“Love!” Even though Jesus had just been betrayed and was about to be crucified, that was his final command. “Love one another” was an imperative that became the hallmark of the new Jesus followers. Tertullian said that Romans noted this and said, “See how those Christians love one another.”
I have found that in today’s church, the most challenging places to live out this Jesus imperative is at a church meeting. We may be towers of benevolent goodness in outreach and service, but ask the faithful to change a paint colour or increase the bazaar ticket price and it’s hard to see how anyone would know we were disciples with a mandate to love.
By the way, I don’t think it’s all our fault, necessarily. We haven’t been trained very effectively in how to behave as disciples in church meetings. Here enters Acts!
Acts provides great insight into how we might conduct ourselves as loving disciples. For example, the early church had to make a tough decision about the inclusion of non-Jews in the Jesus movement. Our reading this Sunday helps show us how the early leaders went about making a faith-filled, discipled decision in their meetings. Here are some principles we might consider incorporating into our meetings.
- Peter was influenced by a vision and a sense of the Holy Spirit. Acts 11: 5, 12 Be open to the possibility of the spiritual experience to help guide your decision-making. In other words, take the Pentecost promise seriously. If you are anything like me, you program the meeting so tightly nothing can derail the agenda, including the Holy Spirit! Overzealous management competence and Robert’s Rule of Order will get you a decision but it will not always get you faithful discernment.
- The apostles and other believers questioned Peter. Acts 11:1-3 Never let one person interpret the spiritual experience. The meaning and impact of the spiritual experience for the group must be discerned within the community.
- Peter tested his assumptions with an experience from the vision. Acts 11:15-17 Make “experience” the fourth leg of our Anglican stool along with scripture, tradition and reason. If you are voting on an outreach initiative for migrant workers, go meet a migrant worker or someone who knows about migrant ministry or at least read up on the issues. If you need to decide on the price of a new roof, explore current pricing and products. Pooled ignorance and relying on the way it used to be done, do not foster discipleship.
- Before they made a decision, the leaders listened, reflected on scripture and praised God. Acts 11:16-18 Make spiritual practices such as prayer and scripture meditation an integral part of the voting or decision-making process of a church meeting.
Some questions to ponder: How might we make our church meetings less business decision-making and more spiritual discerning? How might Jesus’ command to “Love one another” be more evident in our gatherings? Could the world around us say of us today: “See how those Christian love one another.”
JOHN 13:31-35 When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
ACTS 11:1-18 Now the apostles and the believers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him, saying, “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?” Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step, saying, “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners; and it came close to me. As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ But I replied, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ But a second time the voice answered from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven. At that very moment three men, sent to me from Caesarea, arrived at the house where we were. The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. He told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon, who is called Peter; he will give you a message by which you and your entire household will be saved.’ And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.”
PSALM 148 Hallelujah! Praise the Lord from the heavens; praise him in the heights. Praise him, all you angels of his; praise him, all his host. Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars. Praise him, heaven of heavens, and you waters above the heavens. Let them praise the Name of the Lord; for he commanded, and they were created. He made them stand fast for ever and ever; he gave them a law which shall not pass away. Praise the Lord from the earth, you sea-monsters and all deeps; Fire and hail, snow and fog, tempestuous wind, doing his will; Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars; Wild beasts and all cattle, creeping things and winged birds; Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the world; Young men and maidens, old and young together. Let them praise the Name of the Lord, for his Name only is exalted, his splendour is over earth and heaven. He has raised up strength for his people and praise for all his loyal servants, the children of Israel, a people who are near him.
REVELATION 21:1-6 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.”