And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself. Luke 24.27
This week’s video is presentation 14 in our study of Acts, and completes the introduction to disciple-making from presentation 13. You can view it by clicking here (scroll down to Lesson 14).
Read and meditate on Acts 15.12-21.
Peter’s argument for not troubling the Gentile believers with Jewish customs had a powerful effect. When he was finished, no one said a word. At last it was time for Paul and Barnabas to weigh in, and their report strengthened the case made by Peter.
1. To this point in the meeting of this first council of the Church, argument, debate, and reports provided the content. Should there be a place in churches in our day to discuss and debate different views of doctrine? Why or why not?
2. These debates were necessary, but the council needed to recommend some action to which all the churches of the Lord would comply. Mere theologizing is of little value. Sound doctrine is intended to lead to right action. Why?
3. James understood the need to reach a conclusion and prescribe some action, so he put forward a motion for the assembly’s consideration. First, he summarized Peter’s argument, to make sure everyone was in agreement. We can imagine the heads bobbing up and down as James spoke in verse 14. Then he reinforced Peter’s argument, and the report of Paul and Barnabas, by grounding everything in the Old Testament, specifically, Amos 9.11, 12. Thus, on the basis of Scripture and church practice, he offered his motion in vv. 19, 20. What does James’ approach to this matter suggest about the right way to do theology in the local church?
4. The restrictions spelled out in verse 20 focus on common religious and moral practices among the Gentiles of the Roman world. If the converted Gentiles were to show themselves to be a people holy to the Lord, they would need to be conspicuous about the change the Gospel makes, precisely at those points where everyone would be most likely to observe them. At the same time, such demonstrable changes of behavior would not go unnoticed by the Jews in the Roman world (v. 21), who would be in agreement with this new lifestyle and might be persuaded by such changes that the Gospel is indeed the power of God for salvation to all who believe (Rom. 1.16). Would you say that this action was pragmatic or practical? What’s the difference?
5. A further word is in order about the role of James, the half-brother of Jesus, in this assembly. He is sometimes regarded as the president of the assembly and the one who has the last say about what the Church should believe and do. I think that goes too far. We can see that, as a member of the assembly his role was simply to wrap up the arguments, ground them all in Scripture, and put some action on the table for the assembly to consider. His role was crucial to the success of the assembly; however, his was not the voice of infallibility, but of consensus and action. Should local churches convene assemblies like this in their communities, to discuss doctrinal questions and recommend courses of common action? Why or why not?
Doing theology and living the Gospel are important parts of Kingdom life and the ongoing work of the Lord. Christians should neither despise theology nor disregard the demands of discipleship for daily living. The two go hand in hand. What role should theology play in your walk with and work for the Lord?
Behold, how good and how pleasant it is
For brethren to dwell together in unity!
It is like the precious oil upon the head,
Running down on the beard,
The beard of Aaron,
Running down on the edge of his garments.
It is like the dew of Hermon,
Descending upon the mountains of Zion;
For there the LORD commanded the blessing—
T. M. Moore
Each week’s studies in Acts are bound together into a free PDF that you can download for personal or group use (click here). Each week also features a video related to the studies of the week, which you may find helpful as you work through our studies in Acts.
Acts is the record of Christ’s ongoing work as King and Lord. This is the work of bringing the Kingdom of God to earth as it is in heaven. Read more about the implications of this work in our new book, The Kingdom Turn (click here).
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