June 10, 2018
I Will Build My Church: The Jerusalem Council
Explosive growth can be hard to manage. There are many businesses that were undone by their inability to manage the rate at which they grew. The Church, in its earliest years, also experienced explosive growth, but it persists and thrives all over the world today. But growth creates problems, even in the Church.
The first major problem the early Church faced was what to do with the Gentiles who were turning to Jesus. In the first years, the Church was exclusively Jewish. But God had other plans and wanted to open the doors of his family to Gentiles. However, according to the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament), Jews and Gentiles cannot associate with one another. This is a major problem! In order to resolve this conundrum, the Church called it’s first council – the Jerusalem Council – which we find described in Acts 15.
There were two competing solutions offered at the Jerusalem Council. The first one was this: command the Gentiles to be circumcised and obey the Law of Moses. But Peter and Paul both opposed this solution because they had already seen Gentiles receive the Holy Spirit. So why would they need to jump through all of these hoops when God has already accepted them?
The second solution – the one the Church went with – was this: Rely on God’s grace for salvation and distill the Law of Moses into four commands. Not wanting to make it difficult for the Gentiles who were turning to God, the Jewish leaders decided that Gentile converts only needed to do four “uniquely Jewish” things: abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from the meat of strangled animals, from blood, and from sexual immorality. These four prohibitions allowed for Jews and Gentiles to experience the unity of the Gospel of peace without unnecessarily burdening either group. It was a brilliant solution to the early Church’s growth problem!