Saturday, 29 May 2010

It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us

This post may not mean a whole lot to you if you're not a Christian

The title is taken from the New Testament book of Acts. The context is a letter that has just been written from the early Jewish-Christian elders in Jerusalem, to the new non-Jewish believers in Antioch. The letter addresses the difficult problem of whether or not the new believers should be expected to keep all of the Jewish religious laws. This was the conclusion:

"It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things." - Acts chapter 15 verses 28-29

I like that phrase - "It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us" - it leaves a somewhat blurry line between "what we think" and "what God thinks". There's a definite sense of God's involvement and approval, but it isn't just a dictate from on high - the elders are taking responsibility for this.

2,000 years later, looking back on their conclusion, we get a slightly different perspective. In fact, even later on in the New Testament, the apostle Paul advises the believers in Corinth not to get too hung up about food that's been sacrificed to idols (see 1 Corinthians 10 vs 23-33). For most of us of course, this is much less of an issue nowadays, but most Christians today are also a lot less bothered about the whole blood thing (mmm… black pudding!), where for the early Christian elders with their Jewish background this was a really big deal!

Sexual morality on the other hand, remains a big deal for most Christians to this day, and to my mind rightly so. Although secular western society now takes a far more permissive approach, sexual immorality continues to have deep and far-reaching emotional and social consequences.

Getting back to my main subject though, I like this idea of a dynamic interaction between us and God. There's a degree of God speaking and a degree of us listening and interpreting - seeking to obey Him, while taking responsibility for our choices. Sometimes we may need to revisit those choices as our understanding of God and the world develops.

Most evangelical Christians today see the whole Bible as the indisputable "Word of God" - although they usually tend to ignore the inconvenient bits, such as the above quote! Perhaps a slightly softer approach would be more appropriate - "It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us"!

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