Acts 15:1-4 (NIV)
Some men came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the brothers: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question. The church sent them on their way, and as they traveled through Phoenicia and Samaria, they told how the Gentiles had been converted. This news made all the brothers very glad. When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and elders, to whom they reported everything God had done through them.
Everyone has a theology (even atheists!). Some theology is good theology, which means that it is consistent with Scripture, and that it squares with what God has done. Other theology is bad theology, which means that it disregards or is ignorant of important parts of Scripture, that it takes Scripture out of context to support the theology, and that it is held in a corner by prejudices, fear, and refusal to step out of long-held beliefs in the face of concrete challenges. That kind of bad theology even refuses to accept miracles that happen if their foundation goes against what that person believes. (Witness the Pharisees’ refusal to accept Jesus’ miracles that were done on the Sabbath as divine, and their belief that He cast out demons through satan’s power instead of by the power of the Holy Spirit because they disagreed with His stands on numerous issues. John 9:16, Matthew 12:24)
Paul had good theology regarding the salvation of gentiles. It was based on Jesus’ explicit commands, was consistent with the Old Testament Scriptures, and squared with the things that he had personally seen God accomplish. His theology held that the gentiles could be saved purely on the basis of faith in Jesus, and he had seen transformed lives and gentile believers filled with the Holy Spirit to confirm it.
On the other side were Jewish Christians, Bible teachers, who had bad theology in this area. They believed that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah, and that He had come to bring salvation to Jews only. Therefore, if a gentile wanted to be saved, they first had to convert to Judaism, including circumcision for the men, and complete conformity to the whole mosaic law, including all the dietary and sacrificial requirements. They rejected the testimony of life transformation among believing gentiles, no matter how genuine it seemed, because it did not square with their theology.
Paul and Barnabas vehemently disagreed with these teaches when they came to Antioch and told the gentile believers there that they might have believed in Jesus, but they weren’t really saved and couldn’t really be Spirit-filled unless and until they converted. But no matter how eloquent their arguments were, Paul and Barnabas were not able to make these teachers see the errors in their theology.
So, the Antioch Church decided that the best course would be to send Paul and Barnabas and a few others to Jerusalem to ask the apostles and elders their opinion. This seemed like a good idea, so the group headed south right away. On the way, they told the believers they met how God was bringing the gentiles in Asia into the kingdom, and they all, both Jew and gentile, rejoiced over this expansion of the harvest.
Father, we really can get wrapped around the axle with our favorite theological beliefs without checking to make sure that they are consistent with ALL Your Scriptures taken in context. I have personally seen the damage that we can do to people when we push bad theology at them, so I understand the pushback that Paul and Barnabas were putting forth. Help me, Lord, to put Your word, Your whole word, at the center of every theological belief I have, so that my words give life and hope to all who hear. Amen.
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