This post is by Stephen Spence, Dean at Tabor Adelaide.
Acts 15, a Model Church Meeting
I would have started out on the wrong side of the greatest debate in the history of the church! I just hope that I would have had the good grace to end up on God’s side by the end of the debate.
Do we get to “discern” the way the apostles did? Do we sometimes go “beyond the Bible” to live out the Bible? Safeguards in and safeguards aside, when have you done this?
In Jerusalem, in 49 A.D., some argued that all God’s people needed to be circumcised. The Bible clearly taught that it was the sign of God’s eternal covenant (Gen 17:10-14). This was not just a matter of a few proof texts; all of Scripture clearly distinguished between Jews (circumcised) and Gentiles (uncircumcised). Jesus had been circumcised, and nowhere had he rejected (or hinted at rescinding) this clear biblical teaching.
Despite this unambiguous teaching, some had welcomed the uncircumcised into the people of God.
By the end of ‘the Jerusalem Council,’ it had been agreed that new believers were neither required nor expected to be circumcised. How could the church go against the clear teaching of Scripture and the unbroken practice of God’s faithful people? Acts 15 tells the story.
The Apostle Peter told of a vision and the Pentecost-like experience of some Gentiles. Barnabas and Paul gave reports of signs and wonders done by God among the uncircumcised. In light of this and the Jesus event, James gave a surprising interpretation of Scripture that spoke of God doing a new thing which was consistent with the flow of God’s grand narrative.
It is clear from all this that in rejecting the requirement for circumcision the church had correctly discerned God’s living word to his people. We discern God’s leading best when we read Scripture with our eyes open to what the Spirit of the living God is doing in the world and amongst God’s people. This involves more risk that just repeating the teachings of the past, but faithfulness to the living God requires that we take those risks.