Soli Deo Gloria: For the Glory of God Alone
Posted: Thursday, December 23, 2010 11:53 am
The Messenger, December 23, 2010
What About the Church Today?
The Jerusalem Council, Part 3
By CAMILLE KENDALL
Special to The Messenger
The Jerusalem Council met and made its decisions nearly 2000 years ago, half-way around the world. Does the work of these long-dead men have any relevance for us today? Do the issues which confronted the newly-formed church in Antioch still confront Christians in America or in other parts of the modern world?
I once attended a church that required potential new members to sign a contract before joining that particular congregation. Among other things, this contract stated that, as a member of this church, a person would never drink any kind of alcohol. To enjoy full fellowship with this body of believers, faith was not sufficient. Theirs was a Gospel-Plus religion, the kind condemned by Paul in Galatians 1, and by the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15. Thankfully, after prayerful study of Scripture, the leadership of this church abandoned the works-based contract and fully embraced the doctrines of grace.
The Jerusalem Council asserted that faith in Christ was the only condition for salvation and for full admission into the fellowship of the church. The Judaizers in Paul’s day wanted Gentile Christians to be circumcised and to observe Jewish traditions. Today, we create new requirements for being “truly” saved: King-James-Only, must be immersed, possessing a mysterious prayer language, no pants/long hair only (if you’re a woman), speaking religious jargon, walked the aisle. “Don’t smoke. Don’t chew. Don’t run with those who do.” If we concede that someone who does not conform to our traditions may indeed be saved, we are still inclined to treat them like second-class Christians, like they are somehow less saved.
Too often, our moral behavior is motivated by a need to feel more secure about our standing before God. We fail to rest in the sufficiency of Christ’s atonement on our behalf. Instead, our good works should be motivated by love — for Christ and for our brothers and sisters. Our desire should be to promote the purity and unity of the church, not to defend our personal preferences. I have a feeling that many zealous Christians of today would feel very uncomfortable visiting Paul’s church in Antioch!
When confronted with the sin of compromising the Gospel of Christ, as were the Judaizers, how do we respond — as individuals? As a congregation? As a denomination? Today, just as in the days of the Jerusalem Council, we must examine our beliefs and our practice in light of Scripture. Rather than appealing to charismatic leaders or modern philosophers or trying to win a majority support of those around us, we should be faithfully studying the Word of God. And, when convicted of error, we must repent and humbly submit to the God-ordained authorities placed in the church.
We can learn much from the way the Jerusalem Council addresses the situation in Antioch, and from the way the church in Antioch responds. I love the way this passage ends. The offenders — the Judaizers who were wrongly pressuring their Gentile brothers — demonstrate true repentance by their whole-hearted embrace of the uncircumcised believers. They do not have to defend themselves or hang their heads like whipped puppies — they are guilt-free, covered by the blood of Christ. The offended — the Gentiles — respond with joy. No “I told you so.” No guilt trips. Instead, motivated by genuine love, the Gentile converts gladly choose to respect the sensitivities of their Jewish brothers. What an amazing display of the power of the Gospel at work in the hearts of true believers!
“Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.” I Corinthians 16:13-14
Editor’s note: Camille Kendall is a wife and homeschool mom who celebrates the family of Christ at Grace Community Church (www.graceunioncity.com).