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 15.22-29.
The council put its decision into writing so that it could be communicated to the churches where the problem first arose, in Antioch. Theological debates play out in the lives of believers and churches, so we’d better work as hard as these first Christians to get our theology right.
1. We note that the “apostles and the elders, with the whole church” agreed on this action – on the need to write a letter, on the content of the letter, and on the manner of the delivery of the letter. We may interpret the phrase “the whole church” in two ways. First, this council was itself a church, comprised of leaders from house churches, city churches, and regional churches (as the Church in Judea). Why does it make sense to describe this gathering in this way?
2. This phrase might also suggest that other believers, besides the apostles and elders, may have been observers of these proceedings, and were invited to voice their consent to the decision, although they remained on the sidelines throughout the debate. In acting as “the whole church” this council could not help but make sure its decisions were known to all the churches then in existence. Why? What counterpart, if any, of this do you see in our own day?
3. Two key leaders from the Jerusalem Church were sent along with Paul and Barnabas to serve as a kind of counterweight to those who had previously come from Jerusalem and caused the problem in the first place. Their voice, together with that of Paul and Barnabas and the letter from the council, would have reassured Jewish and Gentile believers alike. What practical applications can we derive from this council for dealing with problems or debates that might arise within the church?
4. We also notice, in the address of the letter, that the scope of its application reached beyond Antioch into Syria and Cilicia. Clearly the assembly intended its directive to apply to churches wherever Gentiles were being converted, because Cilicia covers the area of Paul’s first missionary journey. We can see from this situation that, in the ongoing work of Christ, the Lord intends a kind of connectionalism for His churches. Individual churches are not separate from the whole Body of Christ, and the Church must maintain some structures or protocols that allow the Body as a whole to be governed by elders and pastors from all its various parts. Why don’t we practice such connectionalism in our day? Should local churches seek this?
5. This letter was not intended as an exhaustive guide to Christian ethics. It had specific application to a specific concern. The Word of God is the final reference for all matters theological and moral. But the Church, from time to time, needs to speak explicitly on certain matters, whether doctrinal or practical. It is a failure of the Protestant Christian worldview and movement to minimize the connectionalism of all churches and to neglect means for actualizing the oneness of the Body of Christ, especially when churches are faced with crucial doctrinal and moral issues. Meditate on John 17.21. What counsel would Jesus give to fragmented evangelical churches?
We witness in the proceedings and actions of this council the powerful work of the Spirit of Christ in bringing sound doctrine to light, increasing unity within the Church, and continuing the ongoing work of Christ in the Roman world. Only the Spirit could knit the hearts of these disparate people into one consensus of thought and action. How might the Spirit work to unite the local churches in your community?
For God is my King from of old,
Working salvation in the midst of the earth.
You divided the sea by Your strength;
You broke the heads of the sea serpents in the waters.
You broke the heads of Leviathan in pieces,
And gave him as food to the people inhabiting the wilderness.
You broke open the fountain and the flood;
You dried up mighty rivers.
The day is Yours, the night also is Yours;
You have prepared the light and the sun.
You have set all the borders of the earth;
You have made summer and winter.
Remember this, that the enemy has reproached, O LORD,
And that a foolish people has blasphemed Your name.
Oh, do not deliver the life of Your turtledove to the wild beast!
Do not forget the life of Your poor forever.
Have respect to the covenant;
For the dark places of the earth are full of the haunts of cruelty.
Oh, do not let the oppressed return ashamed!
Let the poor and needy praise Your name.
Arise, O God, plead Your own cause…
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).
Please prayerfully consider supporting The Fellowship of Ailbe by sending a gift to The Fellowship of Ailbe, 19 Tyler Drive, Essex Junction, VT 05452. Or, you can click here to donate online through credit card or PayPal.