After staying there for a considerable time, Paul said farewell to the believers and sailed for Syria, accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila. At Cenchreae he had his hair cut, for he was under a vow. When they reached Ephesus, he left them there, but first he himself went into the synagogue and had a discussion with the Jews. When they asked him to stay longer, he declined; but on taking leave of them, he said, “I will return to you, if God wills.” Then he set sail from Ephesus. When he had landed at Caesarea, he went up to Jerusalem and greeted the church, and then went down to Antioch. After spending some time there he departed and went from place to place through the region of Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples. Now there came to Ephesus a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria. He was an eloquent man, well-versed in the scriptures. He had been instructed in the Way of the Lord; and he spoke with burning enthusiasm and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue; but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained the Way of God to him more accurately. And when he wished to cross over to Achaia, the believers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. On his arrival he greatly helped those who through grace had become believers,
The encounter between Priscilla and Aquilla and the enthusiastic preacher, Apollos is warm and supportive, but also raises a gentle note of caution. Clearly the characters who made up the emerging Church did not always follow the same script. Inevitably, variations of recollection and interpretation would occur and so, alongside the need to share good news, there was a corresponding need to create and reinforce some kind of agreed message. That seems to have been a primary purpose, for example, of the letters of Paul and others in the New Testament. This need to regularise the message brings with it its own dilemma – how do you decide if a new person, idea or practice increases understanding the core Gospel message, or if it undermines that core message? (The story of Peter and Cornelius in Acts 10 and how the believers in Jerusalem deal with this is a good example). Balancing inherited truth with the possibility of fresh revelation is always a tricky, though necessary task to manage if we are to faithful followers of “the Way”.
I look after an historic chapel in Wrentham, Suffolk. It was born in the “boundary breaking” radical days of the early seventeenth century at a time when a King lost his head and Pilgrims sailed to the New World in order practise their Christian faith without state influence. However, the building is heavily listed, meaning that nothing inside or out can be changed, despite the reality that its densely packed box pews and high pulpit render the whole interior unsuitable for use in the twenty-first Century.
If today’s church is to flourish it must take it’s cue from Jesus who respected the truth of the Jewish Law, yet travelled lightly and experimentally as he lived out its significance for all people.
God of our past, our present and our future days, help us to honour the ways and words that you have given to your people down the generations; yet alert us, equally, to innovation and fresh opportunities in which to live out the Gospel today. Amen
The Rev’d Ian Fosten is Team Leader for the Norwich Area URCs.