Grace to you, and Happy Easter!
The events of the Council of Jerusalem (50 AD), also known as the First Christian Council (50 AD), are recorded in Act of the Apostles 15. What do they teach us about the leadership of the early Church? What do we glean from them about Christianity in general? A broad question. So, I will shed light on a couple of ideas in the reflections of today and tomorrow. As usual, it will follow the style of our reflection, focused on prayerful engagement with the ideas in the Word.
The Holy Spirit had called Paul and Barnabas for a unique mission, which they realized was to the Gentiles (see Acts 13 & 14). Their preaching and miracles in Antioch, the Island of Cyprus, and Southwestern Asia Minor were so fruitful that there was a massive influx of Gentiles into the Church. It came with a price, though.
Some Jews, who were the first to accept Christ, saw the conversion of Gentiles into Christianity as incomplete, if not half-baked. They thought they must save Judaism from this contamination. Or at least, elevate Christian faith by more Jewish ritual. Thus, those zealots hurried to the headquarters of Paul's ministry in Antioch, teaching the Gentiles that Christian Baptism was not sufficient to save them. They said they needed Jewish circumcision too, which comes with the observance of the Law of Moses. They meant well though their proposal goes against the core of the Christian view of salvation by grace.
Trust fiery Paul. He didn’t take this lightly. He engaged these zealots and fiercely opposed their ideas. They claimed top Church leadership in Jerusalem supported their teaching. In contrast, Paul and Barnabas insisted it wasn't consistent with the Church's teaching. The early Church would settle this matter. Hence, Paul demanded they go back to the Church in Jerusalem to iron out the issue. The events of the Council are recorded in Acts 15:1-35.
Lesson: From the very beginning of the Church, the need for teaching authority is identified and practiced. Present at the Council were the apostles (espicopoi) and the elders (presbyters), two names which are synonyms for bishops and priests. One could say that the debates and deliberations of the Council involved the early theological testimonials at the time. They were those who lived with Christ, heard him, and followed the unique path, a tradition he set for them.
Isn't it reasonable to have a teaching authority? Through the grace of the Holy Spirit, the teaching authority maintains the tradition of the Church. Primarily exercised by the episcopal office, it offers an authentic interpretation of the Word of God in Scripture and the tradition. Right from the early days of the Church, it has been the process.
If nothing, the surge of self-made prophets and pastors in social media and the ridiculous interpretations they make of the Bible reinforces the common-sense need for the authentic interpretation of Scripture. If my interpretation of the Bible and Christian tradition is left to my subjective whims and caprices, I think anything could pass for solid doctrine. I could propose a form of salvation thesis based on my taste or my exclusive cultural values. The result could be a syncretistic Christianity, the kind the zealot converts into Christianity wanted. Thanks be to God we have the teaching authority, the Magisterium.
Tomorrow, I’ll expand on other lessons to learn from the First Christian Council.
Lord, continue to lead the Church to tap from the wealth of your Word. Also, give us the grace of devout devotion to your Word. Amen.
God love you. God Bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[Wednesday, Easter Week 5: Acts 15:1-6; John 15:1-8]
Author and Goal
Father Maurice Emelu Ph.D., provides a daily blog of reflections based on the Scriptural readings of the day from the Catholic liturgical calendar. The goal is to teach, inspire, encourage, and foster healing through the grace of God's word. They are written in a language that is appropriate for a general audience. You will find these reflections helpful for your spiritual growth, inspiration, and developing your thoughts. They may also be useful for ministers in preparing their sermons for liturgical celebrations.