[Acts] The Clash of Belonging & Believing

by | Jan 12, 2019 | Reflections

“If you believe with all your heart, you may.”
And he replied, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”
Acts 8:37

Turn to Acts 8. Read out verse 37.

If you are reading a newer translation of the Bible, You may find a gap between verse 36 and verse 38. Verse 37 not there. New translations place the verse in a footnote because it wasn’t there in the original versions of the story.

Without verse 37, the story flows like this:

[36] As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?” [38] And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. 

Almost all scholars believe that verse 37 was added later by nervous church authorities who were concerned about baptisms happening without a declaration of belief, a confession of faith. The verse was added as a gate.

Insert verse 37.
“If you believe with all your heart, you may.”
And he replied, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”  

What this missing verse illustrates is a long struggle in the church with the issue of who belongs and how.

In one strand of the Acts of the Apostles, everyone belongs:

  • Phillip was out there working the ends of the earth, making many followers of The Way.
  • Paul, after his own conversion on the road to Damascus, welcomed everyone to the new faith.
  • Peter, living out a vision from God, had a special calling to bring good news to those outside the Jewish nation. Peter says, “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation, anyone that fears God and does what is right, is acceptable to God.” (10:34,35)

It wasn’t long, though, before rules for full membership came up for debate.

  • Should every male believer be circumcised upon believing?
  • Should everyone maintain the eating rules as declared in the Law of Moses?
  • Should these new people follow the religious practices given to Jews?

Scripture says succinctly, there was “no small dissension and debate” among them.(15:2.)
These are the most comforting verses in the whole bible.
Difference and conflict are part of a living community of faith.
The dualism of belonging and believing have always shuffled for priority.

Is believing in Jesus enough?
Is belonging enough?

Perhaps, to know who we are and what our work is,
we need the faith of Jesus,
nurtured in the spiritual life,
supported and challenged in community,
and practiced in the world.

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