And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved. When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question. And being brought on their way by the church, they passed through Phenice and Samaria, declaring the conversion of the Gentiles: and they caused great joy unto all the brethren. And when they were come to Jerusalem, they were received of the church, and of the apostles and elders, and they declared all things that God had done with them. But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses. And the apostles and elders came together for to consider of this matter. (Acts 15:1-6)
Was this a Church Council? Nearly everything I have read or heard says it was a Church Council to decide doctrine for all of Christianity. I did hear one preacher say that if the Church at Jerusalem had held to the idea that one must keep the law to be saved, Paul and Barnabus would not have changed their position on the subject. I believe that is a true statement. However, my idea of a Church Council would be representatives from most, if not all, the churches of that time. There were certainly more than two churches.
And when he had received meat, he was strengthened. Then was Saul certain days with the disciples which were at Damascus. (Acts 9:19)
Then had the churches rest throughout all Judaea and Galilee and Samaria, and were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied. (Acts 9:31)
And they wrote letters by them after this manner; The apostles and elders and brethren send greeting unto the brethren which are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia: (Acts 15:23)
Afterwards I came into the regions of Syria and Cilicia; And was unknown by face unto the churches of Judaea which were in Christ: But they had heard only, That he which persecuted us in times past now preacheth the faith which once he destroyed. (Galatians 1:21-23)
If you want to make this a council for the church at Jerusalem, I would have no problem with that. But to take it further than that is to go beyond what I believe is the message here.
I submit to you this was a local church problem with two churches involved. If a child, not your own, threw a rock though your window, would you punish him for his actions? No, you would go to his parents to deal with him and to pay for your window. If that failed you would go to a higher authority and call the police. If a member of another church comes to your church members and causes problems, what authority do you have to discipline him? You can try to reason with him about the position of your church, but that is as far as you can go. If that does not work, then you would have to go to the church where he is a member and hope they would deal with him. This is what happened at Antioch. When all else fails, go to the higher authority, turn them over to God to deal with.
This charge I commit unto thee, son Timothy, according to the prophecies which went before on thee, that thou by them mightest war a good warfare; Holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck: Of whom is Hymenaeus and Alexander; whom I have delivered unto Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme. (I Timothy 1:18-20)
You would have to deal with a cult or a false church in a whole different manner. It would then come down to contending for the faith in such circumstances.
Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints. (Jude 3)
I. THE CHURCH AT ANTIOCH.
- Barnabas was sent there by the church at Jerusalem. (Missions)
Now they which were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about Stephen travelled as far as Phenice, and Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to none but unto the Jews only. And some of them were men of Cyprus and Cyrene, which, when they were come to Antioch, spake unto the Grecians, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord. Then tidings of these things came unto the ears of the church which was in Jerusalem: and they sent forth Barnabas, that he should go as far as Antioch. Who, when he came, and had seen the grace of God, was glad, and exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord. For he was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith: and much people was added unto the Lord. (Acts 11:19-24)
- He went to Tarsus to get Saul (Paul) to help in the work.
Then departed Barnabas to Tarsus, for to seek Saul: And when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch. (Acts 11:25-26)
- Barnabas and Saul were sent out by the church at Antioch on a missionary endeavor, during this journey Saul became Paul and Barnabas and Saul became Paul and Barnabas. (See Acts 13 & 14)
As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away. So they, being sent forth by the Holy Ghost, departed unto Seleucia; and from thence they sailed to Cyprus. (Acts 13:2-4)
- Some Jews from the Jerusalem church came to Antioch to Judaize the church.
And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved. (Acts 15:1)
- They were not sent. (Barnabas was sent, these men were not.)
Forasmuch as we have heard, that certain which went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, saying, Ye must be circumcised, and keep the law: to whom we gave no such commandment: (Acts 15:24)
- Paul and Barnabas tried to reason with them.
When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question. (Acts 15:2)
- Paul and Barnabas’ doctrine was already determined.
- They could not discipline those false teachers because they were not members of the church at Antioch.
- The church at Antioch sent a delegation to the church at Jerusalem to get them to deal with their church members which were causing problems.
II. THE CHURCH AT JERUSALEM.
- The church at Jerusalem had not established a doctrine on this subject, even though Peter had open the door to Gentile believers, for which he was called on the carpet by some.
And the apostles and brethren that were in Judaea heard that the Gentiles had also received the word of God. And when Peter was come up to Jerusalem, they that were of the circumcision contended with him, Saying, Thou wentest in to men uncircumcised, and didst eat with them. (Acts 11:1-3)
(Surely a Gentile church was established at Caesarea.)
- This is the second time the problem had arisen in the church at Jerusalem and until now the need of a doctrine on the subject had not crossed their minds.
- The depth of the problem became apparent when the delegation arrived at Jerusalem and told what God was doing among the Gentiles.
And when they were come to Jerusalem, they were received of the church, and of the apostles and elders, and they declared all things that God had done with them. But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses. (Acts 15:4-5)
- Even though the apostles and elders came together to consider the problem, it seems to be an open meeting.
And the apostles and elders came together for to consider of this matter. And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up, and said unto them, Men and brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe. Then all the multitude kept silence, and gave audience to Barnabas and Paul, declaring what miracles and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles by them. (Acts 15:6, 7, 12)
- It appears to me that the only church truly affected by this decision was the church at Jerusalem.
Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood. (Acts 15:19-20)
- They sent letters from the Jerusalem church to the churches at Antioch, Syria and Cilicia and a delegation to the church at Antioch, but not to Judea, Samaria or Galilee.
Then pleased it the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas; namely, Judas surnamed Barsabas, and Silas, chief men among the brethren: And they wrote letters by them after this manner; The apostles and elders and brethren send greeting unto the brethren which are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia: (Acts 15:22-23)
- This was a growing problem among the Gentile churches.
O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you? This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh? (Galatians 3:1-3)
- It is still a problem.
- This was a growing problem among the Gentile churches.
- The purpose of the letters and delegation was to tell the members of the Jerusalem church to leave the Gentiles churches alone.
- I don’t know about you, but I have trouble with the idea of the so called Messianic churches.
- I rejoice when a Jew gets saved, but I am saddened when he wants to follow Judaism afterwards.
- Christianity is not now, nor has it ever been Judaism.
For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things; That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well. (Acts 15:28-29)
If this was a Church Council, why were the things listed in verse twenty-nine a problem in other churches.
- Paul nor John talked about a Law passed by a Jerusalem Council.
For meat destroy not the work of God. All things indeed are pure; but it is evil for that man who eateth with offence. It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak. Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God. Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth. And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin. (Romans 14:20-23)
Now as touching things offered unto idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth. And if any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know. But if any man love God, the same is known of him. As concerning therefore the eating of those things that are offered in sacrifice unto idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one. For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,) But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him. Howbeit there is not in every man that knowledge: for some with conscience of the idol unto this hour eat it as a thing offered unto an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled. But meat commendeth us not to God: for neither, if we eat, are we the better; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse. But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak. For if any man see thee which hast knowledge sit at meat in the idol’s temple, shall not the conscience of him which is weak be emboldened to eat those things which are offered to idols; And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died? But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ. Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend. (I Corinthians 8:1-13)
But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication. Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols. (Revelation 2:14, 20)
- May we follow Paul’s admonition.
Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God. Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God: (I Corinthians 10:31-32)