Mission: Tradition confronts the futureActs 15:1-12 - Keeping control


readThe passage for this Unit is the first 12 verses of Acts 15, though you can read the whole chapter with benefit to see how the story unfolds.  Read your commentary also if you have time; a summary of salient points is given below.

  • from a London busThere is strong evidence that Paul's letter to the Galatians is closely linked to this passage, which helps us fill in the gaps and see more clearly what was going on.

  • Remember that the gospel has been moving outwards.  We have looked at Samaritans (Acts 8), the Ethiopian (Acts 8), full-on Gentiles in Caesarea (Acts 10) and Greeks in Antioch (Acts 11:20), culminating in the report that God ... had opened a door of faith for the Gentiles (Acts 14:27).

  • Then in Acts 15 there's trouble at 't mill: ‘Judaizers’ attempt to persuade gentile believers in Syrian Antioch (14:21) that baptism isn't enough, circumcision is also necessary, and to keep the law of Moses.

  • Peter, who has been led by God to a radical place in regard to the gospel being for Gentiles too, takes a step backwards (Gal 2:11-14).  To his credit, once back in Jerusalem, he argues against his earlier position (Acts 15:7-11).

  • Paul and Barnabas, seeing the huge issue at stake - nothing less than the foundation of the gospel - return to Jerusalem to consult the other apostles and elders (15:3).  Wise men.

  • By the end of the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:29), the matter had been settled for all time and a letter written to enshrine the decision.

  • It may seem odd that the final ruling includes some elements of Jewish observance as “doing well” (15:29).  Stott, quoting Alexander, explains that “The abstinence here recommended must be understood ... not as an essential Christian duty, but as a concession to the consciences of others, ie of the Jewish converts, who still regarded such food as unlawful and abominable in the sight of God.”

forumWhat do you make of the two passages from Donovan (right).  Do we see here a case of tradition rising up to confront the future?  What similarities and differences are there with the incident in Syrian Antioch?  Where does this happen in our own lives, the lives of our churches?

Please make a contribution to the Forum “Tradition confronts the Future.”  Can you attempt to address how your own church (local, regional or national, you choose) could or actually does maintain a balanced dialogue between its own link to next learning materialtraditions, scripture and the developing culture in which we are immersed.  Then use the link to move on.

He was a pagan the year before I met him, a Christian a year after I met him, and he should have been a priest the following year. ... If it would not mean going into schism, we would ordain him tomorrow.  (Donovan p95).

“... What does it mean that we are baptised?  That we can receive eucharist from your hands any time you choose to visit us?  Or does it not mean that we are a eucharistic people?”  Implying, of course, that they should be able to confect the eucharist without me.

They were right, certainly ...