My Thoughts. . .
I had been a member of the church less than a month when a fellow my age was hired to work at the gas station where I did. When I found out that he was a member, I was ecstatic. That is, until he told me I was going to hell. Why was that location my destiny? Because we disagreed over a particular practice. For me it was not that important. For him it was a matter of where one would spend his eternity! Disagreements over biblical teaching did not start in 1957. That activity can be traced back to Genesis 3 when mankind made the wrong choice.
The Jews were the first in becoming Christians (Acts 2). Gentiles were not thought worthy of hearing the Good News. If a Gentile submitted to circumcision and followed the Law of Moses, he was accepted with some reservations. Uncircumcised Gentiles were little more than dogs. Social contact between Jew and Gentile was not observed with happiness. For nine to eleven years after the Acts 2 beginning, uncircumcised Gentiles were not in the church’s evangelizing budget.
When the Holy Spirit led Peter to a Gentile Roman soldier’s house, his return to the church in Jerusalem resulted in a reception that was more a slap in the face than a pat on the back (Acts 10-11). They demanded an explanation for his anti-Jewish actions. Thankfully God was protecting his back which led to a change in the church’s attitude. Sadly, that attitude was not eternal in acceptance. As God added more uncircumcised Gentiles to the saved, zealous Christian Jews were offended because those Gentile converts were not following the Law of Moses. Since neither Paul nor Barnabas would stand up for the truth and teach Gentiles to follow the Scriptures on that topic, it was their duty to expose and condemn that error. They demanded that Gentile converts be circumcised if they wanted to be saved. This resulted in “a different” gospel which neither Paul nor Barnabas agreed with (Galatians 1:6-9). Scripture taught circumcision. Yet Paul nor Barnabas required it of Gentiles. That refusal eliminated Gentiles from salvation according to those Jewish believers. This created a difference in Paul and Barnabas’ faith as opposed to what those Jewish believers had. The Jewish pressure demanding circumcision created two different fellowships or churches. The Gentile church believed they were saved without being circumcised. The Jewish church believed the Gentile church was lost because they were not real Christians by refusing circumcision. Paul and Barnabas were caught in the middle of this disagreement and decided to take this problem to Jerusalem. Some Bible students fail to recognize how tragic and dangerous this difference was.
If we modernize that Acts 15 difference and applied it today, would we understand the seriousness which was faced by the church in the first century?
1. What if several congregations pulled their membership out of their mother organization by disagreeing over the objectionable lifestyle allowed for some of their clergy? Should the objectors be classified as pseudo-Christians until they accept that lifestyle as godly? If you were one of the objectors, would you surrender your convictions because you were convinced that you were being ungodly for not accepting it as holy?
2. Jesus prayed for unity, but modern churches differ in organization, practice, and doctrine. What if the one having the largest membership declared that it alone was the only godly church? What if they announced that all who differed with this decision would be classified as non-Christian and be hell bound unless repentance was forthcoming? What if the government made non-compliance unlawful? Would you repent or rebel against that announcement?
Disagreements did not start in 1957. Neither did it stop. Circumcision was a cutting problem which brought division to the first century church. Differences among believers continue to cause the U.S. public to view the church as irrelevant. Scripture offers the cure, but even it is seldom followed by those who claim to revere its contents.