Looking back to find a way forward…
by Scott Taylor
In the process of going through old boxes of books, I found the Bible my parents gave me decades ago. Brown leather-bound with my name inscribed on the cover. Scofield’s dated notes to the NIV translation. This was the Bible of my Baptist childhood that I had put into storage long ago. Finding it was as finding a forgotten treasure. Since the Bible was intended to be my family Bible, I decided to fill in all the names that were yet missing on pages commemorating Marriages, Births, and Deaths. I then turned to an old friend, the Book of Ecclesiastes, and read.
In the following months, I read the Gospels of Mark and Matthew and Luke. Instead of turning over to John, I jumped to Acts and continued to read Luke’s account of the early church. My journey through the Acts of the Apostles sparked a flame in me. The more I read and re-read these millennia-old sagas, the more I began to consider how the early church could be a guide for the modern church.
Acts begins with the Spirit’s baptism of faithful followers of Christ at Pentecost. Though many things vie for the attention in these opening chapters, I am drawn immediately to the diversity of the affair. “There were Parthians and Medes and those from Mesopotamia…” The list goes on and on! In Peter’s first sermon to the new church he recalls the words of the prophet Joel, “I will pour out my spirit on all people … sons and daughters, young and old, servants, men and women. They will all prophesy and preach and have visions.” It seems to me that the early church may have some wisdom for a modern Methodist Church that did not grant full clergy rights to women until 1956.
And then there is the account of Philip, an early church leader, and the Ethiopian eunuch. That he was an Ethiopian made this man as foreign as foreign can be. That he was also a eunuch placed this man outside the doors of the temple – unclean and unwelcomed. Philip found him reading a scroll of the prophet Isaiah and they sat and talked about Christ. Philip then baptized him. No longer was the man a stranger; no longer was he unclean. No longer was this eunuch “cut off from the land of the living.” He became heir to Christ, brother to many, and father to us all.
In his ministry to the Gentiles, Paul confronted the unmovable issue of the day between Jewish tradition and Christian Gospel: must a person be circumcised to be saved? This may seem like an odd question today, but to the early church it represented a major roadblock to finding a way forward for the young church. The Council of Jerusalem was convened and you should really take the time to read chapter 15! In this chapter we find institutional leadership providing a meaningful way forward for the young church – a way that honors both the need for inclusivity and the moral codes of the established faith tradition.
FUMC just hosted the Council of Bishops for an afternoon. You may have not known, but hundreds of Bishops from around the world were in our church on Sunday. I am grateful that we have Bishops and that they are able to devote themselves to the Gospel at an institutional level. The Bishops are charged with serious work for the future of the Methodist Church in this world. In truth, I believe we all are involved in this important work. Therefore, as we look for a way forward, let us not neglect our past. Let us take the early church out of storage. The treasure it stores may be the wisdom we need.