persecution

Putting a New Face on Sunday School

In verses 22-23 of Acts 22, Give the details of the “hissy fit” Paul’s Jewish audience threw when he used the “G” word.

Have you or I ever felt or expressed similar emotions when we didn’t get out way in church? (The “no” word) How does submission allow the Lord to bring about spiritual growth in our worthy walk with Him?

-from the Sunday school study notes
on Acts 22:22-29 for June 8th

My Sunday school teacher has a tendency to compare apples with oranges and believe he is actually comparing apples to apples. For instance:

“And He said to me, ‘Go! For I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’”

They listened to him up to this statement, and then they raised their voices and said, “Away with such a fellow from the earth, for he should not be allowed to live!” And as they were crying out and throwing off their cloaks and tossing dust into the air, the commander ordered him to be brought into the barracks, stating that he should be examined by scourging so that he might find out the reason why they were shouting against him that way.

Acts 22:21-24 (NASB)

Teacher was comparing a near-riot situation not only to a “hissy fit” (which Urban Dictionary defines as a “sudden outburst of temper, often used to describe female anger at something trivial”) but to any relatively minor situation a person might experience in church that would cause them unhappiness or displeasure.

Either he thinks people’s problems in church border on crowd violence or he grossly minimizes the angst, frustration, fear, pain, and anger of the Jewish people whose land has been occupied by a pagan foreign army and who were highly sensitized to any offense by Gentiles during a moed such as Shavuot.

Since I published my previous blog post which merely anticipated last Sunday’s class, people have been asking me how class actually went. This is the answer.

Apostle Paul preachingI decided I could not remain completely silent and let what I considered to be unfair or inaccurate statements about Paul’s situation in particular or Christianity’s attitude about Judaism and Jewish people in general go unanswered. While I chose to ignore the “hissy fit” comment (though I was surprised at the number of people in class who agreed that the Jews in the above-quoted passage were merely “throwing a childish fit”), I did zero in on the humanity and the group dynamics of the situation.

I pointed out that presumably, some “Jews from Asia” (Acts 21:27) had been spreading rumors in Jerusalem that Paul had been “teaching all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs” (Acts 21:21), and also that he had “even brought Greeks into the temple and [had] defiled [the] holy place.”

It only takes a few agitators to stir up a large crowd and start a riot. Jerusalem’s population had swelled to millions of Jews in preparation of Shavuot, and it was always during the moadim that emotions ran especially high. Any upset or offense at all, particularly the thought that a pagan Gentile would be taken into the Temple by a Jew who was presumed to be sympathetic to pagans if not a Roman collaborator, would be cause enough for disaster.

Now the Passover and Unleavened Bread were two days away; and the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to seize Him by stealth and kill Him; for they were saying, “Not during the festival, otherwise there might be a riot of the people.”

Mark 14:1-2 (NASB)

We see even the Romans (not to mention the chief priests and scribes) could not execute the Master with impunity for fear of the crowds. In fact, in Acts 22, the Roman military authorities are doing all they can to prevent such a mass disturbance.

riotingSince none of that qualifies as a “hissy fit,” I decided to toss my two cents into the hat, so to speak, and explain all of this to the class. My teacher was in totally agreement and no one spoke up to suggest otherwise, though I can’t possibly know what anyone was thinking. My one regret was that the individual who previously made the Anti-Gentilism remark wasn’t present to either respond or not respond. But that was probably for the best since I can be more sure that my motivations were clear of the desire to make my own “response” to this person.

Earlier that morning, Pastor was extremely careful to point out that Paul’s troubles weren’t what we might consider in modern times to be “Jews persecuting a Christian.” At that moment in history, in Jerusalem, all of the people involved, apart from the Romans, are Jesus-believing Jews and Jews from other religious streams. The most accurate picture, in my personal opinion, we can paint, is that differing or opposing Jewish religious sects were engaged in “passionate” disagreement up to and including violent outbursts.

But perceiving that one group were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, Paul began crying out in the Council, “Brethren, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees; I am on trial for the hope and resurrection of the dead!” As he said this, there occurred a dissension between the Pharisees and Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor an angel, nor a spirit, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all. And there occurred a great uproar; and some of the scribes of the Pharisaic party stood up and began to argue heatedly, saying, “We find nothing wrong with this man; suppose a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?” And as a great dissension was developing, the commander was afraid Paul would be torn to pieces by them and ordered the troops to go down and take him away from them by force, and bring him into the barracks.

Acts 23:6-10 (NASB)

Last week in one of my reviews of D. Thomas Lancaster’s Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series, I wrote that Lancaster taught that the Pharisees and the Messianic Jewish believers all had virtually identical theology and doctrine. They both believed in the world to come, they both believed that God rewarded good and punished evil, both in this world and the world to come, they both believed in the resurrection of the dead, and they both believed in the Holy Spirit and in angelic beings.

But the Sadducees believed in none of that, which is what, according to Lancaster, resulted in the Sadducees barring the Messianic believers from the Temple prompting the Hebrews letter-writer to pen his epistle, and why the Sadducees and Pharisees sitting on the Sanhedrin argued so strenuously, putting Paul’s safety and even his life in danger.

That’s not the same as one religion persecuting another, dissimilar religion.

The Jewish PaulIn fact, in verse 6, Paul said, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees…,” and Pastor pointed this out, not I was a Pharisee. There was nothing inconsistent with being a Pharisee and coming to the realization that Yeshua was the Messiah, Son of God. Yeshua-devotion seems to have been the natural, logical, Biblical extension of Pharisaism in late second-Temple Judaism.

So we might even say (though I could be stepping out on a limb here), that modern Messianic Judaism, in some sense, is the inheritor of first century Pharisaic/Messianic Judaism.

As Sunday school class ended, a gentleman who looked familiar to me, but not in that context, approached me and introduced himself. Actually, he reminded me that he’s the father of my son Michael’s best friend. Apparently, he and his wife had attended this church some years back but left to plant another church in the community. They’ve returned, presumably for some time, so it’s become a more interesting situation.

I recall the few times I’ve spoken with this person before. He’s always been personable and interactive. Very much a “traditional Christian” but willing to listen and discuss my “Jewish” ideas.

No one else in class (or in church) has any connection to my family or my family’s history (my son has known this gentleman and his family for well over a decade, though I’ve only met them just a few times over the years) so I wonder how or if this will affect my future contributions? The situation certainly puts a new face on Sunday school.

One more thing. Pastor did talk about Christians who are being persecuted in the world today, and specifically Pastor Sergey Kosyak of Donetsk in the Ukraine. Please pray for him and for all the Christians who are authentically in danger, being injured, being incarcerated, being murdered for the sake of their faith in Jesus Christ. May God be with them and protect them all.

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8 thoughts on “Putting a New Face on Sunday School”

  1. Your writing is a blessing to me, James. And, I have to say, Pastor sounds very thoughtful — about Ukranian Christians and more.

    Quote: “Earlier that morning, Pastor was extremely careful to point out that Paul’s troubles weren’t what we might consider in modern times to be “Jews persecuting a Christian.” At that moment in history….

    But perceiving that one group were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, Paul began crying out in the Council, “Brethren, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees; I am on trial for the hope and resurrection of the dead!” As he said this, there occurred a dissension between the Pharisees and Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor an angel, nor a spirit, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all. And there occurred a great uproar; and some of the scribes of the Pharisaic party stood up and began to argue heatedly, saying, “We find nothing wrong with this man; suppose a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?” And as a great dissension was developing, the commander was afraid Paul would be torn to pieces by them and ordered the troops to go down and take him away from them by force, and bring him into the barracks.

    -Acts 23:6-10 (NASB)

    “Last week in one of my reviews of D. Thomas Lancaster’s Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series, I wrote that Lancaster taught that the Pharisees and the Messianic Jewish believers all had virtually identical theology ….

    “But the Sadducees believed in none of that….

    “That’s not the same as one religion persecuting another, dissimilar religion. [At the same time, as you’ve shared elsewhere, the dissimilar religion at play was the official one of imposed Roman emperor worship (yet with Judaism within prescribed limits allowed). Marleen added note.]

    “The Jewish Paul[ i]n fact, in verse 6, […] said, “ I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees…,” and Pastor pointed this out, not I was a Pharisee. There was nothing inconsistent with being a Pharisee and coming to the realization that Yeshua was the Messiah, Son of God….”

    Not to ignore the rest of your hopeful post, but many pastors cannot reach this.

    Also, I agree with your take on the overall topic of the heading. I enjoyed the Jewish stories/writing you related along with that.

    {Incidentally, it’s interesting this female characterization was used in Sunday school for the incident. It hasn’t been uncommon for Jews to be put down as feminine. Nevertheless, the intent in your situation was probably (in ignorance) to try and not be TOO mean in criticizing.}

  2. Sorry, mix up. While the title of this post is also a good one, the heading I was referring to was the one about getting along… passivity.

  3. I should mention that Pastor believes first century “Jewish Christianity” was going through a “transitionary period” whereby practice of the mitzvot was fading away and within a generation or two, would be extinguished as a requirement for Jewish believers. This is one of our main points of disagreement, since I see nothing in the Bible that presupposes a replacement of the requirements of the Sinai covenant for a Jew with something less stringent and in line with the Acts 15 ruling for the Gentile disciples.

  4. Marleen said: Sorry, mix up. While the title of this post is also a good one, the heading I was referring to was the one about getting along… passivity.

    No worries. It’s all good.

    Marleen said: Your writing is a blessing to me, James.

    Thanks Marleen. I feel humbled and honored you should be blessed by what I do here.

  5. Does that, “hissy fit,” comment smack of covert antisemitism to you? It does to me. I was never privileged to listen to antisemitic comments until after I became a believer and it was always in context of church or Christian media.

    Back in the 1980’s, I went with some friends to Calvary Chapel Denver where Tom Stipe was preaching. I understand that he had been a youth pastor for several years, and was seeking to be humorous. I failed to see the humor in a comment that the priests rending their garments were, “Throwing a Jewish pity party.” I had heard other slights, and wondered if it was just me who was oversensitive, but other members of my fellowship agreed. One guy, James, had previously been one of Stipe’s home group leaders, and Stipe agreed to meet with him, as his usual comment was, “If you want an appointment with me, you are going to have to wait till we get to heaven.” When James met with Stipe, Stipe denied any wrongdoing and that was that.

    Denigration of women, whether in jest or in other ways, seems part and parcel of Christianity, and Judaism isn’t innocent here either.

    If you want to talk about hissy fits, seeing that Christians are being murdered in Muslim countries today, I see “names,” whining and crying about, “the war on Christmas,” and other aspects of where Christian privilege is loosing ground.

    Today the Panera Five, along with the visiting daughter of one of the ladies, discussed Hebrews 6-8, and specifically the very wrong translations that promote the idea of the “law,” being in a state of passing away, as your pastor believes. We looked up the Greek, and it seems obvious that the bulk of the discussion is a comparison of priesthoods, not about the validity of torah. Certainly if the role of the Levites was to teach the people and judge between tamei and tahor; in a time where every man shall not teach his brother or his neighbor because all shall know me, certainly that aspect of the role of the Levites would not be needed.

  6. I think the “hissy fit” comment and so many others are indicative of people in the church failing to see people in the Bible as real people. They seem to read all this as if it’s some sort of fable and that the only purpose of the people present is to tell some sort of moral story about how cool Christianity is and how other religions persecute Christians. Last Sunday, my main goal was to get the point across that everyone involved was real and had real, human motivations for their actions, motivations that people today would have under similar circumstances. I don’t know how successful I was.

  7. I think you’re right about the, “unreal,” aspect. Their theology is that the only reason for these stories was to point to Jesus. People are lazy, and I suspect pew sitters are lazier. Easier to impute modern motives than to examine the historical and cultural motivating factors.

    And then there is the fear that if you see someone as a real person and seek to understand them, you may find yourself agreeing with them. So, better to keep this dangerous stuff at arm’s length.

    I was reading about one type of rabbinic interpretation which means, “to understand with both hands.” In other words, we consider all the different viewpoints of the equation. Usually if you see any attempt at this in the modern world, it is for the purposes of building a straw man.

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