4 When they arrived in Jerusalem, the church, the apostles, and the elders all welcomed them. They gave a full report of what God had accomplished through their activity. 5 Some believers from among the Pharisees stood up and claimed, “The Gentiles must be circumcised. They must be required to keep the Law from Moses.”
6 The apostles and the elders gathered to consider this matter. 7 After much debate, Peter stood and addressed them, “Fellow believers, you know that, early on, God chose me from among you as the one through whom the Gentiles would hear the word of the gospel and come to believe. 8 God, who knows people’s deepest thoughts and desires, confirmed this by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us. 9 He made no distinction between us and them, but purified their deepest thoughts and desires through faith. 10 Why then are you now challenging God by placing a burden on the shoulders of these disciples that neither we nor our ancestors could bear? 11 On the contrary, we believe that we and they are saved in the same way, by the grace of the Lord Jesus.”
12 The entire assembly fell quiet as they listened to Barnabas and Paul describe all the signs and wonders God did among the Gentiles through their activity.
All of us have our particular ways of being in the world. We all have a picture of how people “should” be. We all have ideas about what “must” be done – our particular hang-ups about the “right” and “proper” way of things.
I remember sometimes asking Mom, “why do you buy such-and-such brand of butter [or flour, or ____]?” Her response was always the same: “Because that’s what Nana [her Mom] always bought.” For example, Heinz ketchup is an absolute must. There’s no other brand. That “must” remains with me to this day.
Some of these “musts” come from traditions handed down to us – lessons we learned from our parents, siblings, or other important people in our lives, from religious authorities, or from the scriptures.
When Christianity first began, the original Jewish converts were operating out of a set of “musts” that included the idea that to become a Christian, men had to be circumcised and everyone had to keep the Law of Moses. (Obviously, this was not a super popular recruitment strategy.)
Peter and Paul, though, had seen God work in a different way. They had been convinced that the Holy Spirit could work in the lives of Gentile converts whether or not they kept the Law of Moses. The Holy Spirit had effectively undone a human “must” in order to reinforce the fact God was doing an entirely new thing. And thank God that’s the case – otherwise, most of us would not be here. Christianity never would have spread like it did without this shift in thinking.
“Musts” provide us with guidance, but they are not the be-all and end-all. Sometimes, the Spirit undoes them entirely for the sake of the gospel. When you find yourself saying “it MUST be this way,” about things in the church, it’s good to question whether you’re talking about a tradition that’s outlived its usefulness.
By Joe Monahan
For Pondering & Prayer
Are there any traditions in your family, in your work, or in the church that are impeding your ability to move forward today? In this unsettled time, is there some “must” you feel called to let go?
Prayer: Holy Spirit, you specialize in breaking human rules for the sake of the gospel of love. We thank you for that. Show us how you may be calling us to do the same. Today, let us break free of the “musts” that hold us back. Amen.