Wednesday, June 26, 2024

Sermon Addendum June 23rd 2024

 Sermon Addendum June 23rd 2024

(Keep in mind, the date is for the sermon, not the post :) )

This past Sunday, I wrapped up the sermon series in Acts that I’ve been doing for several months. There wasn’t enough time to get all the way through Acts, and when it comes to Acts you either need about 2 years or you have to leave something out. After all, one of my “want but am not spending the money” book purchases is Craig Keener’s four volume commentary on Acts. We do Acts a disservice if we only read it as one-off actions stories.

So, what’s going on in Acts 15?

First, it’s the justification for what is called in church history The Conciliar Movement. At least, one of my textbooks used that label. Most of what we deem standard (orthodox) Christian doctrine is born from bodies of church leaders in the 2nd-5th Centuries AD gathering and establish what Scripture means, how Christianity understands the truths contained in the Word. For example, our understanding of God in Three Persons, the Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, was defined by the Councils of the Early Church. It is drawn from Scripture’s revelation of the nature of God, but there is a lot of Bible about God.

And the idea that a group of wise Jesus-followers can make plain what Scripture means starts here in Acts 15, where Peter, Paul, James, Barnabas, and others gathered to sort out how the Old Testament Law needed to be applied on the current church.

Second, we see some basic guidelines on how the Old Testament Law needs to be applied on the current church! Note the nature of the four instructions passed on to the Gentiles. As we look at the expectations given to the people, these were about clear worship (abstaining from idols); clear lifestyle (abstaining from sexual immorality); and clear fellowship (avoiding foods that would have re-divided Jew and Gentile). And the last one we see some development through later years under Paul’s authority as he mitigates that command somewhat. (He never backs up from avoiding idolatry and immorality.) As we examine the traditions and expectations of years gone by, our questions could rightly come back to these: are we clearly worshiping only Jesus? Are we honoring God with our lifestyle? Are we strengthening our fellowship with one another or being self-absorbed?

Third thing that we see here is some of the leadership of the church in Jerusalem. We see James, and we know it is not James Zebedee, as he died earlier in Acts (Acts 12). So it’s another James. Usually we connect him to James the (half-)brother of Jesus, and author of the Biblical book of James. We see Peter, we see Paul, we see Barnabas. Both the primacy of James as spokesman and the equality of all to share their views are important here.

Finally, Acts 15 wraps up with perhaps one of the sadder moments in the flow of the story of the early Christians. Paul and Barnabas have a sharp disagreement, sharp enough that they no longer work together. The text’s statement of “they parted company” implies something deeper than a “well, agree to disagree, see you later,” moment but more of a “Nope, we’re done” kind of event. Tragically, we sometimes go down that path: it is okay to have a disagreement, but strive to keep it from causing you to “part company.” That’s an important idea to keep in mind, that we can disagree. We can even decide that we are not going to work with someone because our approaches are too different. But preferences and styles should never drive us apart in our relationships.

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