"Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved." Acts 15:1
"And when Paul and Barnabas had great dissension and debate with them, the brethren determined that Paul and Barnabas and some others should go to up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders concerning this issue." Acts 15:2
Thank God for "The Brethren." There is always going to be an issue that brings dissension and debate in the church. A recent conference in California was held to keep the church pure of strange fire. The debate over the legitimate use of the gifts of the Spirit, and the illegitimate abuse of them will always rage.
The dissension between those who are on either side of the reformed issue rarely sheds more light on the subject, but it certainly brings the heat. This is not what Scripture calls the fire of God. Thank God that in the middle of debate and dissension, cooler heads are able to prevail, and find the balance between personal preference and Scriptural evidence. The issue that faced Paul and Barnabas was crucial to the expansion of church. If it was to move beyond a side-show of the Jewish religion, Christianity must stand on the finished work of Christ.
Nothing has changed. Jesus said on the cross, "It is finished." He did not say, "In addition." Anyone who puts their faith in the finished work of redemption that Jesus completed on the cross will be saved. Salvation is based on Jesus Christ + nothing. Zero. Nada. Zip. Earnest believers must accept no substitutes, but can always expect a number of additions, auditioning as essentials. They are not.
There were in Paul's day, as there are today, members of the sect of the Pharisees. They just can't give God's Spirit the elbow room that God's grace allows. In short, when confronted with the work of grace God was doing in the lives of the Gentiles, "some of the sect of the Pharisees who had believed stood up, saying, 'It is necessary to circumcise them and to direct them to observe the Law of Moses.' " v. 5 In their understanding, and experience, belief in Jesus was just not enough.
They had some additions. They included, the symbol of circumcision and the Law of Moses, before they were willing to grant the Gentiles acceptance into the fellowship. Thankfully, "The elders came together to look into this matter." v. 6 Peter never stood taller among "The Brethren." He said, "Why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?" Good question. Thanks Peter.
Graciously, Peter expanded, "We believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way they also are." v. 11 Interesting side note: Luke records in the Book of Acts that Barnabas and Paul were relating what God had done through them. Notice that the order of Barnabas over Paul had been restored.
The Brethren in Jerusalem, apparently still had a difficult time accepting Paul as the dominant spokesperson of the two missionaries. Paul was still on probation, in their eyes. So were the Gentiles. Fortunately God was the final judge of both of them, not The Brethren.
James listened along with the rest of the people. When all was said, something was done. He said, "Therefore it is my judgment that we do not trouble those who are turning to God among the Gentiles." v. 21
With this word of wisdom, a measure of God's grace was released in the gathering. "Then it seemed good to the apostles, and the elders, with the whole church" to send messengers with James's Judgment. This is an interesting insight into early church decision making. There was plenty of discussion. There was even a fair amount of dissension. BUT there no secret ballot.
There was no rolling of the "dice." There was no debate after the decision was made under the leadership of The Spirit. The release of The Spirit's decision was made by the leading pastor of the local church, James. The Brethren were made up of apostles, elders, and vocal believers.
They all had input on the issue, but one person made the call. "After they had stopped speaking, James answered, saying, 'Brethren, listen to me." Peter has always held the position of the chief of the Apostles. He had input, but he didn't make the call. Barnabas and Paul, no matter what order you put them in, said their piece, but did not make the call. There was not a ballot vote taken, nor a church split hatched. James, as the lead pastor of the first church made the decision.
Could it be that the emasculation of the pastor of the local church, by assigning him subservient status to committees, congregation and convention leadership has led to a lack of leadership in the local church? I believe it has. But I digress. We may disagree over the importance of the way the decision was made. There is no way the importance of what was decided can be overstated. There is nothing that can be added to what Jesus finished at the cross. Nothing. His finished work is not up for debate. His grace is sufficient.
Prayer purifies personal preferences, and keeps the finished work of grace from being an unfinished "To Do" List. Jesus prayed, "Not MY will, but THY will be done." Believers must not hold onto personal preferences, and then hold them over the heads of other believers, like hoops for a circus dog to jump through.
If the Bible doesn't say it, don't add it to the finished work of God's grace through His Son, Jesus Christ. The Brethren and the Sisters of the contemporary church would do well to release the wisdom of The Spirit into the decision making of the local church. It is always wise to...TALK LESS! PRAY MORE!