ACTS 15 = THE CHURCH VOTES TO INCLUDE!
Bible Background: Since last week’s reading, Peter (early church leader) has been ‘converted’ in his own thinking about Gentile (non-Jewish) believers. And the leadership council agreed that God was also bringing about faith among these outsiders. Today, we’ve jumped ahead to the end of Paul’s 1st Missionary Journey, and we hear much evidence of the Christian faith spreading and including Gentile believers. But…change doesn’t come easily!
Digging Deeper: 1. There are ‘growing pains’ and disagreements in the early church. The key question is: “Must new believers first become Jews in order to be real followers of Jesus?” This shows how the early church is both an outgrowth of Judaism, and also how it has outgrown the confines of the Jewish religion.
2. How to deal with this dilemma? Step 1: Get people together, talking and listening to each other. Step 2: Study the scriptures! Step 3: Pay attention to what’s happening in the lives of real people. Notice what God is up to! Step 4: Don’t expect easy answers or quick resolution of large issues! How can this model still guide us?
3. Key leaders at this point are Peter and James in the ‘Mother’ church in Jerusalem; and Paul and Barnabas out there in the ‘mission’ field of Asia Minor. Peter’s honesty and clarity is refreshing: the requirements of circumcision and following all the law of Moses hadn’t worked out all that well for the Jewish believers over time. Why make these Gentile believers follow the same route?
4. Verse 11 hits the mark: “We believe that we will be saved by the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will” (as opposed to being saved by keeping the Law.) Those first Christians would have made good Lutherans! “Saved by grace!” What does that mean in your life? How do we shape the church to reflect that?
5. The Council agrees (later in Chap. 15) that Gentile believers should follow some of the Jewish rules. But circumcision is not required for followers of Jesus. Paul’s letters in the Bible will go on to celebrate and insist on the truth that Christ has set us free from the requirements of the Law. This does not mean that “anything goes”. It does mean that we are saved by grace, through faith (Ephesians 2:8).
6. The movement of the Spirit in the book of Acts is always to widen the circle, so that the important thing is not your race, your class, your gender, but whether you have come to trust the Good News of Jesus Christ. Twenty centuries later, that’s still how the Spirit is trying to shape and grow the church!