Friday, June 11, 2010

Barnabas, in light of the Anglican Communion kerfuffle

I wrote a pretty decent reflection on St. Barnabas a year ago. I'm sorry to report--well, I'm not sorry to report, it's just true, that I seem to see all of these feasts nowadays through the lens of the current conflict in the Anglican Communion.

When I commented on the Internet Monk blog the other day, Chaplain Mike asked,

If the church ultimately cannot come to agreement on what the Bible says regarding homosexuality, and if it cannot come to agreement on what is and isn’t appropriate pastoral and ecclesiastical policy regarding inclusion of homosexuals in leadership, what then?

Wouldn’t it be better just to admit there is an impasse and then decide how to handle it, rather than get off on all these issues that distract from making some hard choices?

To which I absolutely agree, and is one of the reasons I like Barnabas--and why I'm grateful for the Book of Acts. Here's the story:

Barnabas was hugely instrumental in mentoring Paul in his early days as a Christian. The two of them (plus, as you will see, some supporting players) went on their first missionary journey, had amazing adventures, and came back to Antioch to report on what happened. Then,

After some days Paul said to Barnabas, ‘Come, let us return and visit the believers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.’ Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. But Paul decided not to take with them one who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not accompanied them in the work. The disagreement became so sharp that they parted company; Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus. But Paul chose Silas and set out, the believers commending him to the grace of the Lord.

[Acts 15:36-40]

Did you see that? They disagreed--sharply; they separated. There's no editorial comment about who's right and who's wrong. You know what else? No one wrote a report to study the situation.

I love this icon of Barnabas (on the left) and Paul, both holding up the church.

I think it helps (or helped at the time) that though we think of Paul as pre-eminent, really Barnabas was a church leader first. I'm not sure if they were viewed equally by the church, but I certainly suspect each had authority.

I know, I know, this was a staffing issue, not a doctrinal one. But aren't we saying that we're talking about who is qualified to lead the church? Isn't this, at heart, a staffing issue? The American church seems to be saying, "These people are qualified," and others are saying, "No, they are not." Isn't that what it boils down to?

Oh, I'm getting myself all tangled up now. The point is, sharp disagreements come. People separate. It doesn't mean that either side is evil. "Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other," as Lincoln said. Conflict is not necessarily a sign of sin. "Gracious restraint"--giving in to one another's strongly held opinions--is not necessarily a virtue. That's one of the lessons I have learned from Barnabas. Blessed be he.


it's margaret said...

Excellent! And I had not thought about Barnabas as being Paul's teacher.... I mean, how does one "teach" a brilliant a-hole anyway!!! Poor Barnabas!

ohoh --if that was a bad thing to say, go ahead and nuke me --but, you know what I mean, right?!

Anonymous said...

Love, love, love that Lincoln speech - and for precisely that part of it! I don't know if St. Abraham is in the church calendar of lesser feasts and fasts, but he has a large place in mine.