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 …
Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us go back and visit the believers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the believers to the grace of the Lord. Acts 15:36-40
I honestly cannot even imagine how difficult being on a mission trip with the apostle Paul would have been. It seems to me you would be hard-pressed to find a more driven, intense “missionary” in the entire Bible than Paul. He seems to have worked tirelessly through very long days and he seems to have pushed himself and his fellow laborers to extremes. Being on mission with Paul would not be for the faint-hearted. So, just between you and me, I don’t blame young John Mark one bit for bailing on Paul in Pamphylia. I am sure that young man felt utterly overwhelmed by it all.
But oh what I wouldn’t give to have been a fly on the wall during that later conflict between the two teachers, Paul & Barnabas, over this very incident. Paul would have argued vehemently that the mission field is no place for quitters and that he had no time to be babysitting when he could be out teaching. He would have pointed out that John Mark literally left them holding the bag when he quit on them in the middle of that mission trip. Barnabas, ever the …
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 …
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 …