Acts 21:17 When we arrived in Jerusalem, the brothers welcomed us warmly. 18 The next day Paul went with us to visit James; and all the elders were present. 19 After greeting them, he related one by one the things that God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. 20 When they heard it, they praised God. Then they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands of believers there are among the Jews, and they are all zealous for the law. 21 They have been told about you that you teach all the Jews living among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, and that you tell them not to circumcise their children or observe the customs. 22 What then is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come.
Paul and his companions are meeting with the leaders in Jerusalem, who are thrilled to hear how the Lord was moving among the Gentiles. However, there is also a problem to be dealt with. In Jerusalem many Jews were becoming believers, but they also retained a zeal for the law of Moses – which is understandable since they’ve lived under that law their entire lives. There was no perceived need to deviate from that way of life.
But it was different with Paul who proclaimed the gospel in Gentile territory where observance of the law of Moses was not normative. In his writings Paul makes clear that Christians are no longer required to live under the law to secure one’s place before God. At times he outright discourages people from observing the law, seeing it more as an instrument of condemnation given that no one can keep the law perfectly, because of our inherent human sinfulness. Many Christians in Jerusalem strongly disagree.
What we have here is a clash of cultures that had not yet been sorted out.
This kind of thing still happens in our day, particularly as the church tries to adjust to a rapidly changing world. What parts of our historical practice need to be retained? What parts can be changed or let go of altogether? Not easy questions my brothers and sisters. Lord Jesus, give us grace to answer these kinds of questions in ways that best serve the gospel message. Amen.