Thursday, June 29, 2006

Church-State Separation, part deux

A few days ago, I wrote about an incident where some religious leaders in Corinth tried to use the courts to persecute Paul and Silas. Their plan was foiled because the proconsul refused to hear their case.

In Ephesus, the civil government gets involved in a religious and socio-economic dispute. Let's hear the story from Demetrius the silversmith, who made shrines of Artemis and brought in a lot of businessmen for craftsmen in related trades:
"Men, you know we receive a good income from this business. And you see and hear how this fellow Paul has convinced and led astray large numbers of people here in Ephesus and in practically the whole province of Asia. He says that man-made gods are no gods at all."
Acts 19.25-26
Well, he certainly got that part of the message right. Man-made gods really are no gods at all. But the economic consequences of that -- if your job comes from making idols, you might not be too happy when people find out that your so-called gods are just so much wood and metal. They react accordingly.
When they heard this, they were furious and began shouting: "Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!" Soon the whole city was in an uproar.
Acts 19.28-29
There was great confusion. Listen to what happens next:
Some were shouting one thing, some another. Most of the people did not even know why they were there.
Acts 19.32
What a zoo! Then there was about two hours of shouting (in unison yet) "Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!"

Here's when the civil authorities got involved.
The city clerk quieted the crowd and said: "Men of Ephesus, doesn't all the world know that the city of Ephesus is the guardian of the temple of the great Artemis and of her image, which fell from heaven? Therefore, since these facts are undeniable, you ought to be quiet and not do anything rash. You have brought these men here, though they have neither robbed temples, nor blasphemed our goddess."
Acts 19.35-37
He tells them to be reasonable and to go home, or to go to court if they have a formal complaint. In other words, he's a wise public servant, who handles the crowd with skill.

Why does Luke tell us this? Why does he tell us about the proconsul in Corinth dismissing the religious leaders' complaints against Paul, and about the city clerk in Ephesus dismissing the craftsmen's complaints? I think Luke finds these events newsworthy because the civil authorities in Jerusalem crucified Christ. Luke wants us to understand that not all civil authorities are against Jesus or against the truth. He wants us to recognize that Jesus was never a victim of corrupt or cowardly civil authorities, but that he laid down his life freely, because his Father in Heaven rules over all the authorities on earth.

That's a perspective we need to keep in mind as we consider the events of the day.

No comments: