Summary: God’s people aren’t immune from grumbling and murmuring, but those who wish to lead effectively will pray for divine solutions in handling dissension.
In a small, struggling situation like those of many churches, it is tempting to look upon the “growing pains” of the early church with some degree of envy. They were adding to the church daily. They were filling up Jerusalem to overflowing with excitement about Jesus’ resurrection and the presence of the Holy Spirit. And now, in Acts 6:1, we see that the number of disciples kept growing.
But with that growth came dissension, that spiritual law of action and reaction. Let’s read this morning’s text (Read Acts: 6:1-7). The church was growing rapidly, but there soon developed friction between two factions. The Greek verb used here comes the classical root for mourning and wailing, but came to be used in the Greek New Testament as secret talk or conspiracy (as in John 7:12) and for an undercurrent of grumbling speech. The Good News Bible may be premature in translating this as a “quarrel.” It doesn’t appear to have reached the proportions of a church fight, as of yet. Eugene Peterson may be guilty of soft-pedaling it when he describes it as “hard feelings.” So-called “hard feelings” generally begin before the complaints and grumbling accusations are being expressed.
I like the King James Version’s and the old Revised Standard Version’s translation of “murmuring.” In both my experience and my observation of church problems, it all seems to start when someone feels slighted and begins to speak—not openly where something could be done about it—but in secret and in small groups. A brushfire of dissatisfaction takes place and, before you know it, a full scale conflagration incinerates the fellowship.
The grumbling of dissatisfied members is an “art” practiced to the present day. I know of one pastor in Georgia that was able to invite a guest speaker over several weeks to teach a special course in his church on Sunday evenings at no charge to the church. Grumbling members of his church complained that they paid their pastor to preach and he was just being lazy. In another church, I heard grumbling members complain that they never had a guest speaker—that egotistical pastor hogs the pulpit. Another church has a group who complains that their pastor spends all of his time visiting, but his sermons bear no evidence of study or prayer. Just across town, a group complains that the pastor spends too much time in his study and doesn’t come to visit them.
Of course, the pastor isn’t the only source of complaint. There are often members who complain that it seems like we always sing the same songs and the order of worship is always the same. Yet, in the same church, there will be members who grumble that they’re always having to sing songs they don’t know and you just can’t count on how the structure of the worship service. In some churches, the complaint will be that we are so organized that we don’t allow room for the Holy Spirit to lead and in others, the complaint will be that we are so disorganized that we couldn’t do anything if the Spirit did lead.
And we aren’t just talking about styles! While there are churches where members groan that they aren’t reaching anyone outside of their comfortable circle, there are churches where established members have complained and quit because the amorphous, undefined “they” (still, usually centered on the pastor) were bringing in the “wrong kind”—whether that meant different skin colors, economic levels, theological perspectives, or age groups—into the church.
We won’t even do more than quickly list some of the excuses used to attack pastors and leaders when something else was really bothering the grumblers. As in Numbers when they attacked Moses and here in our text where they have questioned the Twelve (see verse 2), the pastor is usually the focal point. He, the pastor,:
1) drives too fancy a car (or the opposite, one so crummy it embarrassed them);
2) dresses too nicely (or the opposite, is so shabby, he embarrasses them);
3) is so uppity, he refuses to live in the parsonage;
4) reads from that new-fangled translation;
5) doesn’t visit enough prospects (or the opposite, doesn’t visit the steady members enough);
6) changed the budget envelopes, Sunday School literature, times of service, or order of worship without “permission;”
7) led the church into too much debt (or the opposite, didn’t have enough vision to lead the church into a building program);
8) was too involved in the convention (or the opposite, wasn’t “loyal” enough to the convention); or
9) spends too much time in his office (or not enough time in his office).
So, having realized that grumbling, complaining, and insidiously planting dissension has been with the church from the beginning and continues to the modern age, let’s consider those factions. The Greek literally says that the Hellenists (those who were adapted to Greek philosophy, culture, and language) started mumbling, grumbling, complaining, and lighting the fires of dissatisfaction against the Hebrews. While some commentators suggest that this is a battle between Gentile converts and Jewish converts, I would fervently disagree. Some of the other events in the Book of Acts wouldn’t make sense if there were Gentile converts already in the Jerusalem church. Some translations make this Greek-speakers versus the Aramaic-speakers. I think that’s probably correct, but I think it is more than that.