The readings of today provide a good example of how to address differences. The first reading presents us with a major conflict in the early church because of varying understandings of what it means to be a Christian. While members of the original church generally originated from the Jewish faith who followed the Jewish law, over the years individuals from other religious backgrounds joined the young church who did not see the need to follow the Jewish law. Christians of a Jewish background and Christians of a non-Jewish background had difficulties to worship together, which threatened the unity of the Church.
The church leaders discussed this issue and presented the church in Antioch, which was nearly breaking up into small splinter groups because of the resulting conflict, with a pragmatic way to save the unity of the church: Christians of a “pagan” background should simply not consume meat sacrificed to Gods outside the Biblical tradition, should not consume blood and meats of strangled animals, and should be “lawfully” married, meaning that they should not engage in sexual immorality. They should only follow these “basic necessities,” as the Apostles wrote, and nothing else. And most of these recommendations were anyway adhered to by converts from outside the Biblical tradition: after their conversion, they did not engage in pagan sacrifices and, like any other church member, they followed Biblical norms regarding relationships. Further, other recommendations were easily followed, e.g. abstaining from blood. Besides these basic necessities, the converts from non-Jewish religions were not required to follow the Jewish law, as it was common among Christians who were converts from Judaism.
This compromise highlights the core commandment of our faith: Jesus commands us in today’s Gospel to “love one another,” which is the center of our faith. This compromise also emphasizes the spirit of sacrifice that underlies Christian love: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” This compromise underscores the importance of seeking commonalities and letting go of dividing beliefs and practices, which are not central to our faith. This can be quite painful. This compromise saved the unity of the church and allowed the Church to expand and to prosper. This compromise can also inspire us today when we struggle with differences among us, including in our church.
Collaborative Ministry Office Guestbook