THE CHURCH COUNCIL AT JERUSALEM
After Paul’s first missionary journey, many foreigners had joined the Church which was from the beginning confined to the Jewish Christians. Then some of the Jewish Christians came from Judea and taught that unless the foreigners were circumcised according to the Law of Moses they would not be saved. When the matter could not be solved in Antioch, a delegation including Paul and Barnabas was sent to the mother Church in Jerusalem. When they arrived, some of the Jewish Christians who belonged to the Pharisees’ Party, added that all foreigners should be made to obey the whole Law of Moses to be saved.
But the apostles insisted that one was saved by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and not by circumcision or the Law of Moses. Thus the whole problem centered on the basis of salvation: Is it by circumcision and the Law of Moses or by grace? There was no agreement and this led to a controversy and division in the Church. The First Christian Council was called in Jerusalem to help solve this problem. Whatever the solution, a compromise was needed to save the situation.
The Jewish Christians sent their delegates. The apostles and elders who represented the interest of the ordinary members of the Church were also present. The meeting was presided over by James, the brother of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Peter was the first to address the Christian Council in Jerusalem. He rejected the idea that foreigners or Gentiles be circumcised and be made to obey the Law of Moses before joining the Church (that is, being saved). He reminded the Christian Council of how God had sent him to the Gentile (foreigner), Cornelius and how the Gentiles had received the Holy Spirit as the apostles themselves had on the day of Pentecost. He ended by saying that we are saved by the favour or grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and not by circumcision or the Law of Moses.
After Peter had spoken, Paul and Barnabas addressed the Jerusalem Council. They narrated how they had been called by God to preach and heal among the Gentiles without imposing circumcision or the Law of Moses on them.
It was now the turn of James, the chairman for the occasion to speak. With the wisdom given to him by the Holy Spirit, James said that it was not right to impose all the Jewish rites, customs and Laws on the Gentiles. Therefore, he suggested that it would be enough to ask the Gentiles, who had been converted to Christianity, to keep certain rules which referred to:
- Not eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols or other gods.
- Abstaining from blood or murder.
- Avoiding meat that had been strangled and therefore had blood in it.
- Shunning unchastity or immoral sexual union.
James said, if the foreigners kept these rules they would be accepted into the Church without having to undergo circumcision and to obey all the Laws of Moses.
These suggestions were set down in a letter to be taken to the foreign Churches in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia. The letter also apologized to the foreigners for the embarrassment and trouble they had from those who insisted they should be circumcised and obey all the laws of Moses before joining the Church. The letter was sent through Paul, Barnabas, Judas and Silas.
James said the Jewish Christians who wanted to follow circumcision and the Law of Moses could do so in addition to their faith in Jesus Christ.
The significance of the Jerusalem Council
The Jerusalem Council shows that controversies are part of human life. It is bound to happen, even within the Church. The important thing is to resolve controversies through peaceful and friendly means (dialogue) and not through the destruction of life and property (violence). Hence the Council debated the issue in an objective manner and in a friendly atmosphere to arrive at a compromise acceptable to all. This compromise helped to preserve the unity of the Church that was at the brink of disintegration.
How disputes and controversies are settled in our society
Disputes and controversies in the society are caused by several factors including misunderstanding, cheating and failure to fulfill promises and obligations. The Federal Government has provided means of settling disputes and controversies.
At the local level there are local arbitration panels that sit to settle disputes and controversies. In the big cities there are courts for that purpose.