William Willimon on Communities Defining Themselves

“What do we make of an evangelism, which, while including even the Samaritans, does not hesitate to exclude those like Simon who do not fit the lifestyle or theology of the community of the Spirit? In a time when the community was fighting for its very life, it fought not by reducing its witness to the lowest common denominator, a catchy slogan fit for a billboard or bumper sticker, but rather by building walls about itself, by carefully defining itself, and by rebuking and excluding those like Simon who did not change their heathenish lifestyle and attitudes. Rather than baptizing the status quo or resorting to mushy affirmations of popular practices (“Even though I disagree with some of Simon’s techniques, he does draw a lot of people, and he does a lot of good”), the church demands repentance (8:22).

“We will leave the interpreter to find his or her own examples of ‘simony’ in the church today. It should not be too difficult – in a world of television evangelists, ‘super churches,’ and politically powerful preachers – to think of someone who like Simon projects himself as ‘somebody great’ and equates the gift of the Spirit with worldly standards of power and success.”

(William Willimon in his book Acts[John Knox Press, 1988], pp.69-70)

One Comment

  • More insidious, I think, is the way in which Simon would import practices of patronage and benefaction into the community of Jesus-followers who had very deliberately rejected those things. This was also what Ananias and Sapphira tried to do so it’s no wonder that, when Peter tells Simon to fuck off and die (my paraphrase), he is genuinely afraid and pleads with Peter to pray for him that such a thing does not happen. Which makes me wonder… we don’t hear about Simon dropping dead so maybe he repented…

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