Friday, December 18, 2009

Ephesians 3:10 part two

. . . . so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places (Ephesians 3:10).

In last lesson’s Questions for Reflection we looked at 1 Timothy 3:15 in which St. Paul calls the church the “pillar and support of the truth.” Notice the apostle also uses similar language here in Ephesians 3:10, as well as in Ephesians 4:11-13 – the point being that the Holy Spirit confirms through St. Paul that God established church hierarchy to protect the flock from false doctrine.

And St. Paul was well aware of the wolves that waited to draw the disciples away from the true faith. Note his warning to the elders and leaders of the church at Ephesus, found in Acts 20:

Keep watch over yourselves and over the whole flock of which the Holy Spirit has appointed you overseers, in which you tend the church of God that he acquired with his own blood. I know that after my departure savage wolves will come among you, and they will not spare the flock. And from your own group, men will come forward perverting the truth to draw the disciples away after them (20:28-30).

St. Peter also gives similar warning to his readers: “ . . . there is no prophecy of scripture that is a matter of personal interpretation, for no prophecy ever came through human will; but rather human beings moved by the Holy Spirit spoke under the influence of God (2 Peter 1:20-21). And then, as if to highlight the danger inherent in people interpreting Scripture according to their own minds, Peter warns his readers in the next chapter: There were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will introduce destructive heresies and even deny the Master who ransomed them, bringing swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their licentious ways, and because of them the way of truth will be reviled (2 Peter 2:1-2).

And so the question becomes critical to our faith and walk with Christ: Without apostolic church leadership (remember our discussion in part one of this lesson as it related to Matthew 16:19), who would determine the correct interpretation of the scriptures? Who was to say what orthodox Christian faith was and what it was not?

In St. Luke’s record of the early acts of the apostles, we find the clearest New Testament illustration of how church hierarchy protects the flock and takes upon itself the divine right to interpret God’s Word.

As we saw in earlier lessons, the Law of Moses was so ingrained into Jewish theology that Jews – including the apostles – could not accept the idea that God would welcome Gentiles into His family without – at the very least – circumcision. That was why God gave Peter the vision of the sheet in Acts 10 -- three times – until Peter finally caught on that God does things differently than any of the disciples had believed. And so if it was difficult for St. Peter to grasp the grace of God, it was not unreasonable for the Jewish priests and other teachers of the Law who became Christians to believe that Gentiles “must be circumcised” in order to be saved.

The record in Acts 15 suggests the debate grew long and probably loud. Finally, James gave his opinion, to which the rest of the council concurred.

Let’s now focus our attention on this section of James’ comments:

Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them to send to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas--Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brethren, and they sent this letter by them,

"The apostles and the brethren who are elders, to the brethren in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia who are from the Gentiles, greetings. Since we have heard that some of our number to whom we gave no instruction have disturbed you with their words, unsettling your souls, it seemed good to us, having become of one mind, to select men to send to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Therefore we have sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will also report the same things by word of mouth. For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these essentials: that you abstain from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication; if you keep yourselves free from such things, you will do well. Farewell" (15:22-29).

And so, James informs the fledgling Church beyond the borders of Israel that some of the Christians from among the Pharisees were spreading a message without the authority of the church hierarchy – in this case, the apostles. The church leadership clearly considered this issue a serious challenge to the mechanism of authority set up by Christ, and the apostles sent emissaries – Paul, Barnabas, Judas and Silas – to teach the correct doctrine of the Church.

In the next lesson we will look into the early centuries of the Church – centuries in which heresies flourished and gravely threatened to undermine orthodox Christian faith. If not for Catholic Church leadership throughout Asia, Africa and Europe, Biblical Christian faith would have been destroyed.

Questions for Reflection:

1. Read again 2 Peter 1:20-21 and 1 Timothy 3:15. In light of this lesson’s discussion, who do you think has the right to interpret Scripture, especially when it relates to doctrine? Why do you think so?

2. Read Revelation 2:12-16 and 2:18-20. In light of Acts 20:28-31, in what ways can today’s Christian “be on the alert”?

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