We had an issue! It was obvious that if we didn’t do something about it our church family would be divided.
It was such an exciting time for us being a new church. As we talked about Jesus, so many people put their trust in him – and people from all kinds of backgrounds.
I was born a Jew and all around Judea and Jerusalem there were fellow Jews who for the first time came to realise that our Old Testament Messiah was in fact Jesus and so they became brothers and sisters in faith. We had a rich heritage, being descendants of Israel, and with that we brought a deep understanding of the scriptures with traditions that had been part of our culture for centuries.
And then further out, in Samaria and Phoenicia, regions that were far more Gentile in origin – they also were hearing about Jesus and believing. We were so thankful for Paul and Barnabas, who had gone out on mission and reached both Jews and Gentiles around Asia Minor.
I guess we should have predicted that when people of different cultural backgrounds come together there will be things to sort out! After all, Jews and Gentiles had not always got on, so becoming the one family was always going to have some hiccups!
The issue was about circumcision. You see according to what Moses taught the Israelites, those who were the people of God were to be marked by the sign of circumcision – that was one way that they stood out from all the other nations. So although I had become Christian, I was still circumcised – it is an important part of who I am. Naturally, those with a Jewish background who had become Christian were telling people that unless they were circumcised then they couldn’t be saved! That was causing problems for the Gentiles who were converting – they thought they were become Christian not Jewish!
So we called Paul and Barnabas back and decided to hold a church family meeting – a council in Jerusalem. It was great when they arrived. All the apostles and elders were there and the whole church welcomed them back eager to hear about all the people who had joined the Christian family.
We got down to business. Some of our number who had been Pharisees and knew the law well, suggested that for the Gentiles to be accepted into the church family they had to be circumcised and required to obey the law of Moses. We talked lots about this.
Eventually we got the Apostle Peter up to try and settle the matter. He was a good choice because, back when he was staying with Cornelius in Caesarea, he was one of the first to learn that God showed no favouritism and wanted Gentiles also to hear the message of the gospel.
So Peter told us all ‘We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ that we are saved, just as the Gentiles are’ – he said, we shouldn’t test God by putting obligations on disciples that just make it harder to live as Christians. Then Paul and Barnabas got up and spoke about some of the amazing things that God had done among the Gentiles.
Then it was my turn. As the brother of Jesus and also a leader in our church I thought it was important that we stay united around Jesus and not the law. After all, our prophet Amos had long ago foretold that both Jews and Gentiles would bear the name of our Lord. So I suggested that we removed circumcision as a requirement when turning to God – although it was important for my fellow Jews, it was more important that our church family lived for Jesus and circumcision had nothing to do with our salvation.
I wasn’t throwing out the law, it is still helpful, particularly in highlighting areas of our lives that might be displeasing to the Lord. It was widely known that Gentiles, prior to becoming Christian engaged in idolatry, sacrifices and sexual immortality and so I suggested that we advise our new brothers and sisters to avoid those things. Any believer engaging in those practices, irrespective of whether they had a Jewish or Gentile background, would be discrediting Jesus. I am sure in years to come, believers all around the world will be challenged by lots of different things that will threaten to discredit Jesus!
Our church family brings together so many people from different walks of life, but most important is that we are all one in Jesus. Talking about issues as a church is a great thing to do – particularly if it draws us together around Jesus and seeks to care for the other in Christ. One of the great things about being a church family is that that we can meet to help one another live well for Jesus.
Inspired by Acts 15:1-21
For other articles in this series:
Belonging to Church
The Church – universal and local!
Draw Near to God and to Others
Core in Membership