The Jerusalem Council
Some people came down from Judea teaching the family of believers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom we’ve received from Moses, you can’t be saved.” 2 Paul and Barnabas took sides against these Judeans and argued strongly against their position.
The church at Antioch appointed Paul, Barnabas, and several others from Antioch to go up to Jerusalem to set this question before the apostles and the elders. 3 The church sent this delegation on their way. They traveled through Phoenicia and Samaria, telling stories about the conversion of the Gentiles to everyone. Their reports thrilled the brothers and sisters. 4 When they arrived in Jerusalem, the church, the apostles, and the elders all welcomed them. They gave a full report of what God had accomplished through their activity. 5 Some believers from among the Pharisees stood up and claimed, “The Gentiles must be circumcised. They must be required to keep the Law from Moses.”
6 The apostles and the elders gathered to consider this matter. 7 After much debate, Peter stood and addressed them, “Fellow believers, you know that, early on, God chose me from among you as the one through whom the Gentiles would hear the word of the gospel and come to believe. 8 God, who knows people’s deepest thoughts and desires, confirmed this by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us. 9 He made no distinction between us and them, but purified their deepest thoughts and desires through faith. 10 Why then are you now challenging God by placing a burden on the shoulders of these disciples that neither we nor our ancestors could bear? 11 On the contrary, we believe that we and they are saved in the same way, by the grace of the Lord Jesus.”Acts 15
The early church had a crisis. The “established” Jerusalem church headed by Peter was the standard by which all else measured. They had a way of doing things. Paul, in his ministry to the Gentiles, had to change some practices out of necessity. Some in Jerusalem didn’t like it and wanted everyone to do things the way they always had been. After some debate that included evidence of the fruit of Paul’s labors, the leaders decided to put the focus on the unifying “grace of the Lord Jesus” instead of on practices that divided.
I believe this is a great lesson for us in today’s church. Of course, as humans, we want to do things in a familiar way. We want things the way they always have been. As our current times have made painfully clear, that is no longer an option. I might even argue, Paul’s work with those “outside” laid the groundwork for the global expansion of Christianity and the revolution it brought. Might we also look at those “outside” and evaluate how we might live into that amazing tradition as well. I know from personal experience and conversations that there are many who do not feel comfortable entering our church. I know some are okay with that. I am not. I believe all should be able to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ.
At times, however, our human pride prevents us from being open to those different. Even if we believe that we are welcoming, that lack of openness is acutely felt in those who may be brave enough to enter what many “outside” consider to be a hostile space.
Please don’t misunderstand my desire to be truly open as endorsement of anything goes. Far from it. However, if we have already drawn lines of who is accepted and who is not based upon our own judgement, we prevent the joy of Christ from being known in those lives excluded in our own minds and hearts.
I invite us all to take a close look at our own hearts. The greatest scandal of Jesus Christ was that he did not come with sword and army to change the world from the outside by force. Instead, he changes the world from the inside by changing hearts. From time to time, we are all guilty of hard hearts. Let us let God melt them and make them more loving. Let us let God mold them and make them more Christlike. Let us let God move us, as a church, toward the conclusion of Simon at the Jerusalem council, “Therefore, I conclude that we shouldn’t create problems for Gentiles who turn to God.”
The world needs the love of Christ even more now. Let us offer it and share it with the world, maybe even especially those “outside” our tradition and experience, the equivalent of Gentiles of our current culture. Show love. Show grace. Live our faith in the world. Watch it change!
Yours in Christ,