Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Saint James (BBB Part Nineteen)

At roughly the same time that I began reading about Orthodoxy, a couple of other things happened that helped nudge me in the direction of the Ancient Faith. I have already written about the first of these in an earlier post, so I ask you to forgive me for the repetition.

One of the things that I did while in Banja Luka was to lead an intensive Bible study on the book of Acts for a couple of members of the Baptist church. One day, the day on which we were to study the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15, only one of my students was able to come. He was a very devout young man whom I shall call David. Of all of my Serb friends in Banja Luka, David was the one that I felt the closest to.

In Acts 15, we see the Apostles and the other leaders of the Church gathered to discuss a criticial issue which had arisen as a result of St. Paul's first missionary journey. The problem before them was, in essence: Did Gentiles converting to Christianity have to first become Jews, or could they be received directly into Christianity, without first being circumcised or submitting to the full Old Testament Law? As David and I were studying the text, we noticed that after the council discussed the issue at hand, St. James said, "Simon [i.e. St. Peter] has declared how God at the first visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His name. And with this the words of the prophets agree." Then, after quoting a passage from the Prophet Amos, he concludes, "Therefore, I judge that they should not trouble those from among the Gentiles who are turning to God, but that we write to them to abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from things strangled, and from blood" (Acts 15:14-15,19-20).

James' words "I judge" are key here. At the Council, there was much discussion, during which at the very least Peter, Paul, and Barnabas spoke. But then all were silent, waiting for James to make a ruling. There was no vote, and after James ruled, there was no further discussion. Rather, the Scripture tells us that "it pleased the apostles and elders, with the whole church" (15:22) to send people out to the various churches with St. James and the council's ruling. As David and I said to each other "i to je bilo to" (and that was that)!

As I mentioned, David's and my study of this passage actually occurred shortly before I even read Becoming Orthodox. The "ball" of my movement toward Orthodoxy was not yet rolling (or was it?). But I remember looking at David and saying, "That sounds like something a bishop would say and do." David looked at me and said, "Yes, it sure does." David and I, happy Baptists that we were, learned on that day that the first century Church really did have bishops that made rulings, just as the Orthodox Church has always taught. This experience definitely planted a seed in both David's and my mind. For the first time, I learned that at least one of the claims of the Orthodox Church, namely, that the early Church was hierarchical and not democratic and congregational, was not “unbiblical,” but was actually firmly grounded in Scripture. It wouldn’t be too long until I would learn the same thing about other Orthodox teachings.