Saturday, January 09, 2010

First Church Shambles

Several things went wrong at this Acts 15 council.

  1. The apostles did a lot of talking, but no one sought the wisdom of the Spirit.

    After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them….
    The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about…
    When they finished, James spoke up: "Brothers, listen to me…(Acts 15:7.12.13)
    There was a lot of talk, but no listening to the Holy Spirit. Although prophets were present, no one brought a prophecy. At the end of the discussion, James stood up and just announced a decision. This is not the best way to find out God’s will purpose.

  2. The decision of the elders was bizarre. They were witnesses to a critical breakthrough for the gospel: the Gentiles were beginning to receive the gospel. The good news was going into all the world. The apostles should have been rapt. The elders should have been excited. Yet the best that they could do was send down a set of rules.

    abstain from food polluted by idols,
    abstain from sexual immorality,
    abstainfrom the meat of strangled animals
    abstain from blood (Acts 15:20).
    This is bizarre. They were addressing a group of new believers and all they could do was hand out some rules about what to eat. They did not urge the believers to “take up the cross” or to “love one another”. None of Jesus challenges recorded in the gospels were mentioned.

  3. Rules are the beginning of religion. This meeting between the elders and apostles was the first step in turning Christianity from a relationship with Jesus into a set of rules.

  4. Although the apostles and leaders had not sought wisdom of the Holy Spirit, they claimed to be speaking on behalf of the Spirit when they wrote to the believer at Antioch.

    It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements (Acts 15:28).
    This is the sort of wishy washy statement that a committee will produce. “It seemed good”. clearly they were not certain about what they were writing. The letter was a compromise put together by a committee. They could not be totally certain about it, so they lapsed into committeespeak. They then tacked on the words “and the Spirit” to add some validity to their words, even though the Holy Spirit had not spoken during the meeting.

  5. The decision was a compromise. Peter knew that the Holy Spirit wanted to move in the hearts of the Gentiles (Acts 10). Yet he went along with a compromise that was contrary to an amazing vision and spiritual experience. That is the major problem with councils and committees. The best that they can do is produce a compromise. God does not work through voting and compromise.

  6. One of the rules that the council gave to the Christians at Antioch was morally wrong and later had to be corrected. Abstaining from sexual immorality is good advice, although it is not the most important thing to say to new Christians. Avoiding blood is also good hygene. Avoiding strangled animals likewise, although there is no evidence that this was an issue in Antioch. However, the command to abstain from meat offered to idols was not based in the Law of Moses. Paul later proved that this was not a requirement for Christians.

    One man's faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him (Rom 14:2-3).
    God does not care about meat offered to idols. Provided it does not cause a weaker brother to fall, Christians can eat meat offered to idols. Clearly, the elders were not listening to the Holy Spirit, if they thought that he said something different.

  7. The apostles and elders should have told the Jewish Christians who were causing the problem to pull their heads in. They should have explained that they did not understand the gospel. This would have nipped the problem in the bud. Instead, this issue of forcing gentiles to comply with the ceremonial law became a problem all over Asia Minor. The problem spread because the apostles and elders in Jerusalem did not deal with the problem before it got out of hand. Paul and Barnabas gave them an opportunity to sort it out, but they compromised, and an opportunity was lost.

  8. The problem arose, because the apostles had stayed at the centre instead of moving out to the cutting edge. If Peter or James had been in Antioch, they would have understood the seriousness of the problem and done something about it. By staying in Jerusalem, they became part of the problem, as they were out of touch with what was happening in the newer mission fields.


August said...

It seems a real leap to suggest they did not listen to the Holy Spirit. There's a limit to how much can be transmitted via text; perhaps all that was necessary for us to know was that they had a council?

Why shouldn't we merely assume the Holy Spirit was consulted?

It seems to me very easy for evil people to use this sort of argument with everything, including the very existence and meaning of Jesus Christ.
Any new idea can be posted under the label 'prophecy,' and used to separate and destroy us.

This is also legalistic, in the sense that you are taking various passages and using them like a lawyer, to make a legal case. Against our elders, no less!

Ron McK said...

The proof that they did not listen to the Spirit is that there were wrong. They were wrong about meat offered to idols. The scriptures teach that.

August said...

Just thinking off the top of my head, what if this was a temporary rule made for the new converts, who would benefit from separating themselves from their former, pagan ways? As they became strong in the Lord, it would cease to matter- and now, of course, who offers meat to idols anymore?

There just isn't enough information in the text to lend credence to such your interpretation. It is explicitly pointed out when St. Peter denies the Lord, or when Judas betrays Him, or when Ananias and Saphira transgress the Holy Spirit.
And, as one can note by having to deal with various atheist critiques of Genesis, what has been written down isn't everything that has happened; what has been written down is what's important.

They not only had the Holy Spirit- they were taught by Our Lord Himself.

Ron McK said...

You are scraping the bottom of the barrel.

I have tremendous respect for Peter James and John. They were far better Christians than I am, but they were human. They sometimes got things wrong.

My faith is in God and his Holy Spirit, not in the apostles.

August said...

No, that was the top of my head. If I wanted to go mucking about in the barrel, I'd go find out what the Church fathers said, what various theologians said, etc...
Then I'd have a nice, probably pickled argument to present you with, but I don't need it. It's obvious you could give the benefit of the doubt to the apostles, but you don't want to, because that lets open the door to popes, bishops, and priests- and your version of the new Israel only has eleven tribes in it.