Church Growth and Conflict

Messiah assured the disciples that Hades’ pillars would not sway the church and it was not long after His resurrection that He gave them evidence of church dominion. Contrary to popular theology, the Church’s ascendency does not consist of ecclesiastical power over the secular organs of governance: that has been tried in ancient Israel, the Roman church and to some extent in the world – ruling empires all the way down to the United Kingdom and the United States of America. The so-called theocracies, whether Israelite, Islamic, or Christian, have not, advanced the cause of faith in God, the brotherhood of man, or justice. The conspiracy against Christ (Psalm 2) fell through without the Jewish authorities being aware of the effect of their actions on the success of the Messianic mission. The preoccupation with their monopoly over the lucrative temple services and the propagation of their brand of the Mosaic law by means of the alliance between Sadducees (priestly power), Scribes (academic power), and the Pharisees (popular examples of orthodoxy) helped to blind them to God’s moves and contributed to church progress.

The death of Christ provided an end to the embarrassment of the Jewish power triad and it effectively terminated the temple services and the sway of Mosaic Judaism. The shape of the conflict between God and all pretenders to the throne was decided and the later skirmishes between Judaism and the Way represent a lot of bark with no bite. The rise of opposition against the church would only foster growth.

If Sadducee pride came from the example of Zadok the resistance to Davidide power was ignorant, pitiful, and egotistic. Zadok was the anointer of Solomon. If scribal acumen had anything to do with Moses and the prophets (including David and Daniel) the world of Judaism was standing on its head and the scribes’ refusal to see past the rituals and interests of the temple served to make the Messianic doctrine take wings. What Christ had to say provided what the people had never found in all the Mosaic literature: grace.

This is what the deacon Stephen had that brought some African and Asian Jews to contend for Mosaic orthodoxy: grace plus wisdom and spirit (Acts 6:11). Luke tells us that “… they suborned men, which said, We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses, and against God.”

They incited “the people, and the elders, and the scribes, and came upon him, and caught him, and brought him to the council”. In the face of false witnesses and charges of blasphemy Stephen defended the Biblical record of Jewish resistance to God’s will. His accusers showed that they had no intention of allowing God to take charge of the temple and Jewish religious life. Change was the last thing they wanted.

They chose Moses instead of their Creator who had proved that if they had believed Moses they would have believed Him (John 5:46-47). The truth about what was really happening was too much for the council (Acts 7).
(51) Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye.
(52) Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which shewed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers:
(53) Who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it.

They plugged their ears even though Stephen’s defense was a recitation of the Biblical record. They had started a fight and showed that they could not fight fairly.

The death of Christ had brought accelerated growth to the number of disciples. The death of Stephen would have the same effect. A great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem followed, and the outcome was that the expansion into Gentile communities began in earnest.

Acts 8:4 tells us that “they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word.”
They lit up Samaria and made a connection with Ethiopia, and when the Jewish authorities ramped up their persecution one of their most ferocious agents, one Saul of Tarsus, ran headlong into the Risen Lord. This encounter resulted in Saul’s conversion and the successful gospel outreach of Saul and his companions into Asia and Europe.

The Church cannot be overcome. Conflict and persecution only increased the energy with which the disciples pursued their call. Like the attempt by Satan to bring about a regime change in heaven the attempts to impose non-messianic principles on the church have failed and will fail. Under such circumstances the Church can only grow and be strengthened.