The year was 1788. The Constitution had just been ratified, and this radical new idea of a democratic, representative government called the United States of America was forming. But some clarity was needed.
On one hand you had the Federalists, who maintained that because of national security and international credibility, this new government needed a strong federal arm, that would have as much or more power than the states had individually. The Anti-Federalists, on the other hand, argued that putting too much power in the hands of the federal government rather than the states would be tantamount to making the President another King, which was precisely the problem they were trying to address.
So, the conundrum: how to keep the federal government from becoming too powerful, while giving the states the autonomy they needed, and protecting the rights of individual citizens from an overly aggressive commonwealth.
The answer was the Bill of Rights, or the first ten amendments to the Constitution, which provided for enough checks and balances to satisfy the Anti-Federalists. Now individual rights such as freedom of religion, due process, unreasonable search and seizure, trial by jury, excessive punishment and the right to bear arms were in place.
What happened? The vision of this new venture of democratic government needed maturing. It needed to be fleshed out in practical terms so people understood how to apply its new principles in everyday life.
Chapter 29 does precisely that. This chapter in The Story is by far the longest chapter, but it matures the vision as Paul lays out the practical elements of the Christian life in his letters to the embryonic, emerging churches of the first century. Jesus had brought a radical, unexpected vision that challenged people to think in terms of spiritual transformation rather than political upheaval. The key principles of His teachings were still there:
- Love God and your neighbors as yourself.
- Lose your life in order to find it.
- Become a servant.
But how did Christianity work if the person who I’m commanded to love has just divorced me, or taken me to court? How do you bring Jews and Gentiles into one Kingdom, when each has a totally different frame of reference? Since Jesus was a Jew, do you have to become a Jew first before becoming a Christian? And what do we do now with the Law? Just toss it after all these years? What happens when people start taking this new religion and, as humans are prone to do, use it for their own ends?
It’s not an exact parallel, of course, but this chapter in the Story, in a way, serves as a set of instructions and clarifications to the gospel much like the amendments to the Constitution elucidate and illuminate the principles on which we were founded.
This was especially important because as we see in Acts, God’s plan was not to keep the church in a cloistered biosphere, a pristine environment where it could be kept safe from the influences of the world. Quite the opposite: the church was supposed to go change the world by engaging with it, influencing it, and making disciples of all nations by going, baptizing and teaching.
What we’re looking for today are themes that are interwoven throughout the writings of Paul as he visits, addresses, equips, reprimands and encourages these new believers.
Jewish converts already understood sin, God, and the long history of His work in their lives. But Gentile converts began at square one. So Paul adapted his methods of teaching, depending on his audience. His letters to each church reveal a wide array of problems; but while he addressed each church differently, there are some common threads that run throughout his letters – issues that do not surprise us, knowing the nature of the new organism that was being created.
Chapter 29: Small group; Adult Sunday School Class (PDF); Family Pages; Audio; Little Ones/Preschool ( Take Home Page, Trading Card Poster, Activity Sheet); Early Elementary (Take Home Page, Trading Card Poster, Activity Sheet); Kids (Take Home Page, Activity Sheet)