Posted by: gmscan | July 11, 2010

Conversion of Saul

In “Mere Christianity” C.S. Lewis rebuts those who say Christianity is too complicated, it should be simpler. He argues that a simple religion would be a made-up religion. Christianity is complicated because it is real. He writes:

Reality, in fact, is usually something you could not have guessed. This is one of the reasons I believe Christianity. It is a religion you could not have guessed.  If it offered us just the kind of universe we had always expected, I should feel we were making it up. But, in fact, it is not the sort of thing anyone would have made up. It has just that queer twist about it that real things have. So let us leave behind all these boyish philosophies – these over-simple answers. The problem is not simple and the answer is not going to be simple either.

The conversion of Saul (Paul) is an example of this complexity. A simple, made-up religion would not have needed him. There were already twelve apostles, a nice round number, and the number chosen by Jesus. It comports nicely with the twelve tribes of Israel. The apostles had lost Judas (for obvious reasons) and filled his place with Matthias. The apostle slots were all taken, what in the world did they need Paul for?  Surely twelve apostles filled with the Holy Spirit could have done the job quite nicely. Why get a thirteenth? Why complicate the story?

I can’t read the mind of God – I have enough trouble with my own mind, thank you. But it seems that Paul brought a lot to the picnic. He was a man of influence and power, while the other apostles were common and uneducated men. Paul was a man of absolute conviction, both when he was persecuting Christians and after his conversion, while the others seemed to vacillate – even Peter was intimidated by the “circumcision party” into stepping away from eating with Gentiles (Galatians 2: 11-14). Paul was not and he rebuked Peter for his timidity. Paul was also a Roman citizen so was better positioned than most to travel and take Jesus’ word to the gentiles. So it would seem that Christ knew what he was doing when he singled out Paul as an apostle.

Many of Paul’s struggles are familiar to anyone who has organized people to do something – whether running a bake sale, a political campaign, or a national sales force. It is difficult to:

  • Keep people focused on the mission at hand,
  • Avoid petty rivalries,
  • Manage factions which threaten to divide the organization, and
  • Encourage people to work through adversities.

While people may appreciate leadership, they may also resent it — “Who’s he to tell us what to do? What’s in it for him? I could do it better.” Other people may want a free ride on the work of the leader without contributing much themselves. These are all themes in Paul’s epistles and the churches he organized were rife with these problems.

In Paul’s case, there was also the question (apparently still debated by scholars) of a Johnny-come-lately. He did not know Jesus in life. Was he a usurper? These questions played a role in some of the fundamental questions of the early church – Was it necessary to become a Jew first in order to be a Christian? Was it necessary to obey the commandments delivered by Moses to believe in Jesus?

I can hardly fault early Christians for asking these questions, because 2,000 years later I asked them, too, as I started reading the scripture.

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Responses

  1. Are you up to Acts 9 in your Bible reading?

  2. Yes, Dan. What I am writing on this blog is about one year old. It has taken me that long to get up the courage to make any public statements about it. I took a lot of notes as I was reading and as I continued, I found answers to many of the questions I was asking. It has been a process for me that I want to share with whomever is interested.

    Greg


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