Differences ironed out – Thursday, 5th week in Easter – Acts 15:7-21
What we hear of today is the great council of Jerusalem, the first council where the ‘church; its apostles and elders’ gathered together to discuss a matter at hand. The first council of the Church was not without controversy, for the text that we studied yesterday tells us that on arrival in Jerusalem certain members of the Pharisees’ party who had now become believers in Christ objected to the discussion at hand. So, what was it that triggered off this great discussion?
No sooner had Paul and Barnabas arrived back at Antioch, reporting to the church how God had worked through them and had opened a door of faith for the Gentiles, than trouble arises. Trouble that’s, in fact, triggered by their great success in bringing Gentiles to faith. It’s ironic isn’t it? In Acts 15:1-6 we are told that some men came down from Judea to Antioch and contradicted the teaching of Paul and Barnabas who got into ‘a long arguments with these men’. What should have been a moment of great rejoicing is all spoiled by these interlopers who come in from Jerusalem with their loaded agenda about what to do with all these Gentile converts. So, it was arranged that Paul and Barnabas would go to Jerusalem and discuss the problem with the elders and apostles.
When they arrived in Jerusalem, we are told that the Pharisees’ who now followed the teaching of Christ insisted that the Gentiles that Paul were converting on his first missionary journey should be circumcised and instructed to the keep the law of Moses. (Acts 15: 6) In short what they were demanding was a conversion to Judaism first. This implies that they saw themselves and other adherents of Christ’s teachings as primarily a ‘sect of Judaism’. Paul preached that faith in Christ alone was what was needed for salvation but here were these people saying, “No, that’s not enough. You also need to be circumcised. The apostles and elders thus decided to ‘look into the matter.’ This brings us to the text of today and the great council of Jerusalem.
Today’s text tells us that the discussion had gone on for a long-time prompting Peter to stand us and address the gathering. Peter reminds the council of his own experience with the household of Cornelius. You may remember that when that incident occurred Peter got into trouble from the Jerusalem Christians for entering a Gentile house and preaching the gospel. But his answer was that if God had made them clean, and that was shown by the fact that the Holy Spirit fell on them, then how could anyone consider them unclean. So he reminds them of that and especially that it’s through the grace of the Lord Jesus that we’re saved. In doing this Peter opens the way for Paul and Barnabas to share how God had blessed their mission in Asia Minor.
After this sharing, James, as leader of the Church speaks. His conclusion is a wise and Godly compromise based on his clear reading of Scripture and his understanding of the theology of salvation. Quoting Amos 9, St James explains to the Church in Jerusalem that the inclusion of the Gentiles isn’t some divine afterthought, or a mistake by Paul, but part of God’s salvation plan foretold by the prophets. He thus concludes “we should not trouble those Gentiles who are turning to God but we should write to them to abstain only from things polluted by idols and from fornication and from whatever has been strangled and from blood.” In other words, he asks them to keep away from things that would make them unacceptable to their Jewish brothers and sisters; idolatry and fornication.
James’ wisdom is accepted by the council and so Paul and Barnabas are sent back to Antioch with a letter containing the judgement of the council, accompanied though, by Judas and Silas, who are sent as representatives of the leadership of the Church in Jerusalem
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