Summary: So should the church let all these "Gentiles" enter into the kingdom of God....Who saves and how establishes membership?
The Gentiles are coming, the Gentiles are coming!
Last week we had Paul and Barnabas getting home after a long business trip. They had had a combination of good days and bad days as they were gone for about two years. When they get home, they tell the church that sent them all that happened.
The hardships and troubles they faced for God on their journey. Harsh words, threats and even being stoned. They also talked about radical conversions, large numbers of people coming to believe and they probably mentioned the signs and wonders that allowed them to prove God’s hand was on them.
Our scripture to day is the result of a big discussion that happened in Jerusalem.
It is a letter that came from an official meeting of the Apostles and the elders of the church. The letter is a statement of the results of the meeting.
I guess it is something like conference which we have every year or General conference which happens every 4 years. The issues and problems of the church are brought before the senior officials of the church or a spirit led decision.
In these early days, 15 years after Jesus was crucified they had the second called meeting. The first one happening about 5 years before when Peter came back to Jerusalem to tall what he had been up to.
It seems that some men…you know like those people, what people?
You know “those people”…came to Antioch teaching the brothers. "Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved."
Ok, it would seem pretty bold for these men to walk into the church meeting of mostly gentile people and tell them that if you really want to be saved need to follow the law of Moses which includes being circumcised.
Wait a minute, when I signed on with this outfit, I was told that all I had to do was believe in Jesus the Christ. That I needed to live a life like him of loving my neighbor and God. You know, I knew that was just a little too easy. I knew there was fine print on the covenant.
There are a few basic things we can discern about the men and the Antioch church
One is that worship in the church in Antioch was similar to the synagogue. Visitors were recognized and asked or allowed to speak.
Two, the visitors message clearly shows that they are Jewish Christians. They are not converts and that makes them old school. You must become a Jew in order to receive salvation form the messiah
Three, these visitors were from Judea and we guess that means Jerusalem. It may go farther and they actually believe that that these men have an official standing or authority. Perhaps they are sharing what the official, Jerusalem church is doing and therefore they should be doing.
It seems that there is some un-stated position of official status from the church in Jerusalem. Perhaps sent as observers and when given the opportunity to speak they tell what they know from the view point of the mostly Jewish convert position.
It seems that Paul and Barnabas had words with the visitors. The flatly denied that circumcision was required for salvation.
So they were locked into a running argument, Is to, Is not, Is too, is not and it was probably going nowhere. So they gat a group together the go up to Jerusalem to get the apostils and the elders to settle the dispute.
Ok, do we remember the difference in Apostils and Elders? Elders are selected for leadership from the church membership. Apostils are set apart to ministry to the whole church.
The Jerusalem church is the “First” Church…Literally. We have the remaining apostils located there. And while the harsh persecution faded they are not directly the center of God’s explosive movement.
However, they were currently the source of information and doctrine. They are the resource for what was right and wrong, what to believe and not believe, what to do or not do.
But, they were not in constant communication and periodically would send observers out to check thing out.
When the dispute can’t be dealt with in Antioch, they form a delegation to go the authorities up in Jerusalem for a decision.
The question is not as obvious as it might seem from the discussion. But it is actually simple. What is required for salvation? That is the only question but, it is a biggie.
Fro us the question has been answered all our lives. From child hood people have told us faith alone. We have songs and dovitionals that reinforce that. We have the New Testament that says it all over the place.
But the people in Antioch and other places at best had our Old Testament which clearly supported the law of Moses at the only path of salvation.