Book Of Acts – Advance Study (Part 12)

Acts 15

1 And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved. 2 When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question. 3 And being brought on their way by the church, they passed through Phenice and Samaria, declaring the conversion of the Gentiles: and they caused great joy unto all the brethren. 4 And when they were come to Jerusalem, they were received of the church, and of the apostles and elders, and they declared all things that God had done with them.

The Doctrine of False Teaching: (1) How and why did the leadership of the church allow these men to come and teach such things? It was common back then for a church to have teachers come from other churches to teach and preach to them. Should we today? It would be very prudent to know where these ‘teachers’ stood doctrinally prior to letting them teach. These were teaching the blasphemous ‘works salvation’ heresy! “Except ye be ‘baptized’, ‘confirmed’, ‘good’…ye cannot be saved.” These heretics were quite pointed in their statements.

The ‘mother church’ in Jerusalem was sought out for advice; it was important to get this heresy straightened out…from the source. Is it ok today to go to your Mother church for advice on matters? Apparently, these ‘certain men’ were not known heretics, but probably were well respected. Were there good churches in Judaea at this time?. Why didn’t Paul and Barnabas take care of the issue right at their level? Were they in doubt also?

The Doctrine of Church Interdependency: There can be a sending and a receiving between churches. Sometimes this may involve the transferring of membership. Though, here, I believe, it represents an official fellowshipping together. It is important to officially decide whether or not you, as a church, will fellowship with a certain church. What types of independent Baptist churches would we not want to fellowship with? God designed this meeting in order to take care of the salvation issue on a broad scale…the 2 key churches at that time would have the issue decided upon.

5 But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses. 6 And the apostles and elders came together for to consider of this matter. 7 And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up, and said unto them, Men and brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe. 8 And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us; 9 And put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith.

10 Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? 11 But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they.

The Doctrine of Soteriology: Can a person be truly saved and believe that there needs to be some ‘work’ (like circumcision, or baptism) in order to be saved? The text here seems to say so. Maybe they got confused after the fact… Why would Peter and Paul and the other apostle have to even give this heresy one second of thought?! Nonetheless, I believe that it was God’s will to bring this about so that that church, and the other true churches of that area, would have this doctrine correct and be firm on it. The Pharisees added a bit more than these others did; i.e., that one also needed to follow the law of Moses to be saved…not just simply be circumcised. This type of soteriology is very similar to 7th Day Adventists, and other works-based and O.T. law-based sects. The majority of so-called Christian groups state that one must do some work or works in order to be saved: baptism, eucharist, church membership, avoid certain bad sins, etc..

The big issue at hand was the Gentiles coming to salvation. Did they think that Gentiles are saved a bit differently than Jews? Some of the Jews had a problem with the Gentiles becoming children of God and thus probably leaned towards what these Pharisees were saying, for it pleased them pyschologically.

Peter had the sheets vision. The Gentiles were truly saved, also. The law never was able to save a soul; the great patriarchs were not able to ‘bear’ (keep) it! O.T. saints were saved by God’s grace (through faith) (‘even as they’)!

Adding ‘works’ to salvation is ‘to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples which they would not be able to bear’.

12 Then all the multitude kept silence, and gave audience to Barnabas and Paul, declaring what miracles and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles by them. 13 And after they had held their peace, James answered, saying, Men and brethren, hearken unto me: 14 Simeon hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name. 15 And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written, 16 After this I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up: 17 That the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all these things. 18 Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world. 19 Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: 20 But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood. 21 For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day.

The Doctrine of the Gentiles: The multitude were the church members there in Jerusalem, mainly. James was the chief pastor of the church of Jerusalem, I assume. This passage in v.14 is probably taken from Amos 9:8-15 (see also Is 11:10, 42:6,7). The O.T. prophets foretold of Gentiles being saved; why was this so hard for the Jews to accept?!

Don’t trouble them (19)? With keeping the circumcision rite? This doesn’t sound like a real clear statement denouncing the works-based salvation… I would have said it stronger. James was possibly trying to be politically correct here (to not offend the Jews too much).

Gentiles were heathens that were involved with idol worship; thus they needed to totally get rid of anything associated with these; also, it might be mainly dealing with eating meat offered up unto idols. The Gentiles were very much known for ‘fornication’. Strangled and bloody foods were an abomination to the Jews…this would help keep Jewish-Gentile Christian relations more healthy. If these two classes of people were to be united within one church then there would need to be some wise guidelines put forth. But, in my view, the ones with the problem were the Jews. The Gentiles were not in bondage to O.T. Law keeping. And the Jews were not suppose to be either.

22 Then pleased it the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas; namely, Judas surnamed Barsabas, and Silas, chief men among the brethren: 23 And they wrote letters by them after this manner; The apostles and elders and brethren send greeting unto the brethren which are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia: 24 Forasmuch as we have heard, that certain which went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, saying, Ye must be circumcised, and keep the law: to whom we gave no such commandment: 25 It seemed good unto us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men unto you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, 26 Men that have hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27 We have sent therefore Judas and Silas, who shall also tell you the same things by mouth. 28 For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things; 29 That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well.

The Doctrine of Church Interdependency: There was a local church decision (Jerusalem) by vote, under pastoral (albeit, apostolic) leadership, to send representatives from their church to another church (Antioch) to help with the issue at hand (Gentile-Jew relations).<TOPIC:

Letters were official statements of communication between one church and another; they were, and are, scriptural. In America, most of these ‘issues’ are not ‘issues’…except, of course, for ‘fornication’. We Americans have a huge problem with fornication. The main essence of this decision was in order to help the Gentiles to not ‘offend’ the Jews, thus bridging a 4000 year gap between them. Are we Gentiles still to follow these guidelines today?

Can churches today do the same that the Jerusalem church did here? How much influence can/should a church have over another church? What happens if it is the ‘mother’ church? Is it ok to have a multi-church conference where you discuss issues facing your churches and then try and come to a consensus on what to do about it? What if you lived in the South in the 60’s and you wanted to deal properly with the ‘racism’ that was running rampant? Can one church dictate to another church what they must do? I think that it is wise to come together as they did to solve a problem that would be affecting their churches, and all future churches of that era. But, it should only be on extremely important matters. The danger in all of this is what we see going on in ‘Conventions’, ‘Associations’, Fellowships, etc., where the ‘influencial’ preachers try and manipulate other preachers into going along with their viewpoints; sometimes ‘disfellowshipping’ is threatened; or even withdrawing financial support. Thus, my belief is that it is scriptural for churches of like faith and practice to meet together in order to discuss an extremely important subject that is affecting all their churches; but, care must be taken not to manipulate or otherwise pressure the individual church’s representatives to go along with a certain viewpoint. There must not be any ‘ramifications’ for a church not going along with the ‘consensus’.

And one final thought: this all transpired while there were apostles and the beginning of churches; thus, it might not be directly translatable to the 21st century in America.

30 So when they were dismissed, they came to Antioch: and when they had gathered the multitude together, they delivered the epistle: 31 Which when they had read, they rejoiced for the consolation. 32 And Judas and Silas, being prophets also themselves, exhorted the brethren with many words, and confirmed them. 33 And after they had tarried there a space, they were let go in peace from the brethren unto the apostles. 34 Notwithstanding it pleased Silas to abide there still. 35 Paul also and Barnabas continued in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, with many others also.

The Doctrine of Preaching: An ‘epistle’ was a letter of correspondance. The preachers read the epistle to the church congregation there in Antioch. Judas and Silas were both ‘prophets’; were they foretellers or forthtellers? Well, the context of the rest of the sentence seems to explain this. They ‘exhorted the brethren with many words’; this implies ‘preaching’ and not ‘prophesying’ into the future (as did the O.T. prophets). Preachers back then often would bounce from one church to another to help out for a ‘space’, as did Silas here. Judas, Silas, Paul, and Barnabas were all preachers. That young church there in Antioch involved itself in lots of teaching and preaching. But, baby churches today tend to limit this; they often will only meet once per week for 1 hour; they wait for more families to commit and then they add an evening service and then eventually a midweek service. They should start off with almost daily services!

36 And some days after Paul said unto Barnabas, Let us go again and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they do. 37 And Barnabas determined to take with them John, whose surname was Mark. 38 But Paul thought not good to take him with them, who departed from them from Pamphylia, and went not with them to the work. 39 And the contention was so sharp between them, that they departed asunder one from the other: and so Barnabas took Mark, and sailed unto Cyprus; 40 And Paul chose Silas, and departed, being recommended by the brethren unto the grace of God. 41 And he went through Syria and Cilicia, confirming the churches.

The Doctrine of the Church Planter: In church planting, the first stage is a focused effort on evangelizing; the model is to evangelize a region (not just one city). After the initial evangelism effort is finished, the evangelist/church planter should go back and visit the saved in each of those cities where they preached the Gospel ‘and see how they do’. This is referred to as ‘confirming the souls of the disciples’ (Acts 14:22) and ‘confirming the churches’ (v.41). At this point, or upon that first evangelism effort, churches are established. Then, elders are to be ordained in every city where there was a church planted (Acts 14:23). Church planters here operated in a team (at least with 1 other man). Other churches were involved in sending ‘key’ men from their church to help with these church planting endeavors (Silas).