After this, Paul stayed many days longer and then took leave of the brothers and set sail for Syria, and with him Priscilla and Aquila. At Cenchreae he had cut his hair, for he was under a vow. 19 And they came to Ephesus, and he left them there, but he himself went into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews. 20 When they asked him to stay for a longer period, he declined. 21 But on taking leave of them he said, “I will return to you if God wills,” and he set sail from Ephesus.
22 When he had landed at Caesarea, he went up and greeted the church, and then went down to Antioch. 23 After spending some time there, he departed and went from one place to the next through the region of Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples. – Acts 18:18-23
We are in Chicago this week for a PLI Leadership Essentials immersion. Diane works for PLI and I am honored to partner with her for some of these learning experiences. We are team leaders for this particular cohort. The work is challenging and rewarding; especially when you see pastors, DCEs, and other church leaders and their spouses lean into some of the teachings. The potential reach of this is significant: one of the goals of PLI is that of multiplying missional leaders.
Each day of the gathering begins with devotion time which includes a time of singing, sharing, and scripture. Most often the singing has been contemporary Christian songs accompanied by guitar or a small praise band. Here, however, we have been using the Lutheran Service Book, singing hymns as part of the devotion time. While that may not seem remarkable (and truly isn’t), it is on the same level of significance as the mention here of Paul cutting his hair, having completed his vow.
One commentary put it this way:
Before he left, Paul cut his hair in fulfillment of a vow that he had made, perhaps early in his stay at Corinth when he had been depressed and afraid (v. 9). These vows, based on the Nazirite vow of Numbers 6:1–21, appear to have been a common feature of Jewish piety (cf. 23:21–26; m. Nazir). Their conclusion was marked by the shaving of one’s head and the offering of sacrifice in the temple… Luke’s mention of this trivial matter may have been intended to show how unwarranted were the Jewish and even Jewish-Christian attacks upon Paul for his supposed antipathy to their traditions. – Understanding the Bible Commentary Series, by David J. Williams
It is noteworthy that these church leaders here in Chicago – many of whom might tend toward a more contemporary expression of worship – sang the hymns with gusto and were totally engaged in doing so. We do not disregard the traditions and traditional expressions of the faith of the past; they are of great value. We delight in how God speaks to people today and how he has done so for years. Having said that, however, we also believe that the more contemporary expressions of the faith are a gift to the church, and a legitimate expression of praise to God. In this case, however, we were not trying to make a point about worship. We were simply worshiping – in the style that honored the context of our host church.
I have a rule as pastor at St. John: No eye-rolling when we speak about the “other service” here. We don’t say, “Well you know that Majestic Grace (our traditional service) crowd; they are stuck in their box and don’t want to get out!” Nor do we say, “Those crazy NewSong people! You never know what they’ll do next!” No eye-rolling. No despising of the others. Respect for how God receives praise in whatever form it is given – in spirit and in truth.
The topic this week is that the mission of God shapes the church. If that truly is the case, then decisions we make and changes we undertake are all done for the sake of the mission of God. Paul is perhaps the best example of one who lived that out as a follower of Jesus. His prime example was Jesus – the First Missionary, and example for whom there is no equal – who undertook the greatest mission of all and made the most dramatic change ever (becoming a man) in order to seek and save the lost. We are honored to join him on his mission. May our traditions and practices always serve that mission, and never the other way around.