The function of the church in large urban centers is different than the social environment of rural areas. Since the members of the body in urban centers are faced with special problems in reference to remaining in contact with one another, we believe the Holy Spirit recorded for us a situation of organic dysfunction in the historical context of the early church. The “neglect of widows” was the ideal example to illustrate some of the obstacles the members of the body in urban centers must overcome in order to fulfill the mandate that widows are to be a part of the contribution of the church in any particular city (See Js 1:27). We are sure that the Jerusalem church fell short in other areas of function. However, dysfunction in the area that identified the fellowship of the one body was critical. The care for widows and orphans defined the church as an organic body that has the heart of God for people (See 1 Jn 3:10-24). For this reason, the Holy Spirit moved the mind of Luke to record this historical case of dysfunction in order to give us solutions on how to function as the organic body, even in the complexities and complications of large urban centers.
A. Identifying dysfunctions:
The first lesson we learn from this historical incident is in reference to a dysfunction in the organic body in concerning widows. Because the members of the church in Jerusalem were meeting in different homes throughout the city did not justify this dysfunction. It seems that some Hebraic groups had become so autonomous from one another that the Grecian widows actually became anonymous from them. Regardless of the cause, the dysfunction had to be corrected. Solutions had to be made in order to correct this dysfunction in the entire body in Jerusalem.
Keep in mind that the dysfunction in distribution to the Grecian widows was realized because there were those who saw it as dysfunctional behavior among all the members of the church in Jerusalem. They realized that the organic function of the body among all the members who were assembling in the approximate 800 groups throughout the city was actually behavior that was not worthy of the gospel. It revealed that some were not living in a manner that was worthy of the gospel that brought all them together into one body in Christ.
Great shepherds among us will always know their Bibles well enough to identify areas where we are not functioning according to the gospel. And when they speak out concerning dysfunctional body behavior, the body must listen. This is the focus of Paul’s instructions to the elders of the body. In listing qualities that the shepherds must have, Paul wrote that “an elder must” hold “fast the faithful word as he has been taught, so that he may be able by sound teaching both to exhort and refute those who contradict” (Ti 1:9). In the context of the Acts 6 dysfunction, though not mentioned, there may have been elders who initially brought the matter before the apostles.
Do not be surprised that we suggest that there were designated elders among the disciples at this time in the history of the church in Jerusalem. Paul and Barnabas designated elders in the cities of Lystra, Iconium and Antioch when the older Jewish men in these cities were only about six months in the faith. Simply because Luke does not mention elders in the historical narrative of Acts before Acts 11:30 is not proof that there were no elders in the Jerusalem church.
The matter of dysfunction in distribution was brought before the apostles only because the apostles were still in the city at the time. The disciples, including possibly the elders, wanted to bring the “neglect problem” before the apostles in order to determine if there was any revelation from the Holy Spirit on this subject (See At 2:42). Since the church was in existence from three to four years by the time we get to Acts 6, it would be reasonable to conclude that some Jewish elders had been converted. This would be a valid assumption, especially in view of the fact of what was stated in Acts 5:7, that a great number of the priests were obedient to the faith. It would be logical to think that there were designated elders among the several thousand Christians in Jerusalem at the time. Either these elders, or some other concerned members, identified the neglect of the Grecian widows to be a flaw in the organic function of the body. They knew the truth of God on this matter well enough to know that the “neglect problem” had to be corrected.
[Next in series, September 19]