Moving On in Ministry: Discernment for times of transition and change (Explorations (Church House))

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It also concerns inner experiences and feelings - not only within the person who discerns, but also when one discerns by taking into consideration how others are affected. This insight is relevant for an understanding of Acts Luke discusses the role of affective dimensions in discernment in the letter to Antioch, Syria and Cilicia Act It shows how the church was aware of affections and emotions that were evoked by the negative effects of the Pharisees' claims.

The troubling and disturbing effects are still lingering in their midst as part of the collective memory of the church. This past trauma, which reveals the destructive results of wrong decisions, indicates that they may not reflect the will of God Liebert This corresponds with other motifs in the chapter that spell out the negative emotions generated by the Pharisaic position. The church in Jerusalem does not want to "burden" the gentiles with anything Act - obviously like the Pharisees did.

Similarly, James remarks that it should not be made difficult for the gentiles who are turning to God Act , referring again to the attitude of the Pharisees. This is even more the case where these destructive actions can be traced to an arrogant and insubordinate attitude. Paul, for example, notes about the Pharisaic party that they are trying "to challenge God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear" Act For the Jerusalem church, the Pharisees challenge God, act insubordinately, ignore the authority of the church Act and lack humility.

This means that a dehumanising, humiliating and burdensome outcome questions the authenticity of discernment. The important role of affections is also illustrated in the positive response to the Jerusalem meeting. When Judas and Silas leave Antioch, Luke notes that they are sent away with the "blessing of peace to return to those who had sent them" Act The news contributed significantly to the knowledge that the discernment was good.

Judas and Silas were able to "encourage and strengthen" the churches Act They were no longer disturbed and troubled Waaijman The situation is completely transformed: it is no longer so hostile when the circumcision party "tried to ruin the lives of the Antiochene believers" Pervo The church is at peace, no longer in turmoil because of the divisive discernment of the Pharisaic group.

Its aim is to discriminate between those affective stirrings which lead to greater love of God and of others in God, after the pattern of Jesus' love and death, and those which lead in the opposite direction and are thus potentially destructive of human beings and communities. The consequences of the gentiles' conversions challenged the early church to discern the will of God about its way forward. In the process of reflecting on this way, the church was empowered by its spiritual practice, its traditions and its mutual relationships.

Their affections and those of others also guided it. The many other perspectives that are involved in the process of discernment, such as judgement, prudence, reasonableness and wisdom, make discernment highly complex and rational. The investigation of events, affairs and realities in the process of discernment is accompanied by the desire to seek their significance from the perspective of God. In this regard, Waaijman writes: "diakrisis is the process of assembling and sorting out knowledge with respect to the way toward God.

Moving On In Ministry: Discernment For Times Of Transition And Change (Explorations (Church House))

It seeks "a passable way which bridges this difference, and assists others in actually going this way, knowing that it is God who moves them to go this way" Waaijman It is about a "mutual" insight that develops between the divine and the human. The divine-human relationship in discernment is symbiotic, picturing a flawless unity between the divine and human.


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This remark thus allocates a primary role to the divine in the process of discernment. The active role ascribed to the divine corresponds with the rest of Acts 15 and is closely related with discernment of the divine providence and presence in the Church's missionary praxis. In their individual speeches in Acts 15, Peter, James, Paul and Barnabas express their conviction that God initiates and remains involved in events in the world, the church and their missionary praxis.

Peter discerns that it is God who worked among the Gentiles Act and who chose Paul as witness for the mission to the Gentiles Act The signs and wonders and the gift of the Holy Spirit are further regarded as indications of the presence of God in the missionary praxis Act In this instance, God is active, but there is also a symbiotic relationship in which divine and human actions become one. These observations in Acts 15 correspond with the rest of Acts, in which the apostles are constantly described as being aware of the Spirit's activity in their missionary praxis.

It is the gift of the Spirit that stands at the beginning of each of the missionary phases in Acts: there are outpourings in Jerusalem Act ; Act , in Samaria Act and in Caesarea Act Paul's journeys take place in obedience to the guidance of the Spirit. In Acts , the Spirit prevents the preaching in Asia and Bithinia cf. They may have travel plans, but ultimately God and the Spirit determine their journeys.

The activity of the Spirit in all these examples is in line with the participatory role of the Spirit in the process of discernment in Acts The role of the Spirit in the process of discernment is confirmed from another perspective. In Acts 15, there is a strong awareness that contemplation of God is the goal of discernment.

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The discussions repeatedly return to this perspective. James, supporting Peter, discerns behind the gentile conversion the fulfilment of the divine promises in the prophets. He views the mission in terms of the expected future in which gentiles will seek the Lord Act In accordance with this, the missionary praxis of the early Church is, to the discerning eye, about gentiles "who are turning to God" Act The missionary praxis is weighed in the light of the gentile's longing for community with God. Its contemplative nature is even more striking when one contrasts it with the Judean party's focus on the law and the custom of Moses as the goal of their discernment Act , 5.

They, in a process of deformation, are restricted to an I-it relationship, which contrasts starkly with the I-Thou relationship which is the result of the missionary praxis of the church. These remarks confirm that the discernment in Acts 15 has an authentic nature, reflecting a contemplative gaze.

The Spirit is present in the discernment, because the discernment has a contemplation gaze. In summary, the church was convinced that the Holy Spirit was an active partner in their discernment on the issue of circumcision in Acts The Spirit's role is especially discerned by recalling the divine actions in the missionary praxis of the church, particularly the gift of the Holy Spirit purely through faith. There are no calls for direct divine action or intervention during or after the meeting in Jerusalem.

Elsewhere Luke does speak of such divine participation in human events or deliberations once when, in Acts , prayer and the lot played a seminal role in the process of appointing a replacement for Judas. The active role of the Spirit in the discernment in Acts 15 is detected in a more indirect manner.


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The Holy Spirit is mentioned only twice in Acts where it is said that the Holy Spirit and the community decided not to impose any burden on the believers except the four requirements. The reference is to Acts when the Spirit was poured out on the household of Cornelius without them having been circumcised or baptised.

The involvement of the Holy Spirit at that stage of the mission sufficiently indicated that the missionary praxis is a result of the divine intervention and action. The church could thus confidently write in their concluding letter that the Holy Spirit and they decided not to impose any further burden on the gentile believers. Their discernment was more than a rational matter of debate and a sensitivity for affections.

It was also a matter of a contemplative gaze on their experiential reality and of contemplation as the final destiny of human beings. One does not find an "epistemological attitude of an indiscriminate faith in the power of reason, or a charismatic, intuitive and spontaneous 'guidance of the Spirit'" in Acts The actions of God contribute decisively to discerning the divine will and to questioning existing traditions that no longer reflect the divine will. This means "challenging plausibility structures which undermine, shame or instrumentalise the dignity of individuals and their communities" - pointed out in Acts 15 by the insistence that Gentiles should not be burdened by a yoke that Jews themselves were not able to carry Munzinger Abbot-Smith, G.

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Bovon, F. Luke the theologian. Derkse, W. Discernment and humility. Lessons from St Ignatius and St Benedict. In: H. Blommestijn et al eds. Explorations in the discipline of Spirituality Leuven: Peeters , pp. De Villiers, P. Die Apostelkonvent Handelinge In: C. Breytenbach red. Kerkboekhandel , pp. Dunn, J. The Acts of the apostles. Valley Forge, PA: Trinity. Fitzmyer, J. A new translation with introduction and commentary.

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