After two chapters of real “action” in Acts, our chapter 15 study showed us another aspect of the Early Church, but such an important one. (You can listen to our live class on Acts 15 here.)
Acts 15 seemed a little bit to be a repeat of what happened back in Acts 11. If you read that chapter and read or listened to our live class on Acts 11, you’ll remember that the Apostle Peter basically kind of got in trouble with the brethren back in Jerusalem after he had obeyed the leading of the Holy Spirit in chapter 10 to go and witness to the large group of Roman gentiles who’d been gathered together to hear him.
As Peter spoke to the friends and family of Cornelius the centurion, “the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word” (Acts 10:44) and they had a similar experience to what the first Christians had on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2. But this didn’t go over well with the brethren back in Jerusalem who at that time were still more than a little conflicted about their own identity and how much they were still required to keep their Jewish traditions and customs.
I hate to say it. And some might censor me for it. But it almost seems like Peter’s following of the Holy Spirit in Acts 10 led to a case of “Old Bottle-ism” with the brethren in Jerusalem, somewhat like what I wrote about in the blog post “New Wine and Old Bottles”. God at times can be a radical God. Following Him can “break your bottle” and shake your foundations, if they are rooted in traditions of man, rather that really being founded on the Rock.
This seemed to have all gotten worked out in Acts 11. But in Acts 15 it all comes up again. This time, instead of the question being, “Do the Jewish followers of Jesus have to stay away from the Gentiles?”, the question is, “If they are to be saved and be Christians, do the Gentiles who come to Jesus have to convert to Judaism? ”
Here’s where you could think, “Who cares?! This is all just ancient history stuff and theological arguments!”
Ah, but some of you, perhaps many, know how much this whole question is still right on the front burner of millions of Christians’ hearts and minds, 2000 YEARS LATER! That’s why, in our live class, we had a major discussion about the significance of this chapter and what was disputed and discussed within the Early Church. Because, to this day, these things are disputed and millions of fundamentalist evangelical Christians are taught that their diligent observance of Jewish laws and customs will be pleasing to God.
Is it all really by grace? Don’t we have to keep the laws of Moses also? This is not ancient history; this is an acrimonious discussion that goes on daily among Christians in our times. But the answer is still the same as it was in Acts 15. Here to me are the two most important verses in Acts 15, where again the Apostle Peter is having the last word and laying down for the Early Church the facts and reality of what they had learned in Christ, regardless of how well it was received by their Jewish countrymen.
In Acts 15, verses 10 and 11 Peter said,
“Now therefore, why do you tempt God to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples which neither we nor our fathers were able to bear. But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, we shall be saved, even as they.”
Can it be clearer than that? Do we need to find a more trustworthy source than the Apostle Peter? This should be the end of it. Here in Acts, it was the end of it, at least for a few chapters. But it’s back; and it goes on still to this day.
Well, I could share the whole chapter here in this post but maybe that’s not necessary. The live class on Acts 15 can be heard here. You can listen to it there or download it so you can listen to it later or share it with others. Acts 15 is one of my favorite chapters in Acts. I love it when you can see brethren “earnestly contending for the faith” (Jude 3) and hearts united in really trying to “search the Scriptures” (John 5:39) and find the truth in them. I hope you enjoy the class and that you’ll find in it the things we did when we studied this chapter. God bless you.