Partakers Bible Thought
30 May 2021
A New Problem Arises
1 Certain people came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the believers: ‘Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.’ 2 This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question. 3 The church sent them on their way, and as they travelled through Phoenicia and Samaria, they told how the Gentiles had been converted. This news made all the believers very glad. 4 When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and elders, to whom they reported everything God had done through them.
5 Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, ‘The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to keep the law of Moses.’
6 The apostles and elders met to consider this question. 7 After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: ‘Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles should hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. 8 God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. 9 He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. 10 Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? 11 No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.’(Acts 15:1-11)
The very early church at the time of this event, does not seem to have had any very formal authority structure. Elders don’t appear until Acts 11:30; also the ‘deacons’ of Acts 6:2 were probably not carrying out anything except the specific function of ‘waiting on tables’ or administering the available charity. In Acts 12:17 Peter sends a message to James and the other brothers and sisters, not James and the elders; in Acts 13:1-3 the whole church seem to be acting together, not the leadership.
However they organised themselves discipline was exercised, in which members who had fallen into sin and remained unrepentant were excluded from the church. The church was never individualistic: that is to say, people did not suddenly decide to 'join' or 'leave' the church, as is too often the case in modern churches. The church was a corporate entity, in which pastoral oversight and spiritual authority were exercised by the leadership or somebody. They had a leadership raised up by the Lord and set apart according to a church policy mediated by the divinely inspired guidance of the apostles. This did not mean that there was neither controversy nor the threat of disunity.
From the beginning, problems arose which needed to be resolved with pastoral, spiritual and judicial authority. It is therefore no surprise to find early on in Church history, a question arising about the nature of membership in the church and to see the matter being dealt with through the collective leadership of the church, the apostles and elders, who met together in a deliberative assembly (Acts 15:6) but who also reported back to the whole church (Acts 15:4, 22).
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