Acts resources! Stott: What was at the center of the debate in Jerusalem? (Acts 15)

Posted: August 5, 2008 by limabean03 in Acts Resources, Biblical Studies, Christianity, Uncategorized
John Stott

John Stott

For several years now Gentiles had been brought to faith in Christ and welcomed into the church by baptism. It began with that God-fearing centurion in Caesarea, Cornelius. Not only- in quite extraordinary circumstances- did he come to hear the good news, believe, receive the Spirit and be baptized, but the Jerusalem leaders, once the full facts were presented to them, instead of raising objections, ‘praised God’ (11.18). Next came the remarkable movement in Syrian Antioch when unnamed missionaries ‘began to speak to Greeks also’ (11.20), a great number of whom believed. The Jerusalem church heard about this too and sent Barnabas to investigate, who ‘saw the evidence of the grace of God’ and rejoiced (11.23). The third development which Luke chronicles was the first missionary journey, during which the first complete outsider believed (Sergius Paulus, proconsul of Cyprus) and later Paul and Barnabas responded to Jewish unbelief with the bold declaration ‘we now turn to the Gentiles’ (13.46). Thereafter, wherever they went, both Jews and Gentiles believed (e.g. 14.1), and on their return to Syrian Antioch, the missionaries were able to report that ‘God…had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles’ (14.27).

All that was fairly straightforward. After the conversion of both Cornelius and the Antochene Greeks the Jerusalem leaders had been able to reassure themselves that God was in it. How would they now react to the even more audacious policy of Paul? The Gentile mission was gathering momentum. The trickle of Gentile conversions was fast becoming a torrent. The Jewish leaders had no difficulty with the general concept of believing Gentiles, for many Old Testament passages predicted their inclusion. But now a particular question was forming in their minds: what means of incorporation into the believing community did God intend for Gentiles? So far it had been assumed that by observing the law they would be acknowledged as bona fide members of the covenant people of God.  Something quite different was now happening, however, something which disturbed and even alarmed many.  Gentile converts were being welcomed into fellowship by baptism without circumcision.  They were becoming Christians without also becoming Jews.  They were retaining their own identity and integrity as members of other nations.  It was one thing for the Jerusalem leaders to give their approval to the conversion of Gentiles:  but could they approve of conversion-without-circumcision, of faith in Jesus without the works of the law, and of commitment to teh Messiah without inclusion in Judaism?  Was their vision big enough to see the gospel of Christ not as a reform movement within Judaism but as good news for the whole world, and the church of Christ not as a Jewish sect but as the international family of God?  These were the revolutionary questions which some were daring to ask….

Some men came down from Judea and Antioch…they were ‘Pharisees’ (5) and ‘zealous for the law’ (21.20) and this is what they were teaching the brothers:  ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.’…We need to be clear what they were saying, and what the point at issue was.  They were insisting, in Luke’s tell-tale summary, that without circumcision converts could not be saved.  Of course circumcision was the God-given sign of the covenant, and doubtless the Judaizers were stressing this; but they were going further and making it a condition of salvation.  They were telling Gentile converts that faith in Jesus was not enough, not sufficient for salvation:  they must add to faith circumcision, and to circumcision observance of the law.  In other words, they must let Moses complete what Jesus had begun, and let the law supplement the Gospel.  The issue was immense.  The way of salvation was at stake.  The gospel was in dispute.  The very foundations of the Christian faith were being undermined.


taken from John Stott’s The Message of Acts, pg 240-243

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