When we had come to Jerusalem, the brothers received us gladly. 18 On the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present.19 After greeting them, he related one by one the things that God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. 20 And when they heard it, they glorified God. And they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed. They are all zealous for the law, 21 and they have been told about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or walk according to our customs. 22 What then is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come. 23 Do therefore what we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow; 24 take these men and purify yourself along with them and pay their expenses, so that they may shave their heads. Thus all will know that there is nothing in what they have been told about you, but that you yourself also live in observance of the law. 25 But as for the Gentiles who have believed, we have sent a letter with our judgment that they should abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality.” 26 Then Paul took the men, and the next day he purified himself along with them and went into the temple, giving notice when the days of purification would be fulfilled and the offering presented for each one of them. – Acts 21:17-26
My board of elders in a former church were good men. Few in number but strong in their commitment to the church and their love for me, they were a blessing. Once in a while it was really good to have them also as allies. Yes, there were those who really did challenge my ministry and leadership in that church. Once one of the elders (now sainted) spoke of a member (now also sainted), “Joe’s [not his real name] hurting the church. I’ll talk to him.” Joe was grumbling a lot about me and my leadership priorities and programs.
Not too many days later I saw my elder-ally outside the church speaking with Joe. He had his finger pointing in his chest and was taking no prisoners. I heard little more grumbling from Joe. It’s good to have allies!
My situation was no where near as severe as Paul’s, and his allies were similarly more vital. The question Paul faced was akin to what we have heard of and experienced in the church today when one group accuses another of actions that tear at the fabric of the church’s traditions and practices. Sometimes those need to be torn away to be sure. Other times, however, they need to be treated more tenderly and carefully.
On this occasion Paul will go with these men who have taken a vow. His presence with them will show those who question Paul’s legitimacy and faithfulness that he has not abandoned the faith, nor is he intent on undercutting every Jewish tradition.
This is much the same posture as Martin Luther took when certain people wanted to tear down everything in the church that reminded them of the influence of the Roman Catholic Church. That was not Luther’s desire. He, too, was protected by allies (Frederich the Wise of Saxony).
It’s sad to say that there are times when we need allies, people who will stand with us in the heat of the battle or sting of accusations. This is especially true when the continuation of the mission of God is at stake.