Did Paul do right?
We read in Acts 23:6, “But when Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, “Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee; concerning the hope and resurrection of the dead I am being judged!””
The context is that Paul is in custody for no good reason, except for the Jews of Asia stirring up the crowds. (Acts 21:27-29) Yet Paul seems to deliberately stir up the Sanhedrin with his statement. In fact, the Scripture plainly states that this was indeed Paul’s intent.
On the face of it the statement is true. Paul’s crime was because of the hope of the resurrection. But is Paul to be blamed for the disturbance in the council? Did Paul do right?
Let’s examine the events to see. The original dispute was due to Paul’s arrival in Jerusalem and to the Temple to fulfill a Nazarite vow. It was the first time in years he’d been back to Jerusalem. And true, he had been warned repeatedly not to go, by prophets such as Agabus and others within the church. (Acts 21:10-14) But it was God’s will that he go. In fact God had plans for Paul which depended upon this arrest! (Acts 23:11)
So Paul’s trip to Jerusalem was by the will of God, and he obeyed this, even though he knew it meant hardship. As for the original rabble rousing by the Asian Jews, this crowd had no good intent or purpose other than to get Paul in trouble. In fact the Scripture testifies that “…some among the multitude cried one thing and some another.” (Acts 21:34a)
Fast forward to the next day, before the assembled Sanhedrin, Paul’s explanation on being a Jew on trial for the hope of the resurrection of the dead – no matter the motive – was right. The division within the Sanhedrin existed prior to Paul’s statement. Did Paul use the division in the Sanhedrin for his advantage? Absolutely. Was this sin? Not at all.
Public discourse is this way. Men and women may be divided or agree on many things. One man’s comments may reveal those divisions to the world, but that does not place guilt upon Paul for that reason.
I do find it interesting that Paul called himself a Pharisee. It’s been years since he was last in Jerusalem – yet he still takes the party name. This is the question I’d like to tackle. Are denominations right?
Names – such as Calvinist, Reformed, Presbyterian, Baptist, etc. are not at all sinful in and of themselves. We divide along such lines in order to better reflect the convictions we have and to allow closer fellowship with those we share more with theologically. And I readily admit that no denomination one chooses to affiliate himself with is of necessity a perfect match to his or her personal convictions. But the affiliation helps us to fellowship with one another is a sweeter and closer manner.
There is wisdom in this.
For example, I am by conviction a Baptist. I strongly believe that Paedo-baptists err, and would feel highly uncomfortable with the message that such a baptism sends to those less theologically driven. I cannot help this – it is my conviction. And it’s right to have convictions. So I just could not bring myself to be a member in a Presbyterian church of any type.
But there are Presbyterians I know and love. So how does our denominational affiliation allow us greater and sweeter fellowship? By drawing the line distinctly. I know I cannot be a member there. But what if I am traveling on vacation? Couldn’t I visit then? I could, and would (and hope they aren’t baptizing that Sunday!). I also would feel perfectly comfortable taking breakfast or lunch with a brother from a different denomination.
Think of it another way, if there were no denominational choices – could I be comfortable taking lunch with another, if I knew we disagreed on baptism like we do, but the line was not distinctly drawn? I think not. I might wonder what other aberrant theological beliefs he held. And even if I didn’t think like that, I might suspect he holds me at arm’s length, since my theological stances are aberrant to him.
But what a joy it is to be able to visit my brothers when we both by conviction stand and respect one another’s position, not by holding it, but by realizing the same Lord who has caused me to end up in Baptist territory also led him to another conclusion. Remember how Agabus and the brethren in Caesarea told Paul not to go to Jerusalem? Yet Paul by the same Spirit was compelled to go! Sometimes the paths our Lord compels us to, are not the same as another, but they can be right and good. This is not to say that all paths are equally right…but rightly understood, denominationalism can be very good.