A Look at the New Testament – St Paul – 20140112

As I began to share in the last issue of this article, we need to imagine Paul’s approach as much more conversational. Consider the story in ACTS 16 of Paul’s conversion of a Gentile ”God-lover” named Lydia, whom he met in a Jewish gathering just outside the gates of Philippi in northern Greece (I would encourage you to pick up your New Testament and read this chapter in ACTS). Lydia was a successful businesswoman. A dealer in purple dye, which was highly valued and expensive in the ancient world. She was from Thyatira in Asia Minor and was now in Greece. Obviously very competent and intelligent, she had become attracted to Judaism.
According to ACTS, Paul engaged her in conversation. Soon she and her whole household converted to become Christ-followers. What might Paul have said to Lydia? It seems implausible that Paul simply proclaimed, as some Christian preaching does today, that we are all sinners and that Jesus died for our sins, so we can be forgiven and go to heaven if we believe in Him. Why would Lydia respond to that kind of message?
Instead, we need to image Paul telling her about Jesus, about the kind of man he was, what he taught, and what he did; about his execution by the authorities; about Paul’s own experience of Jesus appearing to him, convincing him that the way of Jesus was the way of the God of the Bible; and that Jesus was Lord and Messiah, the promised one of Israel. In short, Paul would have talked about Jesus and testified to his meaning and significance. He would have emphasized that in Jesus a new form of Judaism had been created in which Gentiles could be full participants “In Christ,” as he wrote in one of his most famous verses, “There is no longer Jew or Greek” (Galatians 3:28). He would have invited her into a new community in which she could be both Gentile and Jew. Indeed, Paul’s purpose was to create communities of Christ-followers or to integrate converts into communities that already existed.
Paul’s communities of Christ-followers are called “churches” in most English translations of the New Testament. Doing so is potentially misleading, because of the modern associations with the world “church.” It most commonly means a building and/or a community of Christians, large or small, organized for “religious” purposes with designated leadership roles and a set of beliefs or doctrines.
The communities of Paul were not churches in this modern sense. The first church building dates from the mid-200s, and churches were not common until after Constantine legalized Christianity and became its patron in the 300s. He was, as you know, highly influenced by his mother.

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