Discernment Takes As Long As It Takes

“Then after three years I did go up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days…” (Galatians 1:18)

“Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. (Galatians 2:1)

When reading the Bible, since so much ground is covered in a few chapters or even a few verses, we have a tendency to think that things happened very quickly. But consider this: Paul waited three years after his conversion to visit Peter and James — the so-called “pillars” of the church in Jerusalem. And, it appears little happened that time.

Then, he waited fourteen more years before trying it again! This time he took Barnabas and Titus and, after a little conflict around circumcision and about who was “in” and who was “out,” there was a somewhat uneasy truce and a division of labor between Peter and Paul occurred. The “right hand of fellowship” (Galatians 2:9) may have been extended, but it only took two verses (how many months or years was that?) for Paul to write:

“But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face…” (Galatians 2:11)

What can we learn from all this?

1. Far from being in perfect harmony, the early church was filled with conflict and suspicion. And yet, the gospel was proclaimed.

2. Discernment of God’s truth takes as long as it takes. We can be patient. Meanwhile, the gospel can be proclaimed!    

4 Responses to “Discernment Takes As Long As It Takes”

  1. PB and J Says:

    very true that the early church had its problems. i have been spending a lot of time with a catholic brother who tells me that the early church had no divisions and was all “catholic”. but as i have been reading the early church documents (ante-nicene stuff and post-nicene stuff), i have found that there was a wide range of people who believed all different things and werent necessarily in communion with each other at all and certainly didnt fall under the bishop of rome’s authority.

    so in our world, i think you are right, we must realize that unity will take time. it cannot happen overnight. however, one might think that, therefore, we shouldnt try to achieve unity. however, this is the mark of being a disciple, according to Jesus (jn 13:35). so, yes, we dont see it right now, but we should always, always be striving for it. we should always be loving our brothers to show the world that Jesus is the Christ and sent from God.

  2. ecubishop Says:

    Thanks, PB (and J!). I couldn’t agree more. I find two kinds of Christians out there on this — one group says, Let’s get on with it; we’re all one in Christ; why are there denominations anyway?

    Another says, “Hey, I chose this church to belong to; I don’t want to become a (Lutheran, Methodist, Episcoplian, Presbyterian…take your pick!).

    I think we need both: those who are impatient and push us onward; and those who value tradition – their own and others.

    But the goal must be clear: We are to be one as Christ and the Father are one! So that the world may believe!

  3. paigeb Says:

    The other point is that they met *face to face.* The best way to work through differences is to continue to be in conversation with one another.

  4. rwk Says:

    Oneness in Christ is not the same thing as all of us remaining in the same institution here on Earth. I have felt more “oneness” in both worship and mission in many non-Episcopal churches than I have in many of our own. I once met with a group of poor believers in a park in large Latin American city. They had no building, just each other. They welcomed me in, called me “hermano”, we broke bread in both the spiritual and real sense and I can say the Spirit was truly there. Would I have a agreed with all their teachings? Maybe not, but it was clear we had the same love and faith in the risen Christ. I did not feel that love at the Episcopal Church in this same city. The priest called conservatives “intolerant bigots” from the pulpit — I was visiting at the time. This was well over a decade ago, long before we got into the +Robinson scuffle. The divides are deep and have been present for a long time.

    If someone truly believes the institutional church is in error what should be done? So I ask, if a division between sinful believers, for we are all sinners, in a church peopled with those who “see through the glass darkly” occurs which attitude more reflects the Spirit of God more clearly to an unbelieving world:

    Diocese of San Joaquin: We are sorry you are upset and understand you are hurt, as we are, but go in peace, continue to worship in your building, tend your sheep and follow your conscience and we leave the door open for reunion. The announcement of the vote was met with respectful silence at the diocesean convention.

    Diocese of Virginia: You are occupying our buildings and we are going to sue. You must leave everything you have contributed behind. You can start over somewhere else from scratch. The announcement of the suit was met with vigorous applause at the diocesean convention. (Comment: An attitude which also greatly reduces the chances that wound will be healed in our lifetime.)

    Now it is obvious where I stand on this issue. I have not enjoyed this fight being born and raised in the Episcopal Church, but I believe on both sides this is a matter of deep conscience wherein we both could very well be wrong. That is the struggle. Both sides have their activists (goats) motivated solely by their sinful agendas and both have people acting out of sincere conscience (sheep). I can’t sort them out, only Christ can.

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