In the book of Acts, chapter 7, the deacon at the top of the short list, Stephen, offends a large group of Jewish leaders. He doesn’t mince words:
51-53″And you continue, so bullheaded! Calluses on your hearts, flaps on your ears! Deliberately ignoring the Holy Spirit, you’re just like your ancestors. Was there ever a prophet who didn’t get the same treatment? Your ancestors killed anyone who dared talk about the coming of the Just One. And you’ve kept up the family tradition—traitors and murderers, all of you. You had God’s Law handed to you by angels—gift-wrapped!—and you squandered it!” (The Message)
That stinging accusation results in a violent upsurge that takes his life.
In reflecting on this situation, there is much to notice, but what graps me this time around is Stephen’s boldness in the face of death. And lest we distance ourselves too far from this, some scholars think there was a racial problem here beyond the theological one. Stephen was probably a Greek follower of Judaism. He was accused by Greek Jews from other provinces. He was murdered by the Jews of Jersusalem. Not only was the message very hard to take, the person delivering it was despised. Stephen had to know his life was over when he wrapped up his speech.
I also noticed this time around that Stephen was in a strange position. He was kind of a Jew, but he was also a Christian. Yet the church had not established itself outside of Judaism. He was in, but considered out by many. And so his stinging critique was delivered as if he was still among the Jews, but it was received as if he was an outsider. I think the dynamics here are worth considering for the emerging church and the rest of the church at large when we approach one another over disagreements. Are we putting anyone on the outside before they have really stepped outside? How do we receive criticism? Would we receive it better if we perceived the critic as one of us?