B. Function of the one body:
Another lesson we learn from the “neglect problem” in Jerusalem was that there was no such thing as “church autonomy” in the Jerusalem church, for all the Christians in Jerusalem functioned as one body of Christ from the very beginning (See At 2:44; 15:4,22). They were one church regardless of whose house in which the members sat on Sunday morning. The members remained as the one body in the city throughout the history of the church in Jerusalem (See At 15:4,22).
However, efforts on the part of the Hebraic groups to be independent from the Grecian groups may have been the source of the problem. And since the neglect was a problem, then any autonomous behavior on the part of the Hebraic groups was wrong. A natural result of autonomy is that groups often develop a sectarian spirit that keeps groups separated from one another. In the case of some groups in Jerusalem, their autonomy may have led some groups to be negligent in their responsibilities toward the whole body of disciples throughout the city who were meeting in other homes.
The fact that there were complaints, and subsequently a solution for the problem, clearly teaches that where the disciples sat on Sunday morning did not make them autonomous from one another. Neither did sitting in a separate assembly relieve them of their responsibility to minister to the Grecian widows of other groups.
If the possible 800 assemblies were indeed rightly autonomous from one another, then we should be complaining about their complaining. We would assume that each autonomous group should take care of their own widows, and thus, not make the “neglect” a “brotherhood issue.” If all the members in Jerusalem were intentionally behaving independently as autonomous groups, then the solution that the apostles later suggested would have been contrary to church autonomy.
We say the preceding because we ourselves live in a large metropolitan area that represents many different language and cultural groups. In a city area of over four million people, there are at least ten different language/cultural groups represented among the churches throughout the metropolitan area. Unfortunately, some church groups have little contact, and sometimes concern, for those groups that are separated from them linguistically and culturally. It is simply the way people function if they neglect living according to the gospel that brings unity among people. But because the world functions in this manner, does not mean that Christians can separate themselves from one another because of either language or culture. Since we have a tendency to separate ourselves from one another, then we need to heed the exhortation of the Holy Spirit that we should be “eager to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ep 4:3).
Nevertheless, realizing linguistic/cultural differences helps us develop a practical understanding of what exists in most large urban centers in the world today. The Holy Spirit gave us some insight into this common challenge that we have when working in urban centers. He inspired Paul to reveal that God “has made of one man all nations of men to dwell on all the face of the earth [city], and has determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation” (At 17:26).
These are not “boundaries” that are drawn on a map. These are cultural boundaries that are often identified by linguistic differences. It is the way God naturally separated people from one another after the attempted efforts on the part of man to build a tower whose top would possibly reach unto heaven (See Gn 11).
If one has not experienced living in a metropolitan area wherein several languages are spoken among those who are of different cultural backgrounds, then it may be challenging to understand the natural human instinct for people to assemble under their own cultural or linguistic flag. Throughout the world today there are thousands of cultural and linguistic “boundaries” that separate people from one another. These “boundaries” exist within the limits of most international urban areas of the world today. It is simply a reality with which the church within these cities must deal in order to be the one body of Christ. It is possible, therefore, that the Holy Spirit recorded for us the “neglect problem” in Jerusalem in order to help us understand means and ways by which we can evangelize and function as the body of Christ in urban centers throughout the world.
In Jerusalem in the first century, there existed at least two linguistic/cultural groups, specifically the Grecian and Hebraic Jews. The two groups had a common father in Abraham, but this did not mean that they were common in their culture or language. The fact that the Hebraic Jews seem to have ignored the Grecian Jews suggests that they allowed their culture and language “boundaries” to be an excuse to ignore their responsibilities to function as the one universal body of Christ. They were at the time a dysfunctional organic body because some had forgotten the oneness that is produced by their common obedience to the gospel. They had forgotten what the Holy Spirit said to some Jewish brethren in Galatians 3:26-28:
“For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek. There is neither bondservant nor free. There is neither male nor female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
[Next in series, September 22]