A few (well, not really) reflections after attending the latest NTU-ISCF Annual General Meeting, based on my earlier post: Apostolic General Meeting (you can read the whole passage first, Acts 15, to get a better idea of what I’ll be writing below).
1. What is the issue at hand?
The church in Jerusalem had a very specific issue to discuss, on whether circumcision is necessary for the non-Jewish believers (Acts 15.1). To put it in other words, what constitutes the people of God?
Unfortunately, we might not have the same luxury of having a concrete issue. Heck, we might be arguing over what the issue is.
2. Debate is normal.
Indeed, “there had been much debate.” (15.7)
3. Respect the authorities.
Here represented by speeches of Peter and James, the “pillars” of the church. In a traditional Eastern community, the authorities are usually the seniors. In the words of Acts, “the apostles and the elders.” (15.4)
4. Respect the practitioners.
Here represented by Barnabas and Paul, the workers in the church of Antioch. In our case, I guess it means that we should listen to and respect the excos. The church in Jerusalem could theorize a lot of things about how things should be done in the Gentile churches, but, unless they had seen by themselves how God worked among the Gentiles as equally as he worked among the Jews, their voice became mute and must be listened with a pinch of salt. Not that Barnabas and Paul must be right, either, but that certainly they deserved to be heard.
5. Be willing to criticize our long-cherished tradition.
Barnabas and Paul challenged the common practice among the Jews believers. Tradition is not absolute. If the context demands change, don’t hold against it. The older generation might be different with the younger one. For example, we used to be an Engineering-dominated fellowship, but now it’s much more diverse. We have members studying Arts, Humanities, Social Sciences, and so on. Yet, often we still think along engineering lines. We must have willingness to listen to other parties which differ from us and not just imposing our beliefs and opinions over them.
Indeed, in the case of this conference in Jerusalem, the Jerusalem church was willing to accommodate the practice in the church of Antioch. It showed that they were willing to change and listen to the younger church. So, if on the one hand we need to respect the authorities, on the other hand it also shows what kind of authorities we should be (and hence deserves the respect). That is, authorities who are humble and willing to listen to others.
6. Don’t absolutize wordings and orders.
Recommendation of James (15.20):
“to abstain from the things polluted by idols (alisgematon ton eidolon),
and from sexual immorality,
and from what has been strangled,
and from blood.”
Official letter from the Jerusalem church (15.29):
“that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols (eidolothuton),
and from blood,
and from what has been strangled,
and from sexual immorality.”
So we have (1) different wordings (alisgematon ton eidolon to eidolothuton) and (2) different orders (sexual immorality moved from the second place to the last place).
In our context, it means that the wordings and orders of the annual goal are not absolute. Indeed, I would suggest that the wordings of annual goal inherently should allow for diverse interpretations. The annual goal is not like a point, it’s more like a circle or a sphere where you could move within it. So it has both focus and area to move around. Moreover, some kind of unity in diversity is also achieved.
(In retrospect, precision in wordings is also mark of those who studied science. So in some sense it reflects our background.)
7. The letter is never alone.
First, Barnabas and Paul were sent back to the church in Antioch. They knew what was talked about during the meeting and hence they could explain what lied behind the letter from the church in Jerusalem. Judas and Silas from the church in Jerusalem were also sent to the church in Antioch. And they spent some time over there.
My point is, those who attended the meeting would also be responsible to the implementation of the resolution. And they did. Barnabas and Paul went back to Antioch. Judas and Silas were sent to Antioch. They would help to explain the bigger picture of the letter.
Likewise, the attendants in the AGM would help to explain the bigger picture of the annual goal and to work out the goal itself.
The letter is never alone. It is not an independent document. Likewise, the annual goal is not an independent statement. It is lifeless without the ISCF members. It does not have its own life.
Similarly, to accentuate the previous point, because the letter is never alone, precision in wordings and orders of the annual goal is relativized. Barnabas, Paul, Judas, and Silas were as important as the letter from the church in Jerusalem. The attendants in the AGM (and other members) would be as important as the annual goal of the fellowship.
8. Assembled with one accord.
Finally, I would just end with how the letter opened: “It seemed good for us, being assembled with one accord.” (15.25) After “much debate”, they assembled with one accord. Let us unite as one, and let us get this going together.
And what happened to the church in Antioch? After they listened to the letter, “they rejoiced because its encouragement.” (15.31) The whole episode culminated in thanksgiving. It would be more appropriate if AGM served as the Extended Thanksgiving from the Exam Thanksgiving.