One of the great things about the Bible is that it is so real. Yes, the book of Acts includes some pretty amazing stuff about what God was doing in the early church (thousand of people added to a local church in one day! Undeniable miracles! Worship that shook the very foundations of the building where they were meeting! People’s lives remarkably changed! Imagine being part of a church like that!)
But then we come to a passage like this, and we see a church with all the blemishes that many of us know so well. Division. Power struggles. Doctrinal confusion. Clinging to the past. Refusal to change.
And remember—we’re not talking minor issues here, or “way out” churches, or questionable people. We’re talking salvation through Christ by grace alone. We’re talking the apostles and elders (!!!) who are doing the debating, and who still seem to be struggling with what following Jesus really means. And you’ll notice how the disagreement is described as “much debate”. We’re talking a vigorous, profound disagreement here.
We all long for pure churches; for churches that get faithfulness to Jesus right. Oh how we long for such a church! But it is probably worth noting, as far as I can tell, that such a church has pretty much never existed (despite claims to the contrary!). Even Jesus acknowledges this in his kingdom parable of the wheat and the weeds.
And why should that surprise us? We are, after all, fallen human beings. Redeemed by grace, yes, but certainly not perfect. At least I’m not.
So maybe we should be a little more patient with our churches (and please believe me, I am writing this as more to myself than anybody else). Maybe we should be quicker to acknowledge our own blind spots. Maybe we should see in the church’s faults and failings not so much the need to take things into our own hands, but to trust that God will work in our churches-- just like He did in the early church so many years ago.