Thursday, June 14, 2012
The Jerusalem Council marks a significant expansion and turning point for the early church. Up to this point the Christian movement has been a sub sect of Judaism – still practicing the ways of the Hebrew Scriptures, still following the Levitical Code. With the expanding Gentile mission the inevitable conflict arises. The question: how Jewish must a person become before he/she is considered a Christian. In other words what requirements of the law must still be lived in order for one to be considered “saved?”
The question rocks the church and focuses on the leaders of the Gentile mission, Paul, Barnabas and others versus the leaders of the Jewish Mission (James and the Elders in Jerusalem). Acts fifteen records the debate and the resolution. The matter is resolved in verse 19 and following and is reported to the Gentile churches through a letter from the council. The Council resolves that there are four things that must be kept: 1) abstain from things polluted by idols; 2) abstain from fornication; 3) abstain from strangled meat; and, 4) abstain from drinking blood. These requirements have the effect of saying “stay away from pagan worship.” Many of the pagan temples worshiped through feasting, usually on meat that came from animal sacrifices and the religious experience was often lived out through ritual fornication with temple prostitutes.
Notice 36 and following. Paul and Barnabas part ways. The contention between them is whether or not to take John Mark. Remember John Mark left Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey to return home. Barnabas, ever the encourager, wants to give him another chance. Paul, the driven leader, does not want to take someone who left them in the middle of their work. The end result is that Barnabas takes John Mark and they sail to Cyprus (remember Barnabas’ home) and Paul joins up with Silas (who had been sent with the Jerusalem Council’s direction) and works his way through Syria and Cilicia. This Acts reminds us that even in our disagreements on process and procedure and even personnel, if we stay committed to the work of making disciples for Jesus Christ God will use us in different and unique ways. We don’t know what happens with Barnabas and John Mark – except that later in Acts Paul and John Mark are reconnected and in one of Paul’s later letters he intentionally commends John Mark for his faithfulness (Colossians 4:10 and 2 Timothy 4:11). Nothing should be made of not hearing about Barnabas after this episode. Remember the author of Acts, Luke, is more interested in playing out the Acts 1:8 trajectory than in completing biographies.