7 February 2011 (Shanee/Matzah)|
Day #328, 5934 AM
The New Covenant Assembly
Part 3: Earliest Missionary Activity
Continued from Part 2
6. Missionary Activity
Any movement beginning, as Christianity or Messianism began, in Jerusalem, would have spread gradually throughout the Judahite population. Individual believers must soon have been scattered over the Holy Land, and little groups would naturally form in Galilee or in places like Caesarea, but two circumstances hastened this process. One was the missionary zeal of evangelists like Philip, and the other was the beginnings of serious persecution under Herod Agrippa (Ac.11:19), which lead to many believers, including the apostle Peter (Kefa), abandoning Jerusalem and carrying their faith throughout the Judahite territories and even beyond their borders.
Antioch in Syria thus became the cradle of gentile Christianity or Messianism. It had been the capital of the Selucid monarchy, and under the Romans it rivalled Alexandria as a great commercial centre (Ac.11:20). Here the Gospel was preached to the Greeks, and the wits of Antioch devised the name 'Christian', regarding the followers of Christ as a political faction like the 'Sullani' (followers of Sulla), or the Herodians (the partisans of the house of Herod).
What attracted these gentiles to the new religion? They obviously did not share Jewish messianic hopes since the restoration of the Solomonic Empire was what most wanted; they believed in Yah'shua (Jesus) as Master (Lord) or Deliverer (Saviour) rather than as 'Messiah' or 'Christ': indeed, they were apt to regard 'Christ' as a very personal name, as implied in the very word 'Christian' which they espoused. They were not seeking deliverance from foreign oppressors, nor were they, like Paul, burdened by Talmudic legalism in religion. Many of them were already attracted to Judaism because they felt that the Judahites had higher moral standards and a truer knowledge of Elohim (God) than they themselves had. It was among 'God-fearing' gentiles attached to Jewish synagogues in the diaspora (dispersion) that the Christian/Messianic missionaries, Paul and others, had their greatest success (Ac.13:48; 16:14; 17:4). They could offer to these gentile seekers after Yahweh the moral strength of Judaism without its particularism and elitism, without its talmudic peculiarities and without circumcision which was no longer required in the New Covenant and which had previously estranged gentiles. They could bring the good news of the living Elohim (God) who had spoken not only long ago through Moses (Moshe), but in these days through His Son. The gentiles, especially the uneducated or half-educated among them, were oppressed by fear - by the fear of demons and witchcraft, by the fear of Fate and Chance, and by the fear of disease and death. The Gospel brought deliverance from all these fears.
The gentile convert entered into the fellowship of the Ruach (Spirit) and found himself protected from the powers of darkness. The gentiles, like the Judahites, received the gifts of the Ruach (Spirit) - the supernatural ability to speak foreign languages ('tongues'), the power to heal, the new glow of enthusaism which brought moral strength and initiative. This fact undermined the contention of the Judaisers who held that gentile converts must first follow in the "[talmudic] traditions of the elders" if they were to become true believers, and especially to be circumsised, a controversy which has in modern times been misunderstood or twisted to mean by Protestants especially that believers do not need to follow any of the Torah and by some Messianics who insist that true believers be circumcised and uncritically imitate the customs of modern Judaism. Then there are those (like Messianic David Stern) who say that gentiles and Jews are to live two different lifestyles. Not so amongst the first believers. Coming to the living Messiah and being supernaturally delivered was the main thing for gentiles followed by induction into Torah in easy stages. Thus the first gentile induction into Torah consisted of the following statutes:
Therefore Judhaite believers and gentile believers started at different points, as it were, and then converged. Both had to make radical changes in their lives, the gentiles abandoning pagan ways and the Judahites the "tradition of the elders" and circumcision (replaced by baptism). The gentiles had to learn Torah in manageable stages so as not to quench the main foundation of the Gospel, their new-found supernatural relationship with the resurrected Messiah. Judahites had to learn not to be legalists but to place Yah'shua (Jesus) at the centre of everything. It seems both are still in need of learning the same respective truths today.
"For it seemed good to the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit), and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well" (Acts 15:28-29, NKJV).
It was in trading centres like Antioch, Ephesus and Corinth, and among the trading class, that the gentile assemblies developed most easily. Commerce was largely in the hands of freedmen in the Roman Empire, that is, men who had been slaves and who had purchased their freedom by diligence and thrift. From among this class and from among artisans, both slave and free, the messianic assemblies (churches) in Corinth and Thessalonica were mainly recruited. The well-born, the socially influential, and the well-educated were not attracted in large numbers. The nucleus of such assemblies no doubt contained those with a Judaic background through the synagogue who could instruct in Torah, but as Paul and other missionaries were compelled to break with the synagogue (Ac.19:8-9) and hold their own regular meetings in hired rooms (e.g. the School of Tyrannus in Ephesus), or in private houses (e.g. the home of Lydia in Philippi), gentile converts with little or no acquaintance with Judaism must have crowded into the fellowship, perhaps leading to different emphases in doctrine and practice that would, over the next generations, see the Torah way progressively diluted. But for the earliest believers this was not a problem as Judahite and Gentile Torah ways and spiritual experiences, respectively, converged into the new paradigm.
Continued in Part 4