Then certain individuals came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.’ And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to discuss this question with the apostles and the elders. So they were sent on their way by the church, and as they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, they reported the conversion of the Gentiles, and brought great joy to all the believers. When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they reported all that God had done with them.
I am not sure if it is comforting or not to know that arguments have been going on in the Church for as long as it has been around. How easily we get bogged down in rules and regulations – in what we think is important. Go to many church meetings and it is the minutiae, the little things we choose to fixate on. Now that’s not to say they aren’t important, for some people they will be very important and so cannot be dismissed out of hand.
But at the same time, how many Christians find their joy in, and passion for, the Gospel diminished or restricted by arguments that surface between church members?
The conflict in Jerusalem centred around the idea that non-Jews could not be saved unless they were first circumcised – circumcision being a sign of covenant belonging. Was this just another rule to be obeyed or did it reflect the ethical norms of the day and the early church was just having to adapt to a constantly evolving situation? Indeed, what would our issues be today – infant or believers’ baptism perhaps, or communion and who can receive it?
We have to be careful we don’t let rules and regulations get in the way of the Spirit. Yes, rules are important to ensure safety and good practice, but when they accidentally, or deliberately, obstruct God’s work, then we have done something wrong.
Loving Lord, we are only human and sometimes our humanity gets the better of us. Help us, in our discussions and decision making, to channel the Spirit and be of the mind of Christ so that what we say and do reflects your purposes and plans for all people. Amen
The Rev’d Branwen Rees is the Minister of Port Glasgow and Greenock East URCs in Scotland.