NOTE: The new header (above) was taken around 7:30 am, October 15, while walking Scout. I love the colors at the beginning of the new day.
This morning I want to share some of what I learned yesterday in my adult education class, a.k.a. “Practical Christianity.” I always show up at church with the idea that I might learn something, have my faith strengthened and clarified, or – like Caleb on the Old Testament – be challenged to “think differently.”
Sunday morning’s discussion centered around Act 15, the pivotal “Council at Jerusalem.”
The background to this chapter is the missionary journey that Paul and Barnabas had just completed. Chapter 14 concludes with the two men arriving at Antioch, where they were “commended to the grace of God for the work that they had completed.” They called the church together, showed their slides from the trip, and told stories about how God had “opened a door of faith for the Gentiles.”
PUSH BACK: Almost immediately, “certain individuals” (gotta love that phrase!) came along to make a big deal about how Paul and Barnabas were watering down the message because they failed to require that new Christians keep all the details of the Law of Moses. These “certain individuals” even said that non-Jews couldn’t be saved if they didn’t get circumcised.
It was the original case of, “You’re not a real Christian unless you look and act just like us.” In fact – and I know we’ve all heard this in many of the current debates – the legalists insisted that salvation depends on following a set of cultural rules rather than the Grace of Jesus.
JERUSALEM: So the early church called a meeting in Jerusalem. Paul, Barnabas, and a few others went as representatives, and Peter (a.k.a. “The Rock”) made a wonderful statement that included the following points (Acts 15:7-11):
- “God demonstrated his acceptance of these people by giving them the Holy Spirit, just like he did to us.”
- “In cleansing their hearts by faith God has made no distinction between ‘them’ and ‘us.'”
- “Fact is, we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”
After some more discussion, in which James quoted scriptures that commented on the wideness of God’s mercy and the inclusiveness of God’s invitation, the council agreed that salvation is God’s to give more than it is ours to regulate.
THE POINT: My co-teacher (and leader of yesterday’s study) Charles pointed out that the Book of Acts doesn’t suggest anywhere that the strict legalists changed their views regarding the Law of Moses. But – and this is important – neither did they break fellowship with the early church.
I’m sharing this story today because I am concerned about the latest round of judgment, condemnation and splits within the “Body of Christ,” and most especially when it comes to disagreements where it’s obvious that “God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith…” (Acts 15:8-9)
GOD IS THE JUDGE: Our job is – simply – to love one another, and to demonstrate the truth of the Gospel of Love. Very few people are introduced to the saving grace of Jesus via the purity or our doctrine or the beauty of our self-righteousness… but this world is clamoring to see more compelling evidence of our love.
Seriously, people, it’s about Jesus; it’s about accepting God’s love in Jesus; it’s about loving one-another in the same way; and it’s about demonstrating the authenticity of that love to a desperate, hurting and broken world, a world which will not be healed other than via the POWER of that kind of LOVE. – DEREK
A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. (John 13:34-35)