Formations lesson for Oct. 28: Process and Decision-Making
October 12 2001 by Tom Greene , Acts 15:1-35

Formations lesson for Oct. 28: Process and Decision-Making | Friday, Oct. 12, 2001

Friday, Oct. 12, 2001

Formations lesson for Oct. 28: Process and Decision-Making

By Tom Greene Acts 15:1-35 While I was living in Dallas, Texas, during the 1994 elections, a radio commercial for one of the local TV stations that had two channels was run. The commercial included a man talking about his plans for election night. Would he watch channel 39 for non-stop election coverage or watch "Frasier?" Would he watch the results of the hotly contested governor's race or watch another show and on and on? Then he made the telling statement: "I love so many choices; it's the decisions I hate."

This reminds us of the struggle within our lives for constant decisions; a decision between good and bad; the right and wrong way of doing things; higher and lower ways of living. That is no small task for us now or for the 1st century church.

The joy, peace and unity the early church experienced was threatened by "no small dissension and debate" over the issue of whether Gentile converts should be circumcised and become Jews before they could be Christians. Luke shows how the apostles and elders immediately took charge of the protest of former Pharisees and brought it under control, demonstrating that the gospel had given them the resources to confront controversies without being destroyed by them. He also wanted to demonstrate that the Gentile mission and all of its advocates acted in adherence to the true and historic faith of Israel.

Defining the Problem (Acts 15:5-18) The preaching to Gentiles was not the objection but rather their inclusion in the covenant without the "sign" of Israel's covenant - circumcision. When the discussion and conflict reached their peak, Peter intervened and clarified the situation. His argument was based upon new revelation (the vision), the gift of the Holy Spirit and the actual experience of Gentiles coming into the fellowship. This started with his experience with Cornelius. He reminds his audience that God "made no distinction between us and them" (v. 9) and in doing so introduced this new thought: however impure the Gentile may be as such in Jewish eyes, God has now created in him an inward purity. And God being the "knower of hearts" denies the difference between a devout Jew and a devout Gentile.

The bottom line for Peter was that if God accepted those Gentiles and cleansed them in heart and conscience by the impartation of His Spirit. As soon as they believed the gospel, why should further conditions be imposed upon them - particularly conditions which God Himself plainly did not require? After Peter's speech put an end to all conflict, he disappears from the narrative of Acts. "The legitimization of the mission to the Gentiles is virtually Peter's last work" (Martin Hengel).

Peter's evidence is confirmed as the assembly holds its peace and Barnabas and Paul, speaking as witnesses, narrate the "signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles." And as if to seal their argument, James rose and presented scriptural proof in support of the Gentile mission (vv. 15-18) and proposed the resolution, which was urgent for the assembly to adopt.

Give, Take, and Moving Forward (Acts 15:19-26) Christian love and the concerns of community tempered this inclusive spirit and both sides compromised in response to the sensibilities of the other. James picked up where Peter left off and proposed that "we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God" (v. 19). The Gentile Christians, on the other hand, were asked to observe four things: eat nothing sacrificed to pagan gods, abstain from incestuous marriages, eat no meat of strangled animals, and abstain from partaking of blood. These four requirements were not to be a legalistic burden on the Gentile Christians, but as a concession to them, a meeting halfway.

The apostles then commended Paul and Barnabas to the new mission churches as "men who have risked their lives for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ." This title of honor recognized the authority of their credentials; written as if they were in blood.

Then, as now, the church needs people of bold vision who know what is at stake in our decision-making - people who lead with clarity and courage and use new revelation along with the confirmation of experience and with testing by scripture. These are the proper measurements for any decision-making process in the church.

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10/12/2001 12:00:00 AM by Tom Greene , Acts 15:1-35 | with 0 comments
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