“Everyone agreed: apostles, leaders, all the people. They picked Judas (nicknamed Barsabbas) and Silas — they both carried considerable weight in the church — and sent them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas, with this letter:

“From the apostles and leaders, your friends, to our friends in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia:


“We heard that some men from our church went to you and said things that confused and upset you. Mind you, they had no authority from us; we didn’t send them. We have agreed unanimously to pick representatives and send them to you with our good friends, Barnabas and Paul. We picked men we knew you could trust, Judas and Silas — they’ve looked death in the face time and again for the sake of our Master Jesus Christ. We’ve sent them to confirm in a face-to-face meeting with you what we’ve written.

“It seemed to the Holy Spirit and to us that you should not be saddled with any crushing burden, but be responsible only for these bare necessities. Be careful not to get involved in activities connected with idols, avoid serving food offensive to Jewish Christians (blood for instance) and guard the morality of sex and marriage.

“These guidelines are sufficient to keep relations congenial between us. And God be with you!”  Acts 15:22-29 (The Message).

What godly wisdom! It took quite a while for them to reach these conclusions but the end result is what counts, not the process. We have already examined the process by which they reached their conclusions. Now we must add one more factor to the mix.

Apart from protecting the truth of the gospel (that Jesus died as an atoning sacrifice for the sin of the world, and that His death is sufficient to satisfy the just demands of God’s law, and to free mankind from its penalty so that all who believe in Him are forgiven and have free access to the Father in Christ), they were also protecting the unity of the body of Christ.

Doctrine is important since our lives must be anchored in the truth, but the fellowship of believers also needs to be closely guarded. The conditions contained in the letter to the Gentile churches had more to do with fellowship than faith. Idolatry and the sexual impurity that accompanied idolatry had been part of the rebellion that contributed to the exile the Jews experienced in their past history.

Apart from it being an abomination to the Lord, these things had become abhorrent to Jews. For Gentile believers it had been their way of life and contributed to the rift between Jew and Gentile as did the consumption of the non-kosher meat offered to idols, and sold in meat markets.

Gentile believers were called to distance themselves from these practices for their own sake as well as for the sake of the new culture that brought Jew and Gentile together under a new system called the kingdom of God. They could not afford to cling to the old way of life just because it was their “right”.

The early church did all in its power to preserve unity because love and unity are the hallmarks of the church, or should be. The modern church is infected with the spirit of democracy, everyone deciding for himself or herself whether to obey the leadership or not. It’s no wonder the church has, by and large, become the laughing stock of the world. Whenever someone does not “agree” with the leadership, off he goes to start another “church” or to join somewhere else until he does not “agree” there.

The unity that Jesus pleaded for is no longer a priority in the church, yet it was the core of the Hebrew creed: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD, the LORD is one…” Deuteronomy 6:4.

Where has the attitude gone that was displayed by the leaders as they faced this crisis in the church – “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…” Whose church is it, anyway?

Luella Campbell

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