Ye Old Town Hall Meetings

The definition of a Town Hall Meeting includes: “…an informal public meeting derived from the traditional town meetings of New England…everybody in a community is invited to attend, voice their opinions, and hear the responses from public figures and elected officials…town hall meetings are held so that people can influence elected officials in their decision making or to give them a chance to feel that their voices are being heard.”

Presently town hall meetings are being conducted across the nation. The primary topic is proposed health care reform legislation. In reality the issue is a bit deeper, i.e. many citizens are expressing their concern that government’s intention is to intervene in health care decisions just as they have been perceived recently as encroaching on other areas of private life.

The above definition of town hall meetings includes the privilege of voicing one’s opinion and hearing the response from those conducting the meeting. In recent meetings emotions have found expression in raised voices and not all of the meetings have been totally orderly. In fact there have been instances where participants have been physically removed from town hall meetings because of their exuberance.

It is interesting to note that town hall meetings have been around for a long time. And history as recorded in the Bible tells of some very colorful and vigorous such meetings. All of the ingredients, and then some, of today’s meetings were found in meetings conducted two thousand years ago.

During the first century AD the primary issue covered in town hall meetings was the emergence of Christianity. Christianity was initially termed the “Way” from the Greek hodos which was defined as a way of thinking, feeling, acting, manner of life and conduct. It originated with Christ’s words:

“I am the way…No one comes to the Father except through Me.” John 14:6

This new teaching was that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob could only be accessed through Christ and that attempting to keep the Old Testament law was not sufficient to appease a holy and just God. Of course this teaching was vehemently opposed by the Jews and this opposition was openly expressed in ancient town hall meetings. Compare the following town hall meetings as described in the Bible and see if they resemble present meetings.

“Then there arose some from what is called the Synagogue of the Freedmen…disputing with Stephen and they were not able to resist the wisdom and the Spirit by which he spoke. Then they secretly induced men to say, ‘we have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God,’ and they stirred up the people…and they came upon him, seized him…they also set up false witnesses…” Acts 6:9-13

One would think that the above was excerpted from yesterday’s newspaper.

“Now it happened in Iconium that they went together to the synagogue of the Jews, and so spoke that a great multitude both of the Jews and of the Greeks believed. But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against them…but the multitude of the city was divided; part sided with the Jews, and part with the apostles. And when a violent attempt was made by both the Gentiles and Jews, with their rulers, to abuse and stone them, they became aware of it and fled…” Acts 14:1-6

Well, stoning hasn’t happened yet at our present town hall meetings, but I’m confident the thought has been entertained.

“Now when they had passed…they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. Then Paul…went in…and reasoned with them…and some of them were persuaded…but the Jews who were not persuaded…took some of the evil men from the marketplace, and gathering a mob, set all the city in an uproar…when the Jews learned that the word of God was preached by Paul at Berea, they came there also and stirred up the crowds.” Acts 17:1-13

The following account describes a town hall meeting where the financial well being of a special interest group was at stake along with the participation of organized labor.

“And about that time there arose a great commotion about the ‘Way.’ …a certain man…a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Diana, brought no small profit to the craftsmen. He called them together with the workers of similar occupation, and said: ‘Men, you know that we have our prosperity by this trade. Moreover you see and hear that…Paul has persuaded and turned away many people, saying that they are not gods which are made with hands. So not only is this trade of ours in danger of falling into disrepute, but also the temple of the great goddess Diana may be despised…’”

“Now when they heard this, they were full of wrath…So the whole city was filled with confusion, and rushed into the theater with one accord…some therefore cried one thing and some another, for the assembly was confused, and most of them did not know why they had come together.”

“For we are in danger of being called in question for today’s uproar, there being no reason which we may give to account for this disorderly gathering.” Acts 19:23-40

Well it appears that not much has changed with town hall meetings, only the topics have changed. As the wisest man in the world, King Solomon, once said:

“Is there anything of which it may be said, ‘See, this is new’? It has already been in ancient times before us. And there is nothing new under the sun.” Ecclesiastes

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