I was recently in Spain; specifically, we visited Barcelona, Madrid, and Seville. Aside from the wonderful cheeses, wine, and architecture, as you might imagine, we visited more than one church. In fact, especially in Barcelona, it seemed like we couldn’t walk more than a few blocks in the old section of the city without running into a beautiful structure dedicated to Christianity. Just when we thought we’d seen a stunning church, there’d be another one grander, more elaborate. The most spectacular—Sagrada Familia—isn’t even finished after over a hundred years of construction.
Impressed with some many spectacular churches, I almost had a hard time believing there had ever been another religion in the city. And Barcelona is of course not the only city with such a strong display of Christian reverence. This showing is so pervasive, it’s interesting to read how this religion got off to such a rocky start.
The Book of Acts picks up after Jesus’ resurrection and his apostles carry the torch. Hence, trying to spread the message of “The Way” is difficult. And not in the Calculus-is-difficult kind of way; no, difficult as in being a follower could get a person killed. Turns out, those in power are not looking to have yet another religion try and infiltrate the people.
But one voice speaks on their behalf. Sort of. A teacher of the law, Gamaliel assumes that resistance will only bolster their growth, so he has advice for his colleagues: let them preach, these followers of “The Way.” If you attempt to stop them, he says, the plan will fail. Even more interesting is the evidence he uses to support his stance: look what happened in the case of two different terrorists (5:36-37). Apparently then as now, terrorists existed. His two examples showed how two men were able to radicalize small revolts with bad results. He adds that if God is on their side (as they claim) then you will ultimately not be able to stop them anyway (5:39).
But this sage advice doesn’t prevent Stephen, an apostle, from getting stoned (7:59). Nor does it curb the efforts of Saul who ventured from house to house and dragged off men and women and imprisoned them (8:3). Still, people were not swayed from their beliefs, even in the face of this severe punishment.
I wouldn’t say that the early struggles should compel people to embrace Christianity, but it should provide a sense of all the trouble a number of people went to in order to spread the message of what they believed. On the heels of the life of Jesus, this story is pretty impressive and provides some insight that a power (the church), whose power is so pervasive today, actually worked pretty hard to get it. It certainly wasn’t handed to them, nor did they wage a war to secure their position. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I wished the church were a bit more humble, a bit more compassionate towards those who do not hold their same beliefs, given their humble roots.