Sunday, 28 June 2009

Lessons from Apollos

I was reading this morning in Acts, and was meditating on a passage in ch18, which I thought I might share.

It is the introduction of Apollos. He is an Alexandrian -from that city which would become in later years the very centre of Christian philosophy, although - alas! - those days are far behind it now. But even then Alexandria was a centre of learning. I read recently that it had a Jewish population of almost 1/3 at the time. And, of course, it was also the birthplace of the Septuagint. This is where Apollos comes from, and it shows. He is "an eloquent man", trained in the art of rhetoric, an art which he employs not for his own gain but in the synagogue. He was described in the translation I was using as being "mighty in the Scriptures"- a beautiful turn of phrase, one I liked so much I checked it in the Greek- and it turned out to be an exact translation: "δυνατὸς ὢν ἐν ταῖς γραφαῖς" (I should point out that I know this, not because I know Koine Greek, but because I have a very user-friendly lexicon!). A man mighty in the Scriptures- how delighted one would be to have that said about one at one's funeral!

Apollos was a man not sent out by the Twelve, but doing his own thing preaching Jesus as the Christ in the synagogue of Ephesus (and presumably he had done likewise elsewhere). Nor did he have the Holy Spirit as he had only received the baptism of John. Thus, he was not actually a member of the Church, not even in an imperfect communion with the Body- he was all the way outside. But still preaching Jesus as the Christ.

Priscilla and Aquila (that extraordinary husband-and-wife team) heard him at the synagogue. Rather than rebuking him or denouncing him, they took him aside and "expounded to him the way of God more accurately". Presumably, somewhere in the midst of this, he was baptised as well. Thereupon , he was received into the arms of the Church and, a short time after, when he wished to move on to preach elsewhere, the Church in Ephesus wrote to the Church in Achaia (or churches- Achaia is a big place) to receive him.

There are several things that we can take away from this account.

One is that "me and my Bible" is not enough. Apollos knew his Bible. He knew about Jesus. He knew that the Scriptures bore witness to Jesus. But Priscilla and Aquila saw a lack of which he himself was not aware and acted to remedy that lack. Knowledge of the Scriptures is a priceless treasure- of that there can be no doubt (and it grows ever more valuable as it becomes rarer). But the action of Christ in history is through a living organism, and cells that try and make it on their own apart from the Body, though they may initially do extraordinary things (like a skink's tale which shows extraordinary energy after it has been cut off) will eventually wither and die. Practically, that means knowledge of the Scriptures must be married to the sacraments established by Christ (in this instance one notes in particular baptism, by which one becomes a member of the Body in the first place) and unity with the Apostles and those whom they have appointed (in this instance not only the presbyters of Ephesus, who are not named, but in particular Priscilla and Aquila, associates of Paul who himself was appointed and sent by the Twelve). A sidenote: unity with the Apostles and a spiritual life sustained by the sacraments also needs to be married to knowledge of the Scriptures, otherwise it stands in danger of legalism.

Another point to note is that, as Our Lord said, "He who is not against us is for us."(Mark 9:40, Luke 9:50) I know a number of Catholics who will decry and reject anyone who is not in full communion with the Church and regard anything they say as tainted. Some will preach a particular interpretation of extra ecclesiam nulla salus, forgetting that the Church condemned Fr. Feeney for those same ideas. Naturally, it should grieve us that so few Christians take John 17 seriously. It is, among other things, tragically ironic that some of the most evangelistically-minded Christians don't seem to have noticed that Christ Himself sees the visible unity of all Christians as an absolute prerequisite for the effective evangelisation of the world (John 17:21). Nevertheless, it is certainly true that there are many in our day who will not accept anything from the Catholic Church, not even Jesus. We may be thankful, therefore, that there exist groups and people from whom they will accept Him. Indeed, the Church declares authoritatively- by Ecumenical Council, no less! - that the Spirit can and does work in and through such ministries. Therefore, for us who are united with the Apostles and who do enjoy a full sacramental life in Christ, it behoves us to imitate Priscilla and Aquila. To not stand up and denounce and decry, but to rejoice that Jesus Christ is being preached wherever He is preached and, if the opportunity ever presents itself, to "expound...the way of God more accurately".


Kiran said...

Have you read Mgsr Ronald Knox on this in Enthusiasm. You ought so to do!

GAB said...

No, I haven't. Is it available online anywhere or would I have to buy it (or, dare I ask, do you have a copy I could borrow)?

Kiran said...

I have a copy. And you can borrow. You will do better than me because I know not the tongue of the frogs into which Knox sometimes slips...

GAB said...

The tongue of the frogs? What, you mean Βρεκεκεκέξ κοάξ κοάξ?

Kiran said...

Ah. Aristophanes! No. I mean the language that frogs speak. It med as well be, I suppose!