Summary: Exposition of Acts 15:6-21 regarding the resolution of the conflict over circumcision, Gentiles, and law-keeping
Text: Acts 15:6-21, Title: Church Conflict Part Deux, Date/Place: NRBC, 8/17/08, AM
A. Opening illustration: -66% say their congregation has been in conflict in the past 2 years; 20% called it “significant” or “major.”
B. Background to passage: Last time we looked at a good reason to fight and a good reason to settle. If you remember this is shortly after Paul and Barnabas’s return from their first mission trip, and the Judaizers from Jerusalem came and began teaching the church at Antioch that Gentiles had to first become Jews before they could be Christians and then keep the Law of Moses. And after much dispute in Antioch, it was decided that the church would send a delegation of both parties to Jerusalem and get the official church decision on it. So after being received by the apostles, elders, and church, both sides present their cases. Our story picks up immediately following this
C. Main thought: where we will see four principles regarding resolving church conflict
A. Pastoral Leadership Deals with Theological Controversy (v. 6)
1. I think it is important to notice what didn’t happen. They didn’t have a business meeting with the congregation in general. According to this verse the pastoral leadership came together to consider the matter. In Acts 6 and 11 it was just the apostles, but now it includes the elders of the churches as well. This is not indicative of a closed door meeting, just simply stating who was involved in the decision making process theologically. The priesthood of the believer was still and is now in effect, and they understood that God can and does speak to and through each believer. But God has ordained men to shepherd the church, and one of their roles was to protect the flock from error.
2. Jer 3:15, Acts 20:28, 1 Tim 1:3, 4:16,
3. Illustration: Some things just shouldn’t be voted on, Forty-two percent believe that, when Jesus was on earth, he committed sins. Half of all adults argue that anyone who "is generally good or does enough good things for others during their life will earn a place in Heaven." Forty-four percent contend that "the Bible, the Koran and the Book of Mormon are all different expressions of the same spiritual truths." 4 out of 10 people who are actively involved in a Christian discipleship relationship believe that there is no such thing as absolute truth.
4. Relay some of the discussion that the deacons had during our deacon training day, specifically related to the position of the deacons in the absence of or failure of the pastor. Speak toward the advantages and biblical witness of a plurality of pastoral leadership. This is one of the reasons that I believe in the helpfulness of purposeful theological education, whether formal or informal. This truth also does not rule out help from the congregation when there are tough issues at hand. It simply lets everyone know ultimately who is responsible for the final decision.
B. Salvation is by grace through faith in Christ ALONE (v. 7-9)
1. Peter explained from his testimony related to Cornelius that God had decided the issue by cleansing their hearts by faith and granting them the Spirit just like the Jews. Thus God had made no distinction. This is the theological issue at stake, and it is an extremely important one. It is how people get saved. It is the answer to the question: what is the gospel? Explain how crucial it is. This group of leaders held in their hand the fate of the gentile world. Explain that getting close is not enough.
3. Illustration: explain how the Catholics in Peru get close, explain my wrestling as a young believer about how I was saved, b/c I knew works didn’t save, but they told me to pray a prayer…
4. You cannot add anything. You can’t be good enough. You can’t trust in Christ and something else. It’s all Christ, all Grace, all Faith, or it’s damnation. You can’t go to church enough, or keep the rules enough, or serve on enough committees. You can’t pray enough, pay enough, or come enough to get you into heaven. And you wouldn’t want it any other way. But we must be firmly grounded in this truth. If we are not careful we end up with a mechanical view of salvation, where we try to get all the people that we can to repeat a sinner’s prayer. It is not “the prayer,” it is your heart that exercises faith and repentance toward God. And we must defend it to the death. If we are to be gospel-centered, we must get the gospel right.
C. Don’t test God by going against scripture EVER (v. 10-15)