Acts 15 records what I personally consider to be the greatest crisis that confronted the young community of Christians in the first century. You and I think of the church as being something "very old" that has existed "forever." When this crisis occurred, the church was quite young. What happened in this crisis would forever affect the nature and the future of the church.

  1. In this young religious movement, Christians primarily were converted Jews and the church was primarily a Jewish religious movement.
    1. From the first day that Christianity began in Acts 2, the church included people who were not Jews.
      1. These non-Jewish converts were known as proselytes.
      2. They were not Jews by birth, but they had converted to Judaism.
    2. Something different happened in this young Jewish religious movement, and it began to happen just a few years before the events of Acts 15.
      1. People who were not Jews were taught about Christ and permitted to be baptized without first converting to Judaism.
      2. Paul, Barnabas, and likely others taught non-Jews about Jesus, baptize believers, and accepted them into the Christian community without requiring them to learn anything Jewish.
    3. That created a major crisis that has enormous significance to you and me.
      1. Jewish people had no problem accepting non-Jewish people into Judaism or the church if, first, the non-Jewish people surrendered to Jewish practices and indoctrination.
      2. Typically, people who were not Jews had little in common with Jewish people.
        1. Non-Jewish people worshipped many gods; Jewish people worshipped one God.
        2. Non-Jewish people accepted people religiously without discrimination (you could worship as many gods as you wanted to worship); Jewish people accepted only the people who worshipped their God exclusively.
        3. Non-Jewish people knew little or nothing about the God the Jews worshipped.
        4. They did not know Jewish scripture.
        5. They did not know Jewish ceremony and rituals.
        6. They did not live like the Jewish people lived.
        7. Their code of morality and value system was often different.
        8. By Palestinian Jewish standards, most people who were not Jews were considered sexually immoral, untrustworthy, liars who ate the wrong food and insulted God by the way they lived.
    4. But none of this troubled devout Jews when people who were not Jews submitted to Jewish religious indoctrination.
      1. The Jews had devised a system to change and control non-Jewish converts.
      2. They circumcised them.
      3. They taught them the law.
      4. They indoctrinated them in Jewish ceremony, ritual, and practices.
      5. They taught them what to eat and what not to eat.
      6. Their system controlled the non-Jews lifestyle and behavior.

  2. This was the problem: Paul taught non-Jews that they could be Christians without going through the Jewish system.
    1. Paul, who was a Jew with a very conservative Jewish background, taught non-Jews that they did not have to adopt Jewish practices to be Christians.
      1. All they needed was an obedient faith in Christ and dependence on God's grace to become a part of God's community of Christians.
      2. They did not need Jewish indoctrination to change; they needed Jesus Christ to change.
    2. That is what caused the crisis: the Jewish Christians said, "No way! It will not work! They cannot leave the worship of idols and become the children of God without the proper indoctrination!"
      1. Paul said a genuine faith in Jesus Christ and an honest dependence on God's grace would restructure their lives.
      2. Many Jewish Christians said that faith and grace could never restructure them; only their indoctrination would do the job.
      3. It did not take long for that crisis to create a head-on collision between those who preached faith in Christ and God's grace and those who preached salvation by indoctrination.

Acts 15:1,2 Some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, "Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved." And when Paul and Barnabas had great dissension and debate with them, the brethren determined that Paul and Barnabas and some others of them should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders concerning this issue.

Representatives went to Jerusalem to settle the issue created when Jewish Christians told a congregation of people who were not Jews that they could not be saved unless they were circumcised and accepted the customs of Moses.

Everyone met in Jerusalem to discuss this issue.

Acts 15:5 But some of the sect of the Pharisees who had believed stood up, saying, "It is necessary to circumcise them and to direct them to observe the Law of Moses."

At the meeting some converted Jewish Pharisees took the inflexible position that non-Jews who became Christians had to be circumcised and had to observe the Law of Moses.

After a lot of discussion this was the decision: Christians who were not Jews did not have to follow Jewish practices and customs from the Law of Moses. To you and me, that is one of the most important spiritual decisions ever made in the church. If that had not been the understanding and decision, there would be no congregations of Christians in Fort Smith.

I point out something for you to think about that is clearly in the text.

1. This was not a private discussion that excluded the congregation. Acts 15:12 clearly states the multitude listened to the debate and discussion silently.

2. After the decision was made, the whole church participated in a decision to spread the news.

Acts 15:22 Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them to send to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas--Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brethren

  1. Did the congregation in Jerusalem have some of the twelve apostles in its leadership? Yes. Did the apostles dictate to the church what to do? No.
  2. Did the congregation in Jerusalem have elders in its leadership? Yes. Did the elders dictate to the church was to do? No.
  3. Did the congregation participate in the decision about what action to take to inform non-Jewish congregations? Yes. The action decision included the apostles, and the elders, and the whole church.

Every baptized member of the West-Ark congregation has a role in making an extremely important decision. This morning the elders ask members to participate in selecting men to be added to your elders. It is biblical that you participate in this decision. You share the opportunity. You share the responsibility.

Listen to concluding remarks {7 minutes, 13 seconds (selected)}

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David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 30 July 2000

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