Scripture: Acts 15:6 The apostles and the elders met together to consider this matter (whether Gentile Christians were required to be circumcised and follow the law of Moses). 7 After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “My brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that I should be the one through whom the Gentiles would hear the message of the good news and become believers. 8 And God, who knows the human heart, testified to them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us; 9 and in cleansing their hearts by faith he has made no distinction between them and us. 10 Now therefore why are you putting God to the test by placing on the neck of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear? 11 On the contrary, we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”
Observation: It’s difficult for us to comprehend how central was the law of Moses to the lives of the Jewish people. For many centuries, following the law was central to remaining in good stead with God. Here’s a passage from Psalm 130:
30 I have chosen the way of faithfulness; I set your ordinances before me. 31 I cling to your decrees, O Lord; let me not be put to shame. 32 I run the way of your commandments, for you enlarge my understanding.
For the council in Jerusalem to decide that Gentile believers need not follow the law was nothing short of monumental – a radical paradigm shift. Yet it’s also important to remember they did not arrive at this conclusion by virtue of deliberation and logic alone. The point that won the day was the realization that God himself had accepted the Gentile believers:
“8 And God, who knows the human heart, testified to them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us…” (v.8)
Application: Which rules/customs are central to our faith and which ones are not? I ask myself this question a lot because we live in such changing times. And as we experiment with new forms of Christian community, we want to allow freedom where it is appropriate, but we don’t want to lose our identity in the process.
For many, many years “church” has been envisioned as a building on a piece of property with a formally trained clergy person and other leaders (paid and volunteer) leading worship services and running various church programs. Little by little this expression of church is winding down – particularly in the Western world.
This leads us to the question, “What now?”. Like many others, I clearly see what is no longer working. What I do not see is a clear picture of where we should go. This means we’re just going to have to try many different things and see what happens. Experiment. Where do we see people growing more like Jesus? Do we see God’s grace being poured out in these experiments? Can we see evidence of the Holy Spirit at work?
Prayer: Lord Jesus, the church has adapted and changed with the times for over 2,000 years. Give us grace to boldly experiment where innovation is needed. Yet help us also to discern those things that are non-negotiable, unchanging. We ask this in your holy name. Amen.