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Thursday: A Difficult Situation — 18 Comments

  1. There are two take-aways from this study that are worth considering:

    1) Dialog is important. That is how the Holy Spirit chooses to work. When we listen to one another with the intent of hearing what they are saying, rather than just to formulate an argument against them, then the quiet small voice of the Holy Spirit can work on both sides of the discussion.

    2) Even when a decision is reached and announced, that is not the end of the matter. Nobody can legislate unity. The discussion must continue. Ultimately how you treat one another is much more important and embracing than any official statement.

    • In the beginning of this week, Maurice, you stirred us up with three very elaborate points:

      1. Keep talking to one another when in conflict. While you are talking there is still hope for resolution.

      2. Don't expect unity to be the work of a moment. The Holy Spirit is like water and fertilizer on plants. Often we have to look for a growing experience rather than a quick-fix overnight change.

      3. Do not resign your membership as a protest. When you have voted with your feet you have made your last contribution to the issue. Maybe the Holy Spirit wanted to use you some more, and resignation has signed off on that opportunity.

      Well! These same points come out clearly in today's lesson. Consensus was reached at the end. A letter is issued confirming the decision of the council to the churches in Antioch. Added to this, the council sends representation of known council members Barsabas and Silas to show support to the decision and to impress on them "the Circumcision Party" that the decision is supported by the HQ. The apostle from there would continue to preach and teach, and reach out to all its members new or old on the message of God's salvation to all Nations. They were seen and even acted as one unit; then oneness was achieved. A very important thing happens the very end, (Acts 15:33-34) the representation from Jerusalem would return back to Jerusalem; Silas could remain behind probably to keep an eye on progress, or to ensure that the Jewish members would remain true to the decision of the Council. Needless to say, but with all this success, conflict would still come back later. Despite that, the apostles had addressed matters of conflict with gusto and total guidance from the Holy Spirit.

      1) As a church we shall make decisions for the better of unity; that decision should not be just drafted into policy or doctrine, but communicated, and taught. The relational behind the adjustment should well be communicated.

      2) A representative from the decision organ impresses on the changes, and should be part of the presenting team to the churches.

      3) Follow its implementation to monitor response and assist through areas of difficulty as experienced by members.

      4) Prayer and Scripture as well as reliance to the Holy Spirit, should deliberately be our guiding forces.

      We should all consistently support the unity charge as they in the early church did. We too should in unity address to conflict in a united way; we should not shift to "buck passing" but address the issues just like the apostles. Other problems may or will come from time to time but from one experience we shall know how to tackle the next.

    • Maurice, is there any place for faith and a correct understanding of God's will for His people? Yes, dialogue is good, but without a sure foundation, all the best dialogue is nothing more than the opinion of men.

      My point would be that the only reason there is a division is because at least some are not understanding the will of God, since the Holy Spirit does not oppose itself. As Paul wrote: "Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;".

      • I agree in principle with what you are saying Robert, but there are situations where Godly men and women disagree on interpretation and/or practice about what is said in the Bible and how it should be implemented. Not everything is clearly black and white. Sometimes it does not matter and we have to accept differences. I agree that self-interest and personal bias get in the way at times too. The biggest problem for me is when I get an idea into my head that I am right and I refuse to listen to others. Maybe, when I am not listening to others, I am not listening to the Holy Spirit either. That is why I think that keeping the dialog going is important.

        One of my theology lecturers once said in class,"Fifty percent of what I am going to tell you in this class is probably wrong, but I don't know which fifty percent! So let us sit down together and see if we can work it out." I like that approach; learning together. A division that we are working on, is much better than a division that isolates us. The Holy Spirit does help us, but it takes time. It is not the work of a moment.

      • Christ was/is the only person who is One with the Father. He understands God’s will perfectly. He can live it and He could preach it. The rest of us are like a reflection in a pond, sometimes it seems quite clear and at other times it can get blurred when the waters get rough. There will always be differences among us in our understanding and reflection of God’s character until we are changed in the twinkling of an eye. In the mean time like Maurice said, we will need to be patient and kind as we work through those differences with the guidance of the Spirit to maintain unity.

  2. We in South Africa are experiencing something similar to Acts 15 and to our church's current situation. In SA we had big turmoil and then we thought we had unity based on a new constitution. However a new issue came up and now some believe we need to change our constitution but many do not.

    In Acts 15 the leader, James, summed up - we are not saying we should throw out all our laws and traditions, but we are saying that the new members only have to do the following....
    So they avoided a split but in effect they were running a dual system.
    To learn the lesson - the Principles - from Acts 15 we need to study what they were in fact saying - were they saying the Gentiles didn't have to keep any other laws except the few mentioned? no 10 commandments? or only no traditions? no sacrifices?
    Would these decisions be for ever or until further revelations of the Holy Spirit?

    As I have said before I think there are several lessons I have learned:
    1) God meets people where they are - their level of understanding and spiritual maturity - i.e. a parent does not interact with a two year old in the same way as a 12 year old
    2) God tells people about the future in terms of their past experience with Him, i.e. the Flood is described as a reverse of Creation, the Exodus in terms of Flood & Creation.
    3) God has been Progressively Revealing His Plan of Salvation, i.e. Jesus said to the disciples "I have many things to tell you but you cannot bear them now"
    4) God the Father, Son & Holy Spirit have and live by their Principles of Life and we will also live by them when we allow Him to change our hearts & minds.
    5) These Principles of Life have been revealed to His chosen people in various ways throughout the history of this earth, He personally spoke to Adam & Eve, Noah, Abraham, through Moses, through the Prophets and then wonderfully through Jesus and after that through the Apostles and then the Spirit of Prophecy always the Principles remain the same (as does His Character) but how they are explained varies.

    • What "dual system" are you referring to Shirley? There is "one Lord, one Faith, and one baptism", only One Shepherd and one fold. What the Jerusalem council did NOT do was outlaw the observance of the types by those who wished to continue in them. This did not demand that all Jews follow them, but if they wanted to, ok. Read Romans 14 and realize the principle in action here.
      There was no dual system of beliefs, only allowance for personal conviction without enforcing them upon others. The church was accommodating those weaker in faith(the Jews who could not see the role of Christ clearly), and keeping them from forcing others to comply with their misunderstanding of scripture and the will of God revealed in Christ.

  3. Keep talking to one another when in conflict. Paul set the example when he gave a sermon on Gentiles vs Jews, I am sure solidifying some members resolve to tradition, but others listened and being also led by the Holy Spirit were changed. My observayion is, he went out into the congrigation presenting himself as friend to all, not segragating Jew From Gentile. We have disagreements, lets not carry them to the extent of breaking love for one another. Talk about like intrest, agreeabe things and drop disagreeable issues, make peace. As you know my favorite text on this: James 3:18. Ironic that James was the leader of the aspostles who chose a solution to the issue of the time. The issue did not stop with the aspostles decision, as we have learned before it was rejection of the aspostles decision that brought Pauls ministry to be imprisoned. Yes I know Paul had his hand in his curtailment.

  4. The author of today’s lesson states; “James, the brother of Jesus, who appears to be the leader of the assembly, made a judgment about what should be done (Acts 15:13-20). Clearly the council decided that Gentiles do not need to become Jewish converts, obeying all aspects of the ceremonial laws, including circumcision, in order to become Christians.”
    I would say, clearly the decision by the Jerusalem Council was that the Gentiles did not have to suffer the ritual of circumcision. I believe that circumcision was the only thing they were released from in this statement.
    The study of the feasts or the ceremonies in conjunction with the study of the sanctuary brings great insight into the plan of salvation. The oblation or the sacrificial system was done away with at the cross ...Royce

  5. What we must keep in mind is, no one was saved by circumcision in the Old Testament either. I have no doubt there will be men and boys in heaven, who died before the cross while never having been circumcised. Just like today there are those who never had the opportunity to be baptized who will be in heaven. Jesus was baptized and circumcised as the Representative for all humanity.

    • Hi William.

      I know your comment refers to circumcision of the ‘flesh’ - which was only an outward sign of commitment to the Abramic covenant.

      In contrast, as you would affirm, everyone who will be in heaven will have had circumcision of their heart - whether they know of it in those words or not (Rm 2:25 - 29; Eze 36:26; Ps 51:10).

      • Yes Phil, my point is that Acts 15 did not change the plan of salvation. Many believe the law and circumcision saved you in the Old Testament, and grace saved you in the New Testament, but everyone in the Old Testament was saved by grace and not the law. What Paul teaches about the law in the New Testament times, also applied in Old Testament times.

  6. Acts 15 describes the discussions that took place at Jerusalem Council and shows a model of how the early church dealt with controversial doctrinal issues. There was much “disputing,” or dispute” or “discussion” (v. 7). Dialogue is extremely important in resolving problems. Even in our country with its 430 years of colonial and evil apartheid system all of this was ended through serious and determined dialogue that took place against a backdrop of political violence in the country. The Holy Spirit was able to move the hearts and minds of our leadership to reach an agreement that paved the way for democracy. Today we have one of the best constitution in the world. Currently the country is ceased with an issue of landlesness of the indigenous population as a direct consequences of hundreds of years of oppression. This may seem an intractable problem but the country is addressing it through a meticulous, democratic and transparent process through dialogue in order to find a lasting solution.
    The early church challenge is summarised by Ellen G. White as follows: “The Jewish converts generally were not inclined to move as rapidly as the providence of God opened the way. . . . They were slow to discern that all the sacrificial offerings had but prefigured the death of the Son of God, in which type met antitype, and after which the rites and ceremonies of the Mosaic dispensation were no longer binding.” The Jerusalem Council allowed for vigorous debate (vv. 7–12), but the deciding factor was Scripture. White describes the consensus: “The council moved in accordance with the dictates of enlightened judgment, and with the dignity of a church established by the divine will. As a result of their deliberations they all saw that God Himself had answered the question at issue by bestowing upon the Gentiles the Holy Ghost; and they realized that it was their part to follow the guidance of the Spirit.” As God's children we should learn to resolve all our challenges in a style of consensual agreement based on Scripture.

    • Hi Bulumko,

      I agree consensual agreement by ALL based on Scripture.

      However we must be careful, as an example in our country, some of the churches read Gen 9 about Ham and the fact that God cursed Ham & (they thought - his descendants) to be servants to his brothers and used their incorrect understanding to make a whole group of people to be servants of the other group.
      This was of course very wrong, that curse was only applicable to Ham, not his descendants, in fact the Bible says the following of Ham's grandson : Gen 10:8  And Cush begat Nimrod: he began to be a mighty one in the earth.

      So we must be careful and look for the Principle behind the actions of the LORD, His Principles are the same forever but how they are applied might differ according to the circumstances. 

  7. It is interesting to me how for the Gentile converts to Christianity there were only four items that they had to agree to: 1. to avoid any kind of contact with strangled animals, 2. to abstain from sexual immorality, 3. to abstain from any thing that had been offered to idols, and 4. to not eat the blood of animals. There is nothing in these four rules that says anything about making sure that these Gentile converts needed to also only eat CLEAN MEATS, or to only be VEGANS or VEGETARIANS, or to keep any other rule from the rules in the Ceremonial Levitical codes, or to even keep all of the 10 moral codes of the 10 Commandments," as part of what they needed to accept for being included as being considered to be part of God's Jewish Heritage and people.

    • Pete, Jesus' commission, which the apostles were faithful to, included teaching them "all things" Jesus commanded them. Read the 4 gospels and Acts, and see the extent of these teachings.

      The list of 4 which was decided in Jerusalem was only the few controversial matters of that time. The converts were taught about unclean meats, and all that was given in "the faith once delivered to the saints" from Moses, which was the basis for all Jesus taught. Jesus always highlighted the 10 commandments.

  8. Four items?
    We need to be careful how we view the actual decision of the council. I'm pretty sure abstaining from food offered to idols, abstaining from eating meat from a strangled animal with the blood, from drinking blood, and abstaining from sexual immorality, are not even the key requirements for being part of the people God. However, those four addressed the situation that was under controversy.

    Basically, the counsel waived the rituals by which the previous converts into the Jewish religion were initiated. The requirements that remained, kind of sum up the pagan rituals that they were to forsake.

    1. Idol worship -- don't partake in things offered to idols. That this is a principle to shun idol worship more than worrying about whether the food in the market place was offered to idols or not, Paul makes clear in his writings. Basically, he's saying, if anything you are eating makes you think, or makes someone else think, you're giving homage to idols DON'T eat it.

    2 and 3
    The strangled animals still have all their blood in them, it wasn't drained from them. Scripture prohibits the consumption of blood --
    Lev.17:11 "For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement."
    Actually the command mankind were not to ingest blood predates Moses. It was already given to Noah in Gen. 9:5.
    Drinking of blood was a part of mysterious rites related to many past civilizations. The custom of consuming blood was given a magical and mysterious meaning. It was part of pagan religions as a symbolic connection of the powers of life and death.
    Probably invented by Satan to counterfeit the saving blood of Christ shed at Calvary, and the communion when we remember that TRUE sacrifice.

    Sexual immorality -- is prohibited in the ten commandments. Yet it also addresses a common pagan practice that was steeped in immorality. Pagan religions put high value in fertility and fertility rituals which were immoral.

    Thus the prohibitions all tied into abstaining from practices that would have identified them as PAGANS.

    The rituals formerly required to join the Jewish faith were waived.

    However, there is a lot more to being a child of God. -- It involves a complete transformation from the inside to the outside as a person walks in close relationship with Christ.

    It is believing in Christ's redemption, and walking in close relationship with Him, that is the real key to belonging to the family of God. Yet, those were not mentioned either in the Jerusalem declaration. But they were definitely taught by the apostles.

    The principle was laid out --
    Those things that identify us with pagan worship are to be put away.
    It was not a statement of beliefs.


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