plan of the covenant-making-and-keeping Creator God of Israel.   

In Acts thirteen, Paul and Barnabas are in Pisidian Antioch.  Paul speaks to “Men of Israel, and… Gentiles who fear God” (13:16b).  During the course of his speech, as he quickly recounts the story of the Creator God’s covenanting with humanity, he goes on to say “Brothers, descendants of Abraham’s family, and those Gentiles among you who fear God, the message of this salvation has been sent to us” (13:26). 

He goes on to punctuate the remainder of his message with words of family unity, speaking of “the good news about the promise to our ancestors” (13:32b), and “to us, their children” (13:33b), climaxing with “Therefore let it be known to you, brothers, that through this one forgiveness of sins,” which is the language of exodus experience and covenant inclusion, “is proclaimed to you, and by this one everyone who believes is justified from everything from which the law of Moses could not justify you” (13:38-39).  Here, one needs to be cognizant of the possibility that “the law of Moses” stands in for “works of the law,” which were the covenant markers that were to be practiced as the identifying, justifying marks for those who were under covenant. 

Thus, through recollection of these scenes as recorded in the book of Acts (which, though the stories would have been shared, were not available in written and standardized form to the churches of the day),observers are provided with a glimpse into the struggle.  There were doubts.  There were prejudices and ancient biases.  There was a fear that the status gains of one group (Gentile Christians) were coming at the expense of another (Jewish Christians). 

In an honor and shame culture in which honor was a limited good (one only gained honor at the expense of another’s honor), this is more than understandable.  There were church-wide conflicts.  There were intra-church (as congregation) conflicts.  There was a lack of unity on a number of issues, both within bodies and across the body.  There were stances taken by one church that would not be taken by another church.  Indeed, a review of the New Testament letters demonstrates that each congregation dealt with different problems at different times and in different ways.

All of this lays the groundwork for a look at Colossians.  In co-ordination with the title of this study, it can be said that “all” in Colossians, seems to play a strategic role.  This “all” takes on multiple forms, and when one reads the letter with the questions concerning the inclusion and acceptance of Gentiles as part of the covenant people of the Creator God, minus their adoption of the markers of that covenant, this communiqué takes on an interesting character.  Paul is very much interested in the elimination of long established, perhaps cherished barriers (in some corners), in the name of the creation of a unified, new creation, kingdom people.

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