In Acts 15 the apostles and elders come together at the Council of Jerusalem, deciding that Gentiles do not have to become Jewish proselytes and follow the Law of Moses in order to be Christians. They were allowed to keep their own customs as long as they didn’t interfere with their loyalty to Jesus (e.g. avoiding idols, immoral behaviour). This set a precedent that has allowed Christianity to adapt to many different environments. Because of this pivotal moment, we see the rich beauty of many different expressions of our faith across the world today. It is like liquid—maintaining its essence, but taking the form of whatever cultural container it has been poured into over the last 2000 years.
Acts 15:19 –“We should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.”
Have you ever experienced Christians who are from a different culture, or who worship differently than you were used to? What did you find intriguing, confusing, or encouraging about their expression of faith?
How is our approach to Christianity and style of worship at MCC affected by our 21stcentury Canadian cultural context?
Looking at Scripture:
Read the story of Peter and Cornelius in Acts 10:1-48.
How do you think Peter, a devout Jew, felt going into the house of a Gentile? Has God ever called you into an environment in which you felt uncomfortable or out of place?
Review the description of Cornelius at the beginning of the chapter. Despite not being a Jew or a Christian (yet), he is portrayed as devout, God-fearing, generous, and a man of prayer. How does this compare with the assumptions Christians sometimes make about those who are not believers? What can we learn about how God works in the lives of those outside the church?
This incident was one of the things that led to the decision in Acts 15 that the Gentiles did not have to become Jews in order to be Christians. In that passage, the apostles and elders decided they should not “make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.” They sent very simple instructions, outlined in a letter:
“It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things.” (Acts 15:28-29)
Scholars are uncertain why those four things were deemed to be the most important instructions, though some suggest it is a summary of Old Testament teachings on how Gentiles could live among Jews without causing offense (see Leviticus 17-18). If youwere to pick four instructions to give to new Christians who didn’t know anything about the faith, what would they be?
Read Ephesians 3:1-6. What do you notice about how Paul describes God’s plan to include the Gentiles in what he is doing?
Take a moment to flip around in Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy looking at some of the obscure rules and laws outlined there. There are approximately 613 commandments in the Torah that you would have to follow if it had been decided that Gentiles believers needed to become Jews. Take time to thank God for not burdening us with that “yoke,” and including our culture and society in his plans. How can you show the same inclusiveness to others?