1. Today we consider at one of the most crucial decisions in the history of the church of Jesus Christ. Iit took place 1950 years ago - in the year 49AD. Today we are also facing what amounts to the same crucial decision. Within the RCA and within many denominations. As we consider the decisions, we will consider why it was and is important, how the decision was made, what it was, how it was communicated. And through this we will get insight as to why you should be aware of the issue today. And how we as a denomination should deal with it.
1. Paul and Silas had been ministering to the church in Antioch. Many Gentiles, as well as Jews, were converted and became part of the church. We read that some men came from Judea and taught the brothers, the believers, that unless they were circumcised they could not be saved. Their intentions may have been good. They were Jews who knew the Old Testament well. They wanted to follow the word of God. And the Old Testament required circumcision as a sign of the covenant. A sign of belonging to God’s people.
2. But Paul and Silas did not believe this was necessary. They believed a person was not saved by a physical act but by grace. By God’s act of salvation on the cross. And that when we receive Christ in faith, we are saved.
3. The issue was central for the future of the church. To insist on circumcision would have demanded a person to become a Jew before they would be accepted as a Christian. And it would have made Christianity a sect within the Jewish religion. But even more important the issue cut to the central belief of the Christian church. On what is our salvation based? Is it based on Christ alone? Is Christ’s death on the cross sufficient or do we also have to follow rules to be saved?
4. Today we are presented with the same issue. The situation is different but the central issue is the same. Are we saved by Christ alone? Because people of different faiths moving to North America and because the media that makes us more aware of what is going on in other parts of the world, we are being confronted more and more by other religions. On one road in Toronto, on the way to Shouldice Hospital, within a few blocks, there is a Bhuddist temple, a Moslem mosque and a Jewish synagogue.
5. Do we still have the right to say that these people, who are seeking God, will not be saved unless they renounce their beliefs and put their faith in Christ alone? Do we have a right to say that salvation there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved?
6. Many say no. That we cannot say that. Many churches are starting to say they are different ways to God. Even in the RCA there are some who say this. And I believe that some of you here may even say "Who are we to say that other religions are wrong."
7. Perhaps it seems harmless to think this way, but it is deadly, deadly wrong. For to believe this is to reject the teaching of Christ and to reject the necessity for Him to die on the cross for us. Christ is necessary for our salvation and Christ alone
8. There was sharp debate over the issue in Antioch. This was not a matter of preference or opinion but the central issue of faith. It had to be dealt with. And so Paul and Silas were sent to Jerusalem so that the apostles and the elders could deal with this matter.
9. What this tells me is that the doctrines and teaching of our denomination are important to the local church. We cannot just let each church go ahead and set its own rules and beliefs. The church is a body and is to be united. When a local church’s elders are promoting false doctrines, the greater church has to deal with the matter. And the local church cannot tolerate denominational false teachings.
10. And it tells us that we cannot ignore important issues. We can tolerate preferences and minor matters but not the issue of salvation through Christ. And that is why I am thankful to the Synod of the Far West. With other churches denying this teaching and with some voices in the RCA echoing the same, this Synod asked the denomination, the Synod to affirm the teaching that salvation is found in no other name, but in Christ alone.
11. Now that know the issue, how did they deal with it? They met together to discuss the matter. I believe face to face meetings are important. It is easy to write letters or articles about the issue. But I believe that it is important to hear each other’s positions.