C. The collective body working as one.
We need to reap another lesson from the Acts 6 dysfunction by going one step further in understanding the organic function of the body. This point was emphasized when Paul wrote to all the Christians of all Achaia who occasionally met in Corinth for a united love feast. During the occasion, which some seized as an opportunity to reveal both their sectarianism and inconsideration division was revealed. Paul rebuked the dysfunctional members for their competitive practices in reference to ministry. After reminding them of the diversity of ministry by which God ordained that the organic body function, he wrote, “But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing [gifts/ministries] to every one individually as He wills” (1 Co 12:11).
The body in all Achaia was made up of individuals who exercised their Spirit-given individual ministries. These individuals worked in their individual ministries as the one universal body of Christ. Paul therefore instructed, “For as the body is one and has many members [with different ministries], and all the members of the one body, though they are many, are one body [universally], so also is Christ [universally]” (1 Co 12:12).
We must not forget that “the body is not one member, but many” (1 Co 12:14). Though we as the one body “are many members,” we function as the one universal body of Christ (1 Co 12:20). It is fallacious to think that the church can be united only when all the members of the one universal body are sitting in the same assembly on Sunday morning. In fact, cultural and linguistic divisions (boundaries) are revealed when there must be three or four interpreters to interpret the message of the hour into all the languages that are represented.
There is nothing wrong with the translation of the lesson into the language of all those present, but to force such in weekly house assemblies seems to be an effort of forced unity beyond common sense. (In another book we have dealt with the occasion in Corinth when translators—interpreters—were needed in the occasional assembly of all the Achaia house fellowships that is discussed in the context of 1 Corinthians 11-14.)
We would conclude that each of the house assemblies throughout Achaia used one common language on Sunday morning to accommodate everyone who was present. Those who spoke the language of a particular house assembly went to the house that spoke their language.
Common sense dictates that each language group has the freedom to meet when speakers of the assembly all speak the common language of the group. We have found throughout the years that it is quite naive to think that unity can prevail among individual members only when everyone sits at the same location on Sunday morning. Unity is not based on proximity in assembly, but common obedience to the gospel. If we would judge that unity among the members in a city must be based on close proximity in assembly, then we have developed a forced man-made unity that is simply superficial. It is an empirical unity that does not necessarily have to be based on a unity of the spirit.
Now apply this function to the church in Jerusalem. Luke recorded that the number of the disciples in Jerusalem had increased to about 5,000 men. We have added wives and children, estimating that there could have been over 20,000 individuals who made up the church in Jerusalem. Now must all these 20,000 be assembled together at the same place in order to be the one united church in Jerusalem? Must they all be at the same place on Sunday in order to preserve unity?
Sometimes common sense should be used when understanding the historical function of the one united body of Christ in any particular area or city. Common sense dictates that the 20,000 did not meet at the same place on Sunday morning in order to sustain unity. Common Sense dictates that the 20,000 met in various homes throughout the city because there were no publicly-owned buildings in Jerusalem that would house this number of people.
The local Christians’ meeting in approximately 800 homes led to the problem of the neglect, not a problem of disunity. The solution for the “neglect problem” was not to assemble everyone together under one roof. The solution involved everyone looking out for everyone, regardless of whose house in which everyone sat on Sunday.
There were certainly challenges that faced the church in Jerusalem because of the necessity of the members’ meeting in so many different homes throughout the city. Because the Grecian Jews were meeting in their own assemblies—some would supposedly say autonomously—the Hebraic Jews assumed that they were not responsible for the Grecian widows. As it is often said, “Out of sight, out of mind.” And since the Grecian Jews were out of sight of the Hebraic Jews, then the Hebraic Jews in their autonomous behavior possibly thought that they had no responsibility to share their contributions with the widows of other groups, especially if they were of another culture, language group, or possibly economic status.
If the Grecian Jews were primarily immigrant Jews to Jerusalem, they may have been the lower income citizenship of the city. If they were, then it could have been that they could not financially care for some of their own widows. Since they were out of contact with the financially established Hebraic Jews, then we can understand how the “neglect problem” arose. The Grecian Jews may have been embarrassed to ask for help. But someone did ask, for such neglect was contrary to the spirit of the gospel where members bear one another’s burdens (Gl 5:2).
In their neglect, at least the Hebraic Jews revealed their dysfunctional autonomous fellowship, if indeed they believed themselves to be autonomous from the Grecian house assemblies. However, we are giving them the benefit of the doubt that the Hebraic Jews did not know that the Grecian Jews were being neglected. At least we assume that Luke alerts us to this possibility when he introduced the dysfunction by saying, “Now in those days when the number of the disciples was multiplying” (At 6:1). The neglect may have been unintentional because of the great number of assemblies that were throughout the city because of the phenomenal growth of the church.
Luke does not record in the Acts 6 account that any racism was involved, for everyone involved was a Jew, except for a few proselyte immigrants. And since he did not mention racism as the problem, we must stay with the former conclusion that the Hebraic Jews were unaware of the situation.
There was a vast number of assemblies in the city. The natural thing is that house assemblies often become so bonded with one another in the commonality of their language and culture that they have a tendency to become autonomous from one another. They subsequently become anonymous from one another. At least the house assemblies in Jerusalem lost contact with one another when there were hundreds of house assemblies being established throughout the city as the number of disciples multiplied.
In the historical situation of Acts 6, it seems that the word “neglect” should be understood in the context that at least the distribution among the Hebraic widows was taking place. However, some house assemblies were simply bypassed by the Hebrew speaking groups and administrators because of an unintentional oversight. The Hebraic groups did not know the language of the Greeks, and thus, they naturally did not make an effort to go to those house assemblies that spoke Greek. Whatever the real situation, the church in Jerusalem was dysfunctional in this matter as the one organic body of Christ. A solution had to be found to correct the disorder because their common obedience to the gospel produced one body of Christ whose members must care for one another.
[Next in series, September 25]