Category Archives: Acts 15

[GULP!] …I Might Have Been a Legalist

The apostles and elders met to consider this question. After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us…The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them. When they finished, James spoke up. “Brothers,” he said, “listen to me. Simon has described to us how God first intervened to choose a people for his name from the Gentiles. The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written… Acts 15:6-8, 12-15

Have you ever noticed that the process of spiritual discernment is often much more complicated than merely examining the evidence logically?  The more background I read about the Jerusalem Council and its crucial considerations in Acts 15, the more I worry I might have voted the wrong way, if I had been among them. As it turns out, being a legalist is a lot easier than we would like to think.

Circumcision, to the very first Hebrew Christians in Jerusalem, was a big deal…every bit as big a deal as baptism is to the Christian church today.  It was clearly not an act “stumbled upon” through some twist of tradition and men’s preferences…it was an act given to them by God Himself.  There was a plethora of Holy Scripture which required it [insert your favorite among a half dozen or so Old Testament stories showing God’s clear directives about circumcision here].  It was a non-negotiable to them, because …

Careful with Open Doors and Straight Paths

Tuesday Re-mix:

Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose.  Acts 16:26

I’m intrigued by this story in Acts 16, not only because Paul and Silas did not leave through the open door of their jail cell, but also because they were apparently able to convince all of the other prisoners to stay as well.  Just a few chapters earlier, Peter left jail under similar circumstances (I know, I know, he had an angel directing him to leave and that is definitely a distinguishing feature!), and I cannot help but wonder if I might not have interpreted an earthquake and chains miraculously falling off me as a sign from God that I should leave!

I think there is a lesson here for the church.  Discerning God’s direction for a church is never quite as simple as walking through every door that seems to miraculously open…never merely a matter of seeing God in isolated circumstances.  That is true because, as it turns out, there is usually more than one possible interpretation of circumstances!  The danger in discerning God’s will in that case is that we all tend to see what we want to see.

What about the scenario where a wealthy church member walks in and agrees to write a check to cover some dream the pastor has always had?  Is that necessarily God speaking?  What if your church has prayed and asked God to pave the way for a relocation and someone leaves the church a large tract of land in their estate?  Is that God saying “move”?  If the pastor has always dreamed of starting a half-way house ministry in the house the church owns, and the city planning …

Church Government: The Negative Space in God’s Word

Tuesday Re-mix –

In the world of visual art, the use of “negative space” is important.  In any sculpture or painting, the artwork sometimes says as much by areas is doesn’t cover as it does by actually covering.

You and I would call it the “blank space” on the canvass, i.e., the area where the artist chose not to paint.  That space becomes an integral part of the art itself.  In fact, some might claim that the negative space the artist creates in a particular work is what makes the work perfect.

I have come to believe that part of the perfection of scripture, i.e., the Word of God, is the “negative space” it creates within its pages…parts of the story intentionally not told or clarified, left out for reasons only God knows.

For example, wouldn’t you like more details from Jonah about exactly what happened inside that fish for three days?  If you were telling that story, wouldn’t you include that?  Or what about Paul’s fight with Barnabas, or his confrontation of Peter?  Don’t you think the details of those conflicts would be worth knowing?  Or what about a single instance of Matthew 18:15 (Jesus’ model for how to conduct church discipline) actually modeled for us somewhere?  Wouldn’t that be helpful?

For reasons only God understands, these and countless other “details” were omitted from the telling of His story.  But rest assured, He does have his reasons.  This “negative space” in scripture is a part of its perfection, it is critical in creating exactly the Word which God has preserved so perfectly throughout the centuries.  In any of these instances, a little more detail might seem harmless enough at first blush, but would ultimately take away from the Word God intended.

A perfect example is the New Testament’s lack …

Conflict Resolution 101: Starting with What We Know

Tuesday Re-mix –

On the contrary, they saw that I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles, just as Peter had been to the Jews. For God, who was at work in the ministry of Peter as an apostle to the Jews, was also at work in my ministry as an apostle to the Gentiles. Galatians 2:7-8

Most of us approach a jigsaw puzzle (or any other problem) the same way, whether we know it or not.  We start with what we absolutely know to be true.  When chaos and confusion abound and there is so much we do NOT know, we all have an intuitive notion to go back to what we know and then slowly work forward from there.  In the case of the traditional jigsaw puzzle, it is the corner pieces.  They are what we know, they define the parameters of the puzzle.  Whatever else comes along, we know that the answer lies within the four corners of the puzzle.

Finding solutions to conflict within the church, even interpersonal conflict, works the same way.  We always start with what we know: what we know about God, what we know about God’s Word, and what we know about what God is doing.

I don’t think the conflict in the early church was any small thing.  I think the prejudices and potential doctrinal conflict between Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles and Peter’s ministry to the Jews was every bit as dangerous and troubling as our conflicts today.  It had a cultural (racial) element, a doctrinal element (e.g., circumcision) and even a leadership style element (Peter was not the only leader with whom Paul’s temperament clashed).  Reading Acts 15 and Galatians 2 and other similar accounts, you see that the potential for devastating conflict …

Making Our Words Count

Tuesday Re-mix – This is a popular post from last year, updated and resubmitted for your consideration and comments.

“After much discussion…” Those are the words we use when we’re writing minutes of a business meeting and there was a lot of discussion but not much said.  When we write, “after much discussion…” it means there were plenty of folks who had something to say on the subject, but it wasn’t important enough to quote any of it here in these minutes.  All that matters for posterity’s sake is…and then we put the results of the vote.  From time to time, a comment is made that is important enough to put in the minutes, and we do so.  But otherwise, we just write, “after much discussion…”.

The kinds of comments which end up being represented by “after much discussion…” are many.  Some of them are way off the subject, irrelevant remarks which do not further the decision-making process at all.  Some of them are personal in nature…too personal to memorialize forever in the meeting minutes.  Some of them are nothing more than emotional venting…perhaps important for a particular person’s process but not at all helpful for the entire group.  But all of them have one thing in common: From a long-term perspective of knowing how we came to this decision, they were not important.

In my experience dealing with conflicted congregations, We are not doing a very good job of teaching our churches a decision-making process which honors the Lord.  Specifically, when it comes to discerning together what the Head of the church (Jesus) is calling us to do, we do not get very high scores in terms of the processes we use.  Most often, the vast majority of the words we use in staff meetings, committee meetings and …