When they heard this, they praised God. Then they said to Paul: “You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews have believed, and all of them are zealous for the law. They have been informed that you teach all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to turn away from Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or live according to our customs. What shall we do? They will certainly hear that you have come, so do what we tell you. There are four men with us who have made a vow. Take these men, join in their purification rites and pay their expenses, so that they can have their heads shaved. Then everyone will know there is no truth in these reports about you, but that you yourself are living in obedience to the law. As for the Gentile believers, we have written to them our decision that they should abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality.”
The next day Paul took the men and purified himself along with them. Then he went to the temple to give notice of the date when the days of purification would end and the offering would be made for each of them.
- Acts 21:20-26
Before we go further, I am not saying that Paul had to enter a secret society, and this was his initiation. There are a few rites prescribed in the Scriptures, for purification as one example. There was an elaborate process to consecrate the priests also, but this was done in full view and prescribed in the Law.
There were probably other rites that were added that may or may not be what God wanted, but that is not for me to say.
I was in the BSA in my youth. I am an Eagle Scout, but there is an organization within the BSA that many consider a secret society. I will not mention the name, but when I was in scouting, it was the group that held the mantle of preserving Native American (in those days Indian) culture within the BSA. That may all be gone today as there is so much that has changed due to political correctness. Their chief goal these days is to promote the accomplishment of arduous tasks without complaint.
You had to meet certain requirements before you could be elected for initiation, and few made the cut each year. By the time I had met those requirements, I was 15 years old, since I was already 13 when I joined scouting. Since most of the other boys were 13 years old, I was singled out.
To signify that you were selected there was a tap out ceremony. The youth leader danced through the crowd, as if by random, and tapped a boy on the shoulder with an arrow, a light tap. The boy was instructed to not say another word until told to do so and follow a designated leader. When they got to me, the youth leader swiftly slashed my shoulder with the arrow, shattering the arrow into three pieces. That was the first indication that it was going to be a long 24 hours of pure hell.
The tapping was done late at night. The designated leader showed me to where I would sleep that night. He ensured that I was laying down precisely where he instructed. I was told not to move from that spot until the following morning.
When I awoke, I found that they had carefully found a bed of poison ivy for my bed the night before. Since it had been pitch black dark, I had no idea. If I shared the same allergy that my father had, I would have never awakened. I remembered, at that moment, needing to burn a pile of underbrush, but I had to wait until my father went on another business trip. The smoke from poison ivy burning might cause his windpipe to swell and he would be unable to breath. Just touching the plant could send him to the hospital.
That morning we were told that we could not say a word until a certain hour late that day, just a reminder from our instructions the night before. I cannot remember many of the tasks that I had to do, but the entire project was clearing underbrush and general scout camp maintenance. The only task that I do remember was picking up debris that others had piled into a ravine and carry them to the campfire for disposal. As I started this task, I noticed some hornets flying around. I figured that if I did not bother them, they would not bother me. What I did not know was that I was disturbing their nest. I was stung on the face and neck 2-3 times. I tried to use hand signals that I was under attack, but the leader’s comment was exactly what I had first thought. “Do not bother them and they will not bother you.”
About an hour later, after a few more stings, they noticed the swarm and decided that I needed a different job. As with the poison ivy, it is a good thing that I did not have an allergy. By the end of the day, it was over. I got my patch and my sash.
I sewed the patch over my pocket flap. The other boys had elected me, and they expected me to have the patch on my uniform when they saw me again. After all, I was the senior patrol leader at the time, the top youth leader of the troop.
But I ignored all the requests to work within the organization. Maybe I did not understand the reason for their torture. Maybe I did not care. I entered at the entry level and never got higher in the “secret society.”
Some cultures have rites to manhood or womanhood. Sometimes these rites can be rather tough, but when there is an inequality within those rites to single out one over another, something is wrong with the organization.
The Apostle Paul joined in the purification rites, and nearly completed the required number of days of purification before his arrest. This incident was shortly after he completed his third mission trip in a visit to Jerusalem for Pentecost. He would remain in prison or house arrest until he reached Rome. For Paul, he did not have to follow the rites, but he did so as a sign that we are all in this together and no one should have special treatment. He was not being singled out and put through a harder ordeal. Now the trial,,, That’s another story.
If I were ever to wear a scouting uniform again, and I did for many years as an adult leader, I will wear the pocket flap patch, but I am not interested in the secret society. And I do hope they have cleaned up the inequalities in their ceremonies and rites.
We are all sinners. Those who are believers are sinners saved by grace. We are all equal in that respect. It is a great lesson to teach people to work hard at arduous tasks without complaint. That is a good lesson to learn, but there needs to be better supervision in the performance of those tasks. Between sleeping for several hours on a bed of poison ivy and being stung multiple times by hornets, I could have easily needed to be rushed to the hospital. But no one seemed to notice nor did they care.
I will always remember scouting with fond memories except for that one grueling day. I gave enough hints for those fellow members to know what this was about, but as I said, I will not state the name. Maybe you could tell me that your experience was nothing like that.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.