Thursday, October 13, 2016
The Acts 2 – 21 Jewish church continued to be zealous for the Law of Moses. Gentile congregations were not forced to follow their lead. However, these differences strained the relationship between Jewish and Gentile saints. Paul, dealing with it, wrote,
“You may believe there’s nothing wrong with what you are doing, but keep it between yourself and God. Blessed are those who don’t feel guilty for doing something they have decided is right. But if you have doubts about whether or not you should eat something, you are sinning if you go ahead and do it. For you are not following your convictions. If you do anything you believe is not right, you are sinning.” (Romans 14:22-23).
These serious deviations of opinion existed in the first century, and they also exist today. Today’s disputes are not over dietary questions, circumcision, or rules concerning the Sabbath, yet they can be just as divisive. A Jewish Christian may have thought he was more spiritual than a Gentile one, because he did not eat “unclean” meat while his counterpart did. If you and your ancestors had followed God’s law for over 1,600 years, wouldn’t you have also argue with God if He wanted you to violate it? Peter did (Acts 10:13-17)!
A person who believes that a specific practice is against his convictions should not be forced to violate his belief. Perhaps that is why Peter escaped judgment when he told God “No . . . No . . . No!” Just as Peter’s conscience should not be violated, neither should he demand that Cornelius violate his by being bound by Peter’s convictions. Yet, this demand was created by other Jewish saints! These first century problems mean little or nothing to us, but they were big time troubled then. Debates broke out (Acts 15:1-2). A new gospel was created (Galatians 1:6). Salvation was at stake (Acts 15:1, 5)! Fellowship was threatened and anathemas were expressed (Galatians 1:9; 5:4). Even the small letter to the Gentile churches did not completely solve this disagreement (Acts 15:20, 23-30; Galatians 2:11-14).
There are a number of things we do today that our Bible is silent about. Yet, in spite of that fact, some have taken innocent “expedients” mated with our culture and equated them to God’s word. There was a public discussion in Memphis, Tennessee in the sixties between two black ministers over the fruit of the vine. One believed wine rather than Welch’s must be served in order to be biblical and pleasing to God. Actually, the “fruit of the vine” may correctly refer to fermented or non-fermented juice. In fact, in the nineteenth century most churches used wine since Welch’s Grape Juice Company wasn’t launched until 1893. Grape juice was used by the Wesleyan Methodist Church due to their opposition to wine. Welch was a part of that fellowship.
Some inferences take on a divine halo with time. For example, there is a disagreement on whether to use a “c” or a “C” to begin the spelling of a specific word. One’s choice may mark him as “sound” or “unsound” by advocates. What makes this choice so incredible is that the phrase argued over is totally absent from scripture! It isn’t found until it appeared in uninspired letters after the close of the New Testament. What some refer to as “the old paths” may only be a few hundred years old, not two thousand. Expedients may be useful, but not as scripture.
There were serious disagreements in the apostolic church and such actions continue to mock us today. When saints cannot say, “we be brethren,” we may be restoring first century “stuff,” but it ain’t the right kind!