Showing posts with label Acts. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Acts. Show all posts

The Story of Prophetic Fallibility in Acts 15 Everyone Skips

There are many different ways to read and study scripture. There's the daily devotional style the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has recently adopted from the rest of Christianity. There's the various reading challenges that have been established and invoked, particularly relating to the Book of Mormon. There are topical studies, which focuses the study on a theme or subject of personal importance to the reader. I've always favored topical studies over consecutive study in my personal worship. It's what makes the use of scripture to me feel personal, rather than scholarly or historical.

The weakness of that approach is that I can go decades in the Church without encountering a story that doesn't get emphasized in Church curriculum or in my personal study. I just encountered such a story in Acts 15.

Past and present church materials focus on the Jerusalem conference, in which the church leadership had to settle arguments and contentions that were occurring about whether Gentile converts needed to be circumcised and follow the Law of Moses in order to be accepted into the Church. The church leadership met together and determined that this wasn't necessary and put an undo burden upon new converts that wasn't adding anything of value to their faith. They then determine what standard of observance they wanted to keep and adapt from the Law of Moses to be followed by the disciples of Christ. It's a valuable story about how what it looks like to worship God can change over time, but the true spirit of worship never changes. An important step to having that spirit of worship is settling disagreements and laying aside preconceived notions of what worship has to look like based on the past, making space for what worship can look like in the future.

However, that's not the story I'm talking about. I'm talking about the explosive argument between Paul and Barnabas about whether or not to take John Mark with them on their travels.

Verse 38 gives the explanation for the conflict as one where Paul doesn't trust John Mark because he left them in Pamphylia and refused to work with them. But how much of this is from the earlier stages of this conflict that Paul may have caused by creating a hostile environment towards the assistants who traveled with them? The fact that Barnabas is still willing to work with John Mark, whose name is on the gospel of Mark, says we don't have all the details of this story, and not all the issue centered on or was caused by John Mark.

Verse 39 tells that "the contention was so sharp between them, that they departed asunder one from the other." Barnabas took John Mark and went to Cyprus, leaving Paul behind. It's the story of a conflict that arose in church leadership, largely from Paul's refusal to work with someone he didn't like, that remained unresolved as they continued forward in their ministries.

It's not the picture perfect image of total unity and fellowship between church leaders, who are able to lay aside their differences and preferences to work with each other through disagreement. I imagine that's why this story has been left out of the Church curriculum for some time.

Reviewing the Sunday School manual that was in use before Come Follow Me, nothing about this conflict was mentioned. Come Follow Me not only doesn't use this material, it seems to be actively trying to conceal it by focusing on a discussion topic (Line Upon Line) carefully crafted not to use any of that material. It also isn't included in the targeted reading, which invites members to read Acts 15:1-25. Anyone following along solely with the emphasis given in Come Follow Me isn't going to come into contact with this story.

I think that's a real loss to our community, if I'm honest. There is no sin in recognizing that church leaders are human who don't always get along with each other, who can exist in a state of ardent disagreement with each other while still accomplishing the work God has sent them to do. They can be staunchly in their own opinions about someone else, which are later proven to be wrong. (See 2 Tim. 4:11 and Col. 4:10) In their own human frailty and weakness, they can completely misjudge someone else's character and potential. Their stewardship over the Church does not give them perfect knowledge about people and who/what they have the capacity to accomplish.

It's an important lesson for understanding conflicts and dissensions that happen later to the Church in Missouri, where several members of the Quorum of the Twelve leave the Church and have to be replaced. (See D&C 114 and 118) While many of the narratives (and curriculum) relating to this time period attribute apostolic fall to sin and disloyalty, it's more accurate to say that these divisions arose from conflicts that church leadership at the time were unable to resolve.

Church leadership in the time of Acts couldn't perfectly resolve conflicts within their ranks. The restored church is no different. If we avoid and conceal prophetic fallibility continuously, we fail to prepare our people to know how to handle it and move forward through it.

If we want our people to be able to move forward in faith like John Mark when confronting that fallibility, it will help greatly if we tell that story in our classes and learn from that choice.

Called to Serve

Because I had such a great time making a temple prep playlist, I thought it only appropriate to make one for mission prep. However, I feel like such an undertaking needs to come with a disclaimer.

The temple is a beautiful representation of everything that is best in life, in eternity, in mankind, and in righteousness. It's beautiful in every imaginable way--serene, quiet, and approachable. That constant peace and calm, the comfort of the Spirit, is among the many reasons why the temple is such a pleasant place to be.

Missions are not like that.  

Going on a mission is a very different experience from going to the temple. That is why I find it so odd that even to this day, some members of the Church associate qualifying for a temple recommend with being mentally and emotionally prepared to serve a mission. The whole purpose of raising the bar for missionary service was to eliminate this assumption because a mission requires so much more than the spiritual bare minimum.

I've never heard anyone anywhere say that their mission was perfect--totally devoid of all problems, a season of perfect peace, enjoyment, and relaxation. If I ever heard a returned missionary say such a thing, I'd be strongly tempted to ask them if they were called to serve in a cardboard box.

What you do with the gospel in powerful, meaningful ways is infinitely more important than what you know about it. As such, these talks I've assembled are not meant to impart information in the same way my temple playlist did. This list is meant to inspire action--changes of habit, heart, and mind. They give meaningful, important suggestions for how we can become better missionaries--not just how to go on a mission.

Materials and Resources:


  • D&C 4
  • D&C 11
  • D&C 79 (The mission call of Jared Carter, who would bring John Tanner into the Church)
  • Luke 9: 59-62
  • Acts 1: 6-8
  • Acts 3: 11-15
  • Acts 9: 1-31
  • 1 Peter 3: 8-16
  • Alma 19: 16-18, 28-29
  • Alma 22: 13-18
  • Alma 26
  • Helaman 5
  • Judges 4 (It occurs to me that in the mindset of the Old Testament, missionary work and idolatry are both totally synonymous with military might and conquest. Therefore, reading about the armies and battles of Israel in the Old Testament is like reading about the great missionaries of the ancient world.)
  • Judges 7: 1-9 
  • Joshua 1: 9-11
(As always, feel free to leave your favorites and suggestions in the comments.)

This is only a cursory look at one of the most important responsibilities we have in the Church. Missionary work has such a rich history, with so many men and women working together at the battlefront. I have waited for many years to be able to join them, and in a few days time I will begin my own ministry in the Lord.

I've been reassigned to the Provo MTC until further notice, due to delays with my visa. If it comes before the end of my training, I will go straight to the Brazil CTM and finish my training there. I was disappointed about the change at first, but have since embraced the idea of returning to Utah to train with my comrades in arms there. I know that as long as I serve with willing men and women who desire to bring others to Christ, it doesn't matter where I train.

I know that the ministry I'm about to enter is for the true and living Church of Jesus Christ upon the earth today. His authority and power have been restored, and all who will seek those blessings can receive them if they will follow Jesus Christ and be baptized in His name. I know that the name of Jesus Christ is the only name under heaven by which we can saved, returning home to the presence of our Heavenly Father.

That desire to return home, having given all, is the defining expression of my faith--the greatest desire of my life. I am privileged to take my testimony to the world, and I do so in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

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