Soli Deo Gloria: For the Glory of God Alone
Posted: Thursday, December 16, 2010 5:08 pm
The Messenger, December 16, 2010
All in the Family?
The Jerusalem Council, Part 1I
By CAMILLE KENDALL
Special to The Messenger
Jewish Christians in the early church, fearing their traditions were threatened by the growing number of Gentile Christians among them, began preaching the necessity of conformity to the Mosaic Law for all “true” Christians. But was it really necessary for these Gentile believers to be circumcised and to adhere to Jewish dietary laws?
In chapter 15 of Acts, we read of Paul’s journey to Jerusalem to settle the matter. Paul, Barnabas and a company of Antioch Christians were heartily welcomed in Jerusalem by the apostles and the elders. However, a group of Pharisees rose up to oppose them, insisting that the Gentile converts must be required to obey the laws of Moses.
Two zealous missionaries and a handful of new converts; the apostles and elders in Jerusalem; Judaizers from the party of the Pharisees — the stage was set for a showdown. So begins the very first of many church councils — the Jerusalem Council.
Let’s pause and ask a few questions. First, what was at stake as this council convened? At the core of the dissension voiced by the Judaizers lay the heart of the Gospel: How are men saved? What can the church require of new believers in order for them to enjoy full fellowship in the body of Christ? Is faith in Christ enough for salvation and church membership, or can the church require more?
Secondly, how were these questions dealt with? By the edict of their influential leader, Paul? By majority vote of the congregation? By splitting the Antioch church to form two different congregations, each with their own style of worship?
Finally, how did the Council of Jerusalem respond to the questions being raised, and how did the individual congregations (Antioch, in particular) respond to their decision? What about the Judaizers, those who caused the division in the first place? How did they respond to the Council’s ruling?
In answer to the first question … Paul understood that forcing Gentiles to be circumcised might lead them to believe that salvation was somehow dependent upon their works, instead of dependent entirely upon Christ’s work on their behalf.
“If you do fill-in-the-blank (eg, become circumcised), you will be truly saved.”
Addressing the very same problem — Judaizers who insisted that Gentile believers be circumcised — Paul writes in Galatians, chapter one, “… there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ … I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.”
Paul was uncompromising: salvation, and therefore entrance into fellowship with the body of Christ, was based on faith alone.
Well, how was the problem addressed? The issue was presented to a council of wise, God-ordained leaders — the apostles and elders — men who were committed to preserving the purity and unity of the church and who were well-grounded in the doctrines of grace. Acts 15 tells us that these church fathers assembled to hear the testimony of several witnesses. Then, the matter was examined in light of Scripture (see James’s citation of verses from Amos, in Acts 15:16-17.) Finally, the council agreed that Gentile Christians should be free from Jewish laws and the demands of the Judaizers. Faith in Christ was affirmed as the only condition for salvation and for admission into full Christian fellowship.
In order to preserve the unity of the church, but clearly not as a requirement of salvation, Gentile Christians were exhorted to abstain from eating meat offered to idols or still having the blood in it, and, with all believers, whether Jew or Gentile, to abstain from sexual immorality.
This they were asked to do out of charity towards their Jewish brethren.
We read in verse 31 that when the judgment of the Council of Jerusalem reached Antioch, “They rejoiced because of its encouragement.”
Furthermore, two Jewish converts from Jerusalem, Judas and Silas, traveled to Antioch specifically to encourage and strengthen the Gentile converts.
These Jewish Christians embraced the Gentile believers as true brothers in Christ. The law no longer separated them.
What a beautiful example of submission to Gospel-grounded church authority! What a vivid expression of the unifying power of the Gospel of Christ!
Next week: What can our generation learn from these “great-great-grandparents” in the faith?
Editor’s note: Camille Kendall is a wife and homeschool mom who celebrates the family of Christ at Grace Community Church (www.graceunioncity.com).
Soli Deo Gloria: For the Glory of God Alone