Greetings all, here is your e-votional for the week…
“Then certain individuals came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.’ And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to discuss this question with the apostles and the elders.” Acts 15: 1-2
The number 1 issue facing the early church was the problem of circumcision. Since its inception, circumcision had been the key act of obedience for Jews. As early Christianity saw itself as the fulfillment of Judaism, they obviously believed this practice was still vital. There was a problem, however. While Gentiles (non-Jews) were intrigued by the story and message of Jesus, Gentile men weren’t exactly lining up to be circumcised. The question then naturally arose, “is circumcision a must?”
To solve this problem, a council of early leaders was called in Jerusalem, and the early church leaders descended from far and near upon the holy city to answer the question. You know how it turned out. Circumcision is not an essential.
Here are the two things to notice. First, doctrinal challenges have been an issue in the Church since its beginning. As issues have arisen, the Church has struggled to answer them. Second, and most important, is that the Church managed to reach consensus and move forward. It is the latter that most interests me.
Today, it seems to me that our instinct in matters of conflict both culturally and ecclesiastically is not to compromise but to entrench. We view those who hold opposing views as adversaries and we view compromise as weakness. Let me say this. If Paul and Barnabas and Peter and James and all those who gathered in Jerusalem way back then had felt the same way, the Church might have failed before it began. The Holy Spirit led them to a compromise.
You can see the compromise in the text. Circumcision was not a mandate, but believers were still expected to tread carefully around idols and dietary practices. We can see that not all of the old rules were chucked aside. Those who believed that Judaism still had a claim on believers saw that its rules still had a rule, however those who were evangelizing Gentiles had the key barrier of circumcision removed. This was a compromise which allowed the Church to move forward.
As we look at our divided nation today there are some lessons to be learned from the first apostles of Jesus Christ and their work in Jerusalem.
Prayer: Holy God, we pray that we might have guidance and clarity in our lives, that we might know when to compromise and when to hold fast to our beliefs and values. We pray for those with whom we disagree and we ask your presence in our lives and in our world, that it might bring about peace. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.