- Affirm that Jesus is the head of the church.
- Recognize who office bearers are and what they do to serve and lead the church.
- Consider how the Holy Spirit continues to direct and guide the church today.
Paul, Barnabas, and their companions returned to Antioch, full of stories about "all that God had done through them and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles" (Acts 14:27). The first missionary journey was now complete, and the church at Antioch could see that God was on the move.
But there was a problem. An issue surfaced around a question that would become a recurring problem in the early years of the church: could Gentiles become Christians? Obviously, some Gentiles had become believers. But shouldn't there be a two-stage conversion, first to Judaism and then to Christ within Judaism? Shouldn't these Gentiles be circumcised first and then baptized?
Underlying this issue was an even deeper question: is Christianity just true Judaism, or is it a new and different faith? Does the new covenant in Jesus Christ continue the old one in Moses, or does it replace it?
These burning issues threatened to tear apart the early church, as people from Jerusalem came to Antioch, demanding that the Gentiles believers be circumcised. The matter needed to be settled, and this couldn't be handled in Antioch. So Paul and Barnabas were sent up to Jerusalem to consult with church leaders there and to report "everything God had done through them." This came to be called the Council at Jerusalem.
It's fascinating and important to see how the leaders made their decision. Peter was one of the first to speak, since he had been led by God to preach the gospel to the Gentiles in Cornelius's household and to baptize these Gentiles. "God . . . showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us." And he concluded by pronouncing, "We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are."
Then Paul and Barnabas told the assembly of the signs and wonders God had performed through them among the Gentiles, and of the number of Gentiles who had come to faith in Christ. Finally the time for decision had come.
No motion was made. No vote was taken. Instead James, the acknowledged leader of the church in Jerusalem, rose to speak. He recalled words of Scripture that pointed toward God's purpose in including the Gentiles among his people, as well as the experiences Simon (Peter) and others were having on the frontlines of the church.
Summing up, James issued a judgment. A letter was drawn up to be circulated among the churches and summarizing the decision in Jerusalem. Perhaps the most interesting statement of that letter describes the way in which the decision was made: "It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us. . . ." (v. 28). These gathered church leaders understood the decision as one that was made by themselves with the guidance of the Holy Spirit. They recognized both the human and divine elements in coming to this decision.
Today's Q&A asserts that Jesus is the head of the church, but he leads through appointed leaders. We observe how that happens: the leaders in Acts listened to the Scripture, to what the Spirit was doing among them, and to each other before coming to a prayerful, informed decision.
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