Grace to you and Happy Easter!
We continue our reflections on the lessons from the first Christian Council that took place in Jerusalem around 50 AD. The main issue of the deliberation among the leaders of the early Church was determining whether salvation depended on God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ or on circumcision and the practice of the Mosaic Law.
The most fundamental question was whether it was necessary for one to be a Jew or a member of a particular culture by adoption into their rituals to be saved, or if salvation was through faith in Jesus Christ by God’s grace.
Often, believers tend to impose their cultural categories as a necessary part of the salvation package, when actually it isn’t.
For instance, the Church encourages active participation at liturgy. This will include singing along when a song is intoned. But some cultures hardly sing unless accompanied by an instrument or a choir. Coming from Africa, where virtually everybody sings and dances whether there is a choir or not, I shouldn’t suppose that those from regions where people hardly sing during worship are not active at liturgy. It could be the other way round too. It is spiritually beneficial if we avoid imposing our cultural heritage as if to say it is a universal norm. The danger is religious syncretism causing Christianity to lose its core identity.
I don’t believe Paul and Barnabas would have objected if the zealots told the people they maybe circumcised. After all, there were and are, many who are circumcised for other reasons other than for salvation.
Just like other Councils that have come after this first one, the decision of the magisterium was primarily guided by two principles, all led by the Holy Spirit. First, what does Scripture say? Second, what do we discern from the Tradition we have from when Christ preached and worked among us?
Remember, by the time of this council, no part of the New Testament had been written. The only part of Scripture they had was the Old Testament, but their interpretation of tradition was enriched by the faith of the faithful, furnished by what they saw Jesus do and teach.
In the same way, Scripture and Tradition are the two interlocking poles shaping any valid decision/interpretation the magisterium makes concerning faith and morals. It isn’t simply opinion polls from individual bishops. As we know, the magisterium is at the service of Christ, the Word of God. She is at the service of Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 86).
Another lesson from the story of the council was that magisterial decisions do not necessarily end controversy. Actually, history shows that some will still hold on to their erroneous beliefs. The Council of Jerusalem did not stop the heretics. Some listened and understood. Others continued the fight; hence we had the first Christian sect called the Ebionites, though they became extinct over time.
Research the histories of the Councils, from the first Ecumenical Council called the First Council of Nicaea in 325 to the Second Vatican Council. No Council has ended without camps divided between supporters and opponents. Yet the Church remains strong.
Pray: Lord Jesus, keep your Church from heresies; bring unity to her members. Amen.
God Love you. God Bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[Thursday, Easter Week 5: Acts 15:7-21; John 15:9-11]
Father Maurice provides a daily blog of reflections based on the bible readings of the day from the Catholic liturgical calendar. You will find these reflections helpful for your spiritual growth, inspiration and developing your own thoughts. It may also be helpful for ministers in preparing their sermons for liturgical celebrations.