Two dangers the early church faced were persecution and theological controversy. But persecution fostered unity and gave unexpected impetus to evangelism. (See Acts chapters 3-5 and 8:1-4.) So Satan decided to stir up disagreements.
What controversy between Jewish and Gentile Christians at Antioch necessitated a general council at Jerusalem? Acts 15:1-6.
Many Hebrew Christians, afraid that the Gentile converts would undermine the distinctive, divinely established features of their faith, sought to bring all believers under the ceremonial law, including circumcision. But Paul, Barnabas, and some of their associates taught that the ceremonial law had been abrogated at Calvary.
How did the apostles deal with the concern the legalistic party among the Jewish Christians felt regarding the increasing number of Gentile believers? What was the outcome of the apostles' efforts? Acts 15:3, 4, 7-31.
The council engaged in theological discussion and received reports on the progress of the gospel among the Gentiles. The delegates settled the debate largely by considering how overwhelmingly the Spirit was revealing the power of salvation worldwide.
"The . . . main question at issue seemed to present before the council insurmountable difficulties. But the Holy Spirit had, in reality, already settled this question, upon the decision of which seemed to depend the prosperity, if not the very existence, of the Christian church.'--The Acts of the Apostles, p. 192.
The council's Spirit-directed decision made it possible for the church to assimilate Gentile converts.
"The principle at stake was quite simple and completely fundamental. Was the gift of God for the select few or for all the world? If we possess it ourselves are we to look on it as a privilege or as a responsibility? The problem may not meet us nowadays in precisely the way; but there still exist divisions between class and class, between nation and nation, between colour and colour. We fully realize the true meaning of Christianity only when all middle walls of partition are broken down."--William Barclay, The Acts of the Apostles, rev. ed. (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1955), p. 113.