Despite the fact that disputes and divisions were not unusual for as far back as 500 years of church history and have created a large number of new denominations, there was a time when significant differences never prompted division (RELI 223 PowerPoint – Early Church; Slide 4). Some time ago, church division was severely persecuted and genuine disputes, which today would tear churches apart, did not cause splits in church or the development of new sects. People ought to have the capacity to learn from that time since they may find some helpful clues that would help them find the way to bring church to such a condition again. The Book of Acts describes such a period. It is legitimate to accept that when the Christian church was in its early stages, it was the most powerful in terms of preventing its division. In actuality, one may discover that the conversion was genuine. There were serious disputes when the church was young, but no division happened. Why was that? Individuals were no less human then, and where there are people there will be sin. Where there is sin, there will be differences, and where there are contradictions, there will be reasons for division (Alister 2006, p.172). The early church appeared to be genuine, but then it was not divided.
The Early Church's First Crisis
The initially recorded strife in the early church, and the first probability of division was viewed in the way food was consistently distributed to the needy believers in Jerusalem. This was a period of incredible destitution in and around the city. The Book of Acts tells that the Greek-speaking Jewish converts (the Hellenists) were murmuring that their widows were constantly disregarded by those who distributed the food, which was a day-by-day custom. Representatives of both sides of that dispute were all professors and were all Jews. Around that time, Jews were the main ones to whom the gospel was taught (RELI 223 PowerPoint – Modern Period; Slide 12). Despite the fact that both sides of the dispute were Christians and Jews, the Hellenists were evidently disregarded on the basis of unauthenticity of their dialect.
The Greek-speaking Jewish widows were generally dismissed on the grounds that they spoke Greek, which in the view of some people, made them less Jewish than others. That was a remarkable time. Those believers who could provide any help were willingly offering their places and some products, and bringing some money to the church to help accommodate poor people. In that dispute, feelings ran especially high because essential human needs were at stake. Poor widows were going hungry because they were treated unfairly. That was not a doctrinal or religious fight; yet, it set believers against professors and could divide the church. Such disputes could undoubtedly have brought the first church division. The two sides could have separated from one another, dividing the early church into two different groups based on the dialect; yet, this did not happen. The dispute was brought to the apostles, who acted rapidly to resolve the dilemma and end the pressure.
The apostles ended the disputes rapidly and effectively because they had the power to do so. The apostles did not generally resolve the dispute; they essentially advised the individuals how to do it (Alister, 2006, p.174). All the individuals required was somebody in power who could let them know what to do to end the strain and the unfairness. The issue ought not to have existed in any case. The Hellenist widows ought to never have been disregarded based on their dialect or ethnicity. The obligation to distribute the food was clearly not in the right hands. The apostles ended the dispute by educating the individuals to pick among themselves seven men who were famous for being just and who received the Holy Spirit to administer the matter of distributing the food. These deacons, as they were called, held the first official positions in the early church - other than those that the apostles themselves held.
It is important to note that the deacons required that ministers, men whose sole undertaking at the time was to handle daily food distribution, be respectable men, who were "brimming with the Holy Spirit". Even food delivery was viewed as a huge undertaking in the early church, and it required having a good heart and being a great character. It is likewise important to point that the first disputes in the early church were based on dialect, the same premise of the divisions purposefully made by the Lord Himself when humans attempted to build the Tower of Babel. Dialect is a regular premise of division, a perfect reason for differentiating from others, which is something that the Lord clearly proposed. This notwithstanding, when a dialect-based dispute debilitated to divide the body of Christ, the division was promptly subdued. Thus, what could separate the world was not permitted to separate the church.
The Disputes between Jews and Gentiles
This was not by any means the only test the early church confronted. As the gospel teachings spread in Jerusalem, another cause for division emerged. This time, instead of dialect, the issue was race. For no less than 1,500 years, Jews had been keeping themselves separate from Gentiles (non-Jews). Gentiles were similar to dogs to them. Truth be told, a Jew could not go into the place of a Gentile or take a seat and consume a dinner with a Gentile without being ritually debased. This was the Old Testament way, the main way Jews knew. Jesus, on the other hand, did not always follow such rules. According to Marc-André S. Argentino, the gospels detail a few stories of Jesus performing miracles for non-Jews (RELI 223 PowerPoint – Johannine Literature; Slide 9).
More than once, He wondered about the incredible faith that Gentiles displayed. In one situation, Jesus made it clear to one Phoenician woman, who came to Him asking to heal her daughter, that she was considered by the Jews to be a little dog, and subsequently was not qualified for the "children's bread".
The woman was a Gentile; yet, as per Jesus, she had an "extraordinary faith", and because of this, He worked for her the miracle she had asked Him for. The thought that the Hebrew God may cherish the Gentiles had not however struck the early church, which was exclusively for the Jews (RELI 223 PowerPoint – Beliefs; Slide 3). They had not considered the likelihood that there may be a bigger arrangement, i.e. that the gospel of salvation would reach out beyond their own home and spread to all the countries of the earth. Early church believers had acknowledged the gospel message as it identified with a Jewish savior; however, to them, the Gentiles were still dogs and of no importance.
It is likely that even the deacons did not think of salvation being offered to the Gentiles. The thousands of people who had been coming to the church hitherto were all Jews or Jewish converts. They had been saved, baptized in water and by the Holy Spirit. There is no indication that they had any intention of sharing this good news with the Gentile "dogs", even though the commission Jesus had given to them included instructions on how to make disciples of all nations. From the story of Peter and Cornelius in Acts 10, it took divine mediation for only one messenger to start to acknowledge the likelihood that the God of Israel may additionally love Gentiles and offer salvation to them, as He had offered to the Jews.
Peter had a vision, during which he saw heaven, and heard the voice of God addressing him, and letting him know that he was not to call unclean what God called clean. It was that dream about heaven and the voice of God that made Peter overcome his detestation of the Gentiles, and go and preach the gospel to the family of Cornelius. While Peter was all the while preaching, the Holy Spirit fell upon Cornelius' family and for the first time in history, the Gentiles started to talk in other languages and praised God. The Holy Spirit fell upon the Gentiles, as it had fallen upon the Jews. At the point when the apostles and the other brethren in Jerusalem heard the news that the Word of God had been taught to uncircumcised Gentiles, there was a serious dispute. This was as opposed to their essential understanding of God.
What Lesson One Can Learn from the Early Church?
Is there an agreeable example one can draw from these three samples from the Book of Acts? Are there lessons one can learn from perceiving how the early church settled disputes? The response to both inquiries seems to be "yes"; yet, it is not clear how what has been discussed may be transferred to the church today. It would be right to go back and take a look at the rule and not at the specifics. The standard is that divisions are allowed to proceed today on the grounds that there is no actual power to stop them.
There is no power to solve disputes as they emerge, or to answer the troublesome inquiries and that is why division happens. People go the different ways like sheep lacking a shepherd. Even though there may be denominational powers that will give answers, those powers are not recognized outside the community to which they preach. Their answers just settle disputes inside their specific community (RELI 223 PowerPoint – Denominations; Slide 15). This only helps to sustain the divisions among the groups. Answers which are embraced within one denomination or group become that group's settled orthodoxy. Moreover, when those answers are not generally imparted by different groups, the divisions between the groups only grow and become more serious and lasting on the grounds that they now are formally conflicting.
One can mention here an Acts 15 story. If to hypothesize for a minute that the Pharisees who brought the dispute chose to meet together and settle those disputes themselves, does it not make sense that they would have arrived at a conclusion that would be precisely opposite to the one the apostles and elders at Jerusalem had arrived at? Reading from Calogero A. Miceli, the Pharisees who provoked the disputes were clearly professors (RELI 223 PowerPoint – Early Church; Slide 5-9). Pharisees were known for their "head knowledge" of the Scriptures. They were well-trained debaters; so, they definitely could have settled the problem themselves.
However, would it be better if there was a recognized body of godly leaders who had the wisdom, spiritual anointing and authority to answer such questions as whether homosexuals should be ordained; whether women should be allowed to preach; whether such gifts of the Spirit as speaking in tongues, working miracles and prophesying?
It was Simpler for the Early Church to Appoint Councils
If to assume that this is the case, one ought to perceive the difficulties such an undertaking would cause. From the third till the sixth centuries of church history, when church councils were gathered, the church was not separated the way it is today. Some of the main city churches could pick the scholars who would deal with those serious issues, and the smaller churches would simply accept those decisions (Alister 2006, p.174). The main churches were held in enough respect that thereafter they could confirm the decisions of the council and tell the whole Christian world what was good and bad with respect to the matters at hand. Sure, councils of the early church got it right, at least on the whole. However, centuries later, the church that assigned those councils appeared to be corrupt to the point that it could not be trusted to deal even with the basic issues.
However, one should realize that this is about humans, and humans often make mistakes. Though, one should not forget about God as well. After all, it is His church and He is more than interested in guiding those who seek His will with pure hearts. Thus, His sovereign intervention in the affairs of men when it suits His purposes should not be discounted. For example, there is a continuing dispute concerning the books that had been canonized into the New Testament about 1,600 years ago. Some people believe that a couple of books out of 27 should not have been included or that some other books should have been. However, one can find it interesting that those who had an authority to canonize the Bible so much time ago included in it 39 Old Testament books and 27 New Testament books so that a total number of them was 66 books (RELI 223 PowerPoint – Early Church; Slide 13). One may assume that the number is meaningless, and perhaps he/she is right.
Another obstacle people face is the fact that many church leaders believe that genuine unity of all believers will not be achieved until people get to heaven. This perspective is widespread and it may be the result of an imperfect or deficient doctrine regarding the end times.
Conclusion and recommendation
Keeping one’s eyes on the Lord ought not to prevent people from attempts to achieve unity. People should never overlook the poor and the needy and simply keep their eyes on the Lord. That would be a demonstration of insubordination. James lets us know that faith without proper action is dead. He additionally lets people know that unadulterated religion, undefiled before God, incorporates caring for the orphans and widows in their suffering. So, people should keep their eyes on the Lord and at the same time take care of the poor. People should not worry about preaching the gospel to the lost. They should simply keep their eyes on the Lord. Otherwise, this would simply mean that one cherishes the Lord so much and yearns for Him so much that he/she does not have to do the things that He tells them to do, and that He has told the good news and let them know how to spread it, and a person will simply keep his/her eyes on Him. So, what would be advisable to do about the poor and the lost? People ought to keep their eyes on the Lord while accommodating the poor and reaching the lost with the gospel. Keeping one’s eyes on the Lord ought to never keep them from doing His will; it ought to just purge one’s inspirations in what one do.