This week I read Acts 15. In this piece of scripture, we see that some believers from Jerusalem went to Antioch and started preaching that salvation had to be achieved by circumcision. This was troubling to Paul and Barnabas, and after debating these men, they went to Jerusalem to discuss it there. After hearing all sides, they come to a conclusion as to what is expected from the Gentile believers. This is put into a letter and sent to Antioch. We then read about the disagreement between Paul and Barnabas about John Mark, and they separate.
Let us look at some interesting points in this Chapter.
- Churches are again mentioned as separate entities. This confirm what we have already said about churches.
- We see a discussion about whether the Gentiles need to be circumcised. This was being pushed by Pharisees who were saved. This is debated. The issue is brought to Jerusalem and solved there. Circumcision is not required to be saved. The law is also not required. There are 4 things Gentiles need to live by: keep away from (1) things sacrificed to idols (I would say also keep away from idols and false religion), (2) sexual immorality, (3) what has been strangled and (4) blood. It is clear that Gentiles do not have to live by the law. This is also confirmed by the Holy Spirit (v28)
- Since Paul and Barnabas are sent to Jerusalem to get clarity on the issue of circumcision, we see a hierarchy in the church. While every church is a separate entity, they can not know everything, and may appeal to a church that is further along. We also see in the church that there are elders who decide on the matters, and that the believers follow these. Note that the Holy Spirit also confirms the decision made (v28).
- During the Jerusalem council we see a debate. This means all sides of the argument are heard. We can assume the saved Pharisees got a chance to speak, but those mentioned are Peter, Paul, Barnabas, and James. James is the one who brings the solution to the problem. From historical context we know this is the half brother of Jesus, who was considered the head of the Jerusalem church. This is not mentioned in this portion of scripture, so for now I will consider him one of the elders in Jerusalem.
- There is no problem with debating in the church (v2,7). The Greek ζητήσεως (zētēseōs) is used, and means and means to debate, to discuss, or to question. It is impossible to have people together without some disagreement. We see Barnabas and Paul have a disagreement. Barnabas wants to take John Mark on their next journey. We know from history that John Mark is Barnabas’ cousin. Paul was no relation and did not trust him, as he had left them earlier. While this separates the evangelists, there is a lesson to learn here. Paul was commended by the brothers in Antioch, and his story is the one we see in the Bible infold further. Can we assume Paul was in the right to not trust John Mark? I do not see any issue in not trusting everyone. We have to be wise, and if the Holy Spirit, or our own wisdom and experience, gives us cause to worry about someone, we are not required to trust them blindly. We are allowed to be sceptical and make decisions with that scepticism. However, on salvation and circumcision the elders in Jerusalem made a decision, and this is followed by other churches. For us, on primary doctines follow the Bible, on other doctrines allow liberty.
- A letter is sent to Antioch to explain the answer to the dilemma. It is sent with Paul and Barnabas, but also Judas Barsabbas and Silas, again 2 men or more.
- Judas and Silas are prophets. They encourage the church. Paul and Barnabas are evangelists and teachers, the preach and teach. We see here a clear definition of roles.
What is a church? Answer:
The church: Believers in Jesus, who are dedicated (aligned) to Jesus. To be a believer you must be saved by the name of Jesus. This is done by belief in Jesus as the Saviour, that Jesus is the Son of God, that Jesus is God, and that Jesus died for our sins, and that Jesus was raised from the dead. This is essential for the Christian faith. Circumcision and the Law of Moses are not required for Salvation.
A church (Ecclesia): A group of said believers in a set location, e.g. Church in Jerusalem (Acts 11:21, 15:4), Church in Antioch (Acts 11:26, 15:3) and the churches in Asia Minor (Acts 14:21-23). We a hierarchy in churches and between churches. This hierarchy can be compared to the hierarchy of a teacher and a disciple. One has grown further than the other and can teach the other.
This is not to be confused with a building where said believers may gather, also called a church.
What do believers do?
- Get baptised, as soon as possible. This is done in obedience to God. It is an outward sign of a believer’s dedication to Jesus. It does not save the believer.
- Be filled with Holy Spirit. The order of these 2 events is not important, they can be swapped. Both are required is would seem though.
- Pray. They prayed together as a habit (Acts 1:14, 12:12), but also in times of adversity. They also pray individually (Acts 10:9)
- Fast (Acts 13)
- Praise and worship God. While worship is a lifestyle, it is also an act, like prayer and fasting.
- Study the scriptures.
- They gather together for prayer, and teaching. This is done in the temple in Jerusalem. This is no longer possible for us since (1) the temple is destroyed and (2) not all believers are Jews. However, meeting as a group is a part of the believers’ life. This can be in a large setting as in Solomon’s Porch, or a smaller setting at individual houses. Also, men and women met together. There was no separation as in Judaism, or other religions. At the meetings there is teaching and miracles. We see them meeting together to listen to Barnabas and Saul in Antioch and Asia Minor (Acts 11 and 14).
- As a believer grows, he gets discipled. He may start preaching and doing miracles as the Apostles did (e.g. Stephen, Ananias). Success in healing is not guaranteed (Dorcus was not healed until Peter came). Disciples can also baptise others and fill them with the Holy Spirit (Ananias).
- keep away from (1) things sacrificed to idols (I would say also keep away from idols and false religion), (2) sexual immorality, (3) what has been strangled and (4) blood.
They also had fellowship which entails the following:
- They eat together, as a community but also in separate homes.
- All things are shared in common, with those having, selling their goods to provide for those without. This is voluntary, and believers can do with their possessions as they see fit. Historical context here is that a lot of the early converts were far from home and had nothing. Also, these funds were not shared with non-believers. There is also a providing between churches.
- Those in need are taken care of. Examples are the Seven who serve the tables, Dorcus who made the widows clothes, the believers in Antioch sending relief for the famine in Jerusalem.
Positions in the church:
- Apostles: a special position with the criteria that they were with Jesus from His baptism till His resurrection. Based on historical context, this position is no longer applicable for today, as no one alive can meet this criterion. They taught the new believers, did miracles, and testified of Jesus’ resurrection. They pass on the Holy Spirit by laying on of hands. They also handle disputes at the top level, such as Greek speaking widows not receiving enough, and Peter visiting Gentiles.
- Evangelist apostles. They travel around, preaching, doing miracles, and baptising new believers. E.g. Philip, Barnabas, and Paul.
- Disciples: Believers learning to do all that the apostles did. Can be male or female. There is no difference in Christianity, unlike other religions.
- Ministers, that is, servers. These are men assigned to look after the widows and their provisions. The criteria for this position are: (1) men of good repute, (2) men full of the Spirit and (3) men of wisdom.
- Elders. Not sure what the criteria is. They are appointed by the evangelist who has worked with the disciples in the set location. They are appointed to look after the church. They are plural, and therefore more than one person. Antioch names their elders, which is a total of 5. The elders also make decisions for the church when conflict arises (Acts 15)
- Teachers: As disciples grow, they become teachers. These are those who explain the faith and the scriptures.
- Prophets. These give divine words.
What is the church not supposed to be doing?
- Healing crusades. Healing is done under 2 circumstances. The first is in private. Jesus and Peter have been seen sending people away to heal in private. The second is as an act of compassion. We see public healings being done, but not with the purpose of healing. They are done because Jesus and others are moved with compassion. Signs and wonders follow the preaching to confirm them. They are not a tool for advertising.
- In and out evangelism. Discipleship is a part the great commission and takes time. If you are going to make disciples, take time to teach them properly. Arriving in a city, giving a few messages, and leaving new believers to fend for themselves is not going to keep them in the kingdom. Also, when trying to teach older believers, the in and out approach again will leave them to fend for themselves. This is not an effective way of teaching. We see Barnabas and Paul remain in the cities of Asia Minor till persecution breaks out, then only do they have to leave. They do however return later to make sure the disciples are living to the faith and appoint elders to guard over them.
- Single person going out. Philip is the only evangelist we see traveling alone. Jesus always sent the disciples out in twos. And we see time and again that when someone goes to a new region, they are accompanied by other. Peter went to Cornelius with “some of the brothers of Joppa”. When Barnabas went to Antioch, before he started meeting with the church, he went and fetched Saul. Barnabas and Paul travel through Asia Minor together (Acts 13,14)