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 centered on salvation. It 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 question was whether one needed to be 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. I call this the problematics of territory-based and culture-based salvation claims.
Often, believers tend to impose their cultural categories as a necessary part of the salvation package, when it isn't. For instance, the Church encourages active participation at liturgy. It 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, we love this. But, I shouldn't suppose that those from regions where people hardly sing during worship are not active at liturgy. Also, some cultures are not expressive. It would not be right for them to insist that any liturgy that is expressive is wrong, either. 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 resulting to people not understanding the core identity of Christianity.
I don't believe Paul and Barnabas would have objected if the zealots suggested to the new converts that circumcision was a good optional practice. After all, there were and are, many who are circumcised for other reasons other than for salvation. The critical problem is that they made it mandatory 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. Still, their interpretation of tradition was enriched by the faith of the faithful, furnished by what they saw Jesus do and teach. The Holy Spirit was guiding them, too, as the Spirit guides the Church today.
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 merely opinion polls from individual bishops, perhaps drawn from their theologians and the faithful. As we know, the magisterium is at the service of Christ, the Word of God. It is at the service of Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 86). The magisterium pays attention to the sense of the faith of the faithful, too, through whom the Holy Spirit speaks, enriching the Church's life. Nevertheless, there are many conditions for the validity of a magisterial decision, chief of which is that it must not go against Scripture.
Another lesson from the story of the council was that magisterial decisions do not necessarily end the controversy. 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]
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.