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Acts of the Holy Spirit in the early Church

authorvanithan

I’m writing this at a time when the world is in frenzy over Pope Francis’ comments in a new documentary about him. The secular media claim that his comments meant the Catholic Church endorsed same-sex union and that this was the sign that the Church’s teaching on homosexuality was caving in. The discussion about what the Pope actually said is not relevant here but what interested me was the fact that the Church’s teachings cannot be changed as easily as that and this is because of the structure, hierarchy and processes that are in place. This is one of the strengths of the Catholic Church.

My appreciation for the Catholic Church’s structure, hierarchy and processes grew exponentially when I did the online study titled Acts: The Spread of the Kingdom conducted by Jeff Cavins & organised by SIC Scripture Study (SSS) group. I saw how all this was put in place at the very beginning when the Church was at its infancy and saw how strong this was then and that nothing has changed to this day.

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My husband, who is also doing the study, reminded me that when Paul the Apostle brought up the issue of circumcision at the Council of Jerusalem, the then Pope Peter, after meeting the apostles and elders, agreed with him that this Mosaic Law did not need to be imposed on Gentile believers (Acts 15:6-11). This matter was brought before the leadership to discuss. There was no room for personal preferences to sneak in, or was there any way arbitrary decisions could be forced through. Neither was there any intention to pander to popular opinions. It all had to come before the Church leadership for the elders to devote ample time to praying and discussing, and the decision made by the council was final.

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Everyone submitted to the leadership, there was no murmuring, sabotage or refusal to carry out directives. The final decision was announced by James and a letter was written and sent out to the Gentile believers. How do we know the decision made was the best? The people more than accepted the decision. They were happy and found the message encouraging, and life went on (Acts 15:31). I used to be very bothered about this, thinking that Peter ought to be the decision-maker as the Pope and not James. I had thought James was not respecting the leadership placed by God and was controlling the Church and that even Paul did not dare go against him. I thought this whole episode showed a wanton display of power and that James was undermining the Church authority. But only after doing this study did I see how the Church operated and how wrong I was.

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I saw the different roles played by James, Peter and Paul, along with the others and also the decision-making process. I also learnt about how deacons were selected in the early Church and how the distinction between deacons and priests were made, and how offerings were brought to Jerusalem and with that a revenue-generating system was put in place to take care of Church operations. There is much tradition in the Catholic Church and much of it had its origins in the first century Church. One of the criticisms is that these traditions are choking the growth of the Church. But I feel that only happens when traditions are man-made. The traditions of the Catholic Church come from God, and these God-made traditions have made the Church stand strong all these years – 2,000 years to be precise. They are there to help the leadership put God first, make sure all actions and decisions are directed by the Holy Spirit, and bring Jesus to all corners of the earth.

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The Book of Acts is about how the faith spread – from Pentecost, to martyrdom and the conversion of Gentiles by the thousands. It is a story that starts with Jesus telling his apostles to take the Gospel to all four corners of the earth and the book ends with thousands, or probably millions, accepting Jesus as their Lord and Saviour as a result of this spiritual movement. The Book of Acts is about a much-feared Roman official who becomes the Apostle to the Gentiles and a powerful preacher who with a newly-established Church shook the biggest political power in the world, the Roman Empire, and the Sanhedrin, the highest decision-making Jewish institution.

The Book of Acts is about the early Catholic Church guided and empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Note: Acts: The Spread of the Kingdom was conducted by SSS from 2 Mar 2020 to 9 Nov 2020. More than 50 participants & facilitators attended the 20-session module via Zoom. Click on SSS for more information.

 
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