Saturday, July 23, 2005

Acts 15:22-35

The Council of Jerusalem: Decision

AD 50: the Church at the crossroads. A critical, fundamental issue threatened to divide the young Church utterly. If not resolved, the further spread of the Gospel might be curtailed entirely. All the surviving apostles (those not yet martyred for their faith) went up to Jerusalem.

At the council, the matter was debated at length, and although the arguments are not specifically described, it must have been argued hotly on both sides of the argument. Must the Gentiles be circumcised (and adhere to all other matters of Jewish law) to be saved, to be accepted into the fellowship of believers?

Finally, Peter spoke with conviction of all that he had seen—the Gentiles indeed had received the marks of the Spirit based upon their declaration of faith. And James, the brother of Jesus who had not believed until after the Resurrection, but who now led the Jerusalem church, and therefore might be expected to adhere more to the conservative view—echoed the voice of total acceptance.

There was no vote. There was therefore no winning side, no losing side. The need for “sacred surgery” was not to be required, it was not even mentioned. But the Gentiles would need to respect the sensitivities of the Jews in key areas that would have made it impossible for them to sit down to a meal together, unless they were observed.

“It seemed good to the Holy Sprit and to us.” God is not on both sides of an argument. God may be against both sides of an argument, in which case both sides need to get on God’s side. And it seems that that is what happened here. They all sought the wisdom of God, and God gave them wisdom at a time and place where they needed that wisdom above all things. The news from the Council was sent forth without delay, and it was received with great joy.

In our American civil institutions, we value democracy as a means for expressing the will of the people. Minority views have a measure of protection, but at the end it is the majority that carries the day. This model has been imported into the mechanics of Church government, and it inevitably brings with it the weaknesses of our human nature. We would do well to consider the unanimity of this Council, and how it was achieved: they sought the will of the Spirit, not merely individually, but as a whole body. They considered the impact on the whole body, not simply on some individuals. God was doing a new thing, and all of them saw it—without exception. And being of one mind, they attained and formulated their consensus.

May we too seek and find that in our day.

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