When a council gave sound counsel – Wednesday, 5th Week of Easter – Acts 15:1-6
Paul and Barnabas have returned from their first missionary journey. As a rule they always went first to the synagogue to preach the message of Christ, as they did in Iconium and Antioch of Pisidia. But we know that in Lystra there was no synagogue and so the apostles began to preach to the people in the streets. It is here that they first minster to the Gentiles.
On returning to Antioch, they report to the whole Church that “God had opened the door of faith for the Gentiles.” As inconsequential as this statement may seem, it will be the cause of much division in the Early Church and become for Paul, a constant challenge in his ministry.
It was in Antioch, that some individuals who came down from Judea, began to teach that salvation could only be obtained through fidelity to the Law of Moses and as manifested through the act of circumcision. From Paul’s own experience of his first missionary journey, he had come to believe that one was saved by Jesus freely, and that the Mosaic Law had no role to play in salvation. It is no wonder then that he and Barnabas had “no small dissension and debate” with these individuals from Judea.
It is interesting to see how the Early Church solved their disagreements; and dare I say with a spirit that goes beyond the mere confines of what we consider democracy. We are told that in order to resolve this dispute, the Church in Antioch decided to send Paul, Barnabas and “some of the others” to Jerusalem to discuss the issue with the apostles and elders.
I cannot but imagine that these “others” also consisted of those who had come down from Judea, those who were in direct disagreement with the thinking of Paul and Barnabas. If so, then the journey to Jerusalem must have been an interesting one for the opponents of Paul would have joined them and would have seen how the Christians of Phoenicia and Samaria rejoiced on learning of the conversion of the Gentiles. Perhaps their stance may have just hardened even more, just like us when we dig into our egoistical heels, making even visible signs of God, instruments of doubt.
While the apostles and elders warmly welcomed Paul and Barnabas, the opposing party raised their objections. We now get an idea as to who these people were and what their contention was. We are told they “belonged to a sect of the Pharisees” (prior to their conversion to Christianity). It is these Judaizers (a term you should get familiar with), people who were Christians but wanting to follow the Jewish customs and law, who will oppose the ‘open door policy’ for all in the Early Church.
It is these Judaizers who will be a thorn in Paul’s flesh; they will follow him on every mission sowing seeds of doubt in the mission of Paul by contradicting constantly his message of salvation for all, while insisting on the need to follow the law of Moses.
The stage has now been set for the first council in the history of the Church, a council that will come to be known as the council of Jerusalem. This is going to be a decisive council, and while it was unanimously adopted, it was not whole heartedly accepted by all.
Fr Warner D’Souza
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