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Luke and Christian Unity

June 1, 2012

Getting off on the Same Foot

What the author Luke did in his Gospel and in The Acts of the Apostles is one of the most influential forces in all of Christian history, thus impacting the rest of Western history and world history as well.  To oversimplify his tour de force just a bit, it was to present the new break-away (from Judaism) faith as unified.

Christian unity has been a major point of focus for both Christian leaders and laity since the origins of a Christian belief system and church.  It was a particular issue during the first century and the writing of the texts that eventually became the New Testament (roughly 300 years later in our present form).  This appears in most developed form in the book of Acts.   It has again been an important issue for the last few centuries.  Christians today have varying opinions about the importance of unity, whether that be of beliefs (theology) or of fellowship and cooperation (as in the “ecumenical movement,” the National and World Council of Churches and less formal movements among the more conservative). 

The Ideal and the Reality

So, if you are a Bible reader, serious Christian, or an ancient history buff, how carefully have you read the book of Acts? Have you seen in it Luke’s fairly obvious piece-it-all-together-and-smooth-over-the-conflicts attempts? (Which, incidentally, succeeded pretty well!)  

I know I long missed it — like for decades, even with a theological education.  So without a good background, and even with it, you may not spot it on a light reading.  For one thing it is easy to be distracted by all the action, the drama and the brilliantly-constructed speeches (supposedly created on the spot by key characters at crucial junctures — but a common rhetorical device we can give Luke some leeway on).

If you are a serious student of the Bible, have you also compared Luke’s and Paul’s accounts of key events like Paul’s conversion experience, his early (?) introduction to the Apostles and other Jerusalem believers, and the “Jerusalem Council”?  What about other statements Paul makes in anger or sarcasm about “men from James” or “super apostles,” his confrontation with Peter and various references to a different understanding of the “gospel” than his own?

Doing this comparing and re-reading Acts with an eye for Luke’s main purposes and themes, I think it you may have some “Aha!” moments, as I have.  You may come to the realization that various New Testament writers, including authors of the Gospels, were not just warning of future departures from the true faith (or correct beliefs).  They spoke, often indirectly, of contemporary opponents within the new faith who also thought, just as certainly, that their version was the right one.  

We can safely assume that Luke’s Acts was one of the later NT books composed even though it covers events only up to the mid-60s or so, with Paul under arrest, headed to Rome (none have dates attached).  Thus, Luke was quite aware of this in-fighting and knew it was a problem and would continue to be.  So he took it on aggressively.  His success was a major influence on how Christians, yet today, with tons of scholarship showing a more complete and accurate picture, tend to wrongly perceive the early Church as developing in a more-or-less unified and smooth way, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit (another key theme of Acts). 

So what have you seen in this most fascinating “linkage” (in more ways than covered here) book?  How has Luke’s “history” influenced your beliefs, your actions, or your participation with Christian churches?

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