Friday, March 02, 2007

Relations with the powers that be

As our group of churches staggers into a partnership with our local authority, I've been reflecting on Paul's relationship with power.

We're used to thinking of him being arrested for causing a breach of the peace - in Thessalonica, for example (Acts 17:1-9) - but what about him using a relationship with the powers-that-be to further his mission.

This Sunday I'm preaching on the first missionary journey in particular homing in on Paul and the proconsul Sergius Paullinus (Acts 13:4-12). It seems that there's good evidence that this Roman official had strong links not only on Cyprus where Paul meets him but more particularly in Pisidian Antioch and its environs. Certain inscriptions have been found that suggest a pretty firm and significant link over a number of generations (look at Rainer Riesner's thorough examination of the evidence in Paul's early Period: Chronology, Mission Strategy, Theology [Eerdmanns 1998] - I really hope he's working on a follow up on Paul's later period!)

So when we ask the question why did Paul go to Pisidian Antioch and the not the towns and cities nearer to Cyprus on his first missionary journey, one answer that many scholars suggest is that Sergius Paullus sent him on his way with letters of introduction from him to family members and others (including officials) in that city. It's possible that this accounts for the favourable reception from the Gentiles after Paul and Barnabas are rejected by the synagogue community.

It could account for why, when the Jewish community rejected them, Paul and Barnabas were not immediately arrested by the secular authorities for causing trouble, introducing foreign gods, disturbing the peace, etc. Does this and other experiences along the way also account for Paul's relatively sanguine attitude to the Empire in Romans 13? Though he believes unequivocally that Jesus is Lord, not Caesar, that the only empire that will last is Christ's not Nero's, he does seem to think that the secular authorities can hold the ring in a sinful world in a way that can be advantageous for the gospel.

So, can we find a model for our seeking partnership with local and national government in Paul? It's a nice thought. Perhaps all you biblical scholars can put me right!

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