After some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Come, let us return and visit the believers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. But Paul decided not to take with them one who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not accompanied them in the work. The disagreement became so sharp that they parted company; Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus. But Paul chose Silas and set out, the believers commending him to the grace of the Lord. He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches. Acts 15:36-41 (NRSV)
On occasion I will run across fellow believers who hold the early church with high esteem and want today’s church to look and behave in the same way. As I mentioned in my post the other day, I think it’s a bit silly to presume that it is even possible in most respects. Today’s chapter, however, reminded me of a couple of things:
The early church wasn’t perfect nor was it some kind of utopian organization. Read between the lines and you find that the entire period was marked by controversy, politics, arguments, and interpersonal conflicts. Today’s chapter starts with a controversy (i.e. should circumcision be required of all followers of Jesus) that broils into a debate among factions. Those Jesus followers who were of the Jewish sect of the Pharisees were vocal pro-circumcision. The Jesus followers who were non-Jewish Gentiles (and really didn’t want to go through the pain of a very intimate surgical procedure for no good reason) were passionately anti-circumcision.
The church, then and now, is made up of fallible people who inevitably find themselves in conflict. Today’s chapter ends with Paul and Barnabas having a such a sharp argument about whether to bring John Mark on their trip that they part and go their separate ways. Paul had written John Mark off because of an earlier falling out (Where was the forgiveness?) and Barnabas wanted to give J-Mark a second chance. It appears that there was no sweet agreement and reconciliation. There was no idyllic conclusion of unity. There was anger, sharp argument, and division. That sounds like every group of Jesus followers I’ve ever been a part of. So, maybe we’re more like the early church than we sometimes realize.
Today, I’m reminded of things that change and things that never change. Daily life, work, and culture have changed drastically in the last twenty years let alone the past 2,000. At the same time, our human challenges of love, kindness, understanding, reason, acceptance, and reconciliation have never changed. They simply takes on new guises in changing times and places.