Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Acts 15: the Council of Jerusalem

For the second time in the young history of the Church, persecution is followed by internal conflict. (The corruption of Ananias and Sapphira was exposed shortly after Peter and John were threatened by the Sanhedrin). The Council of Jerusalem contains much effective conflict resolution. Had I consistently practiced these principles as a father and husband, there would have been less strife at home, I think.

The conflict begins when Judaizers demand that Gentile believers be circumcized. They dropped the “S-bomb”: “ya gotta do this if ya wanna be Saved.” No doubt that also used that pointless old chestnut, "it's always been done this way." There is no modern day equivalent to forcing new believers to undergo painful mutilation, but the “real Christians bow their heads, don’t move their feet, don’t listen to rock music, drink, smoke, chew or go with girls who do” dictum carries the same spirit of condemnation and bondage. Paul and Peter both counter that the grace of the cross gives freedom.

How often have I communicated to a loved one, “do such and such or I will disapprove and judge you?” To follow Christ by speaking truth in love requires patience, discernment and humility. I might actually do as the assembly did in verse 12: become silent and listen. As one among them wrote years later, “be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.”

The Council’s word to the Gentiles is full of understanding and freedom, both in rejection of mutilation and in the words “it seems good to us.” This issue is not a war banner they drive into a hilltop, demanding all good soldiers to rally ‘round. Within a generation or two Roman, Gentile Christianity had given up most Jewish traditions and ritual practices. They do not seem to have been missed.

And sometimes, we just agree to disagree. Paul and Barnabas split over whether to take John Mark on the next trip, thus producing missions mitosis: two teams out of one. All four principals eventually reconciled and are celebrated in scripture. By one estimate there are 2600 separate Christian churches. One suspects that although many splits were born of the spirit of the Judaizers, others are Spirit-birthed. The history of the development of the Christian church, on earth as it is in heaven, will be a fascinating heavenly seminar. (“In conclusion, that is why the Holy Spirit sent my brother Charles and I to Georgia.”)

What follows is a Wikipedia quick history of the first seven all-church councils of the Christian church. They are generally regarded by church historians from most major Christian groups as positive landmarks.

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