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BRUCE C WEARNE, in his study of Acts, looks at how the church in Jerusalem dealt with controversy surrounding the Gentiles which had beset the church in Antioch…

Letter writing

Then the apostles and the elders, along with the whole [Jerusalem] assembly, deemed it the appropriate thing to choose men from among themselves and delegate them to go to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. For this they sent Judas, called Barsabbas, and Silas, leaders among the brethren, with the following letter: “The apostles and the elder brothers together, to the brethren who are of the Gentiles who are throughout Antioch, Syria and Cilicia: Warmest greetings to you! Having heard that some of our number [from up here] have disturbed you with teaching, unsettling your outlook [on how to continue on in the way] although we had given them no mandate to do so, it seems the appropriate thing to do, having come to one accord, to choose men and send them to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, both men who have risked their lives for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have therefore also sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will tell you the same thing [from us] by word of mouth. For it seemed appropriate to the Holy Spirit and [therefore also] to us that we insist upon no yoke more than [what we consider to be] required: [namely] that you keep from food that has been offered to idols, from blood and meat that has been strangled and from unchaste sexual relations. If you align yourselves with these you will be doing the right thing. With warmest regards.” So when they were sent off on their way, they proceeded down to Antioch; and [when they arrived] having gathered the congregation together, there they delivered the letter. And having read it out, there was much rejoicing in its encouraging message. And then Judas and Silas, and they were themselves prophets, [stay on and] encouraged the brothers and sisters with many words and strengthening their resolution. And after spending some time there, they were then sent off by the brothers and sisters in peace back to those who had sent them. But Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, with many others engaging in the work as well. – Acts 15:22-35/transliteration Bruce C Wearne

 Letter writing

A LETTER IS WRITTEN: Judas and Silas were sent to Antioch from Jerusalem with a letter explaining what few food restrictions they were to keep. PICTURE: St Mattox/

A letter is written and Judas and Silas are sent to Antioch to strengthen the work from there.

Whatever the church does in one place has an impact upon the church elsewhere. The letter reminded the church of Antioch that they were all in it together. They had previously sent gifts to Jerusalem during the Judaean famine. Now Jerusalem made its contribution to assist the growing church with its Gentile mission. At this point they are becoming a multi-national, globalising movement of the Holy Spirit.

The church of Jesus Christ is a gathering of people of all nations. The Gospel has to be proclaimed and shared indiscriminately. But those believing it are called to bring honour to the Lord by their conduct. There is to be no compromise with idolatry.

Don’t get yourselves involved with meat and other products that are clearly a part of the idolatrous worship that takes place in Gentile regions. Avoid such animal blood and strangled meat. Give due honour to marriage, keep yourselves chaste.

These were the requests from the apostles and the leadership of the Jerusalem church. They had to understand that their own work as Jewish Christians in that traditional centre of Jewish life and worship was implicated in the way the church at Antioch conducted its affairs.

Christian freedom is never a matter of ‘open slather’.

What is being emphasised here is that the customs we live by have to be formed in a spirit of love and care for our neighbours. But the letter is clear enough. To become a disciple of Jesus Christ is not a matter of adopting Jewish customs, by becoming a circumcised proselyte. Quite apart from any problems that such a requirement would create for female disciples, it would suggest that the work of the Messiah is somehow incomplete. The Pharisaic sect had unsettled the church at Antioch with accusations, and they had obviously initiated this disruption without consulting with the apostles. This sect had opposed Paul and Barnabas but the apostles warmly commended their work. Such decisive action also gave the members of this faction that did believe, room to reconsider their outlook.


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