After Paul had come to Ephesus during his third missionary journey, he disputed with and persuaded both Jews and God-fearers in the local synagogue, concerning those things about Jesus and his crucifixion and resurrection (Acts 19:8; cp. Acts 17:2-3). It wasn’t until he had been doing this for three months that the unbelievers among the Jews began speaking evil of the way that Paul taught.
I find it interesting that in Paul’s day Gospel growth was hardly welcomed in the established systems for learning about God. It is quite odd when one thinks of it. Isn’t it? As I consider this idea, I am thinking to myself, has it changed over the centuries? Now I am certainly not against denominationalism. I attend a major denomination of Christendom myself and enjoy very much worshiping there. However, as I consider what Paul did in Ephesus, and was indeed his practice wherever he went, that once he preached Christ among those whose name indicated they trusted in the name of God and taught his way to the ignorant, Paul was forced to leave.
I know I am in danger of being misunderstood in this, but I would like to be clear about what I am thinking occurred in Ephesus (and other places), and how this applies to our times. The Jews became offended after what Paul claimed was true about Jesus began affecting their long established traditions. For example, when Paul spoke at Antioch in Pisidia during his first missionary journey (Acts 13:14, 42-45) the Jews became antagonistic only after a great many gentiles came into the synagogue to hear Paul. Whether it was the number of gentiles per se or the fact that the more traditional Jews were becoming outnumbered by those among them believing in Jesus, the conflict began at this point. This was repeated in Thessalonica (Acts 17:1-5) and again in Corinth (Acts 18:4-8). I have to ask, is there room for Paul’s teaching in our Christian denominations today? Would what he had to say negatively affect some long held traditions among us?
The point I am seeking to make is not that we should end denominationalism but that perhaps we have done a lot of majoring in the minors, so to speak, that have separated us needlessly, just like what may have been true in Paul’s day. To be sure, the Jews ultimately became convinced Jesus was not the Messiah, but they were willing to listen to Paul for quite some time in Ephesus. In fact, when he first preached to them as he was ending his second missionary journey, they wanted him to stay longer, but he told them he had to return to Jerusalem (Acts 18:19-21), presumably to consummate things pertaining to his vow (Acts 18:18). Moreover, the synagogues of Palestine did not forbid the presence of believers in Jesus until after the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. So, it was not the message that Jesus is the Messiah that offended the Jews in the Diaspora, but things pertaining to their law—the Oral Law (cp. Acts 18:12-13).
Now there wasn’t anything specifically evil about what was written in the Oral Law, Jesus even practiced many of its washing ceremonies in order not to offend those to whom he preached. It was only after the authorities condemned some of Jesus disciples who weren’t as kosher as the authorities thought they should be, that Jesus took issue with them and showed how if practiced indiscriminately their traditions made the Law of God of no effect, and the traditions of men were held in higher esteem than the Scriptures themselves.
In like manner, if what we teach differently among our denominational systems of worship excludes brethren, even judging them as not Christian or such like, it seems to me the growth of the Gospel of Christ is hindered among us to the degree that we hold the doctrines of men above the teaching of Scripture. May our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ help each of us to understand the difference between the teachings of men (our differing traditions) and the teaching of God, which we all should have in common.