“They are all zealous for the law, and they have been told about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or walk according to our customs…” vs.20-21
Paul returns to Jerusalem and spends time with James and the council telling them all the great things God has been doing in his ministry. They spend a few moments to praise God for these things, but then they push on through it to the more important issue to them: which was not the divine workings of Jesus through the Holy Spirit, but the man made workings of their traditions and customs.
The Christian church had been established in Jerusalem for many years now and existed in relative peace with the Jews. Paul however, a Christian comes to the church in Jerusalem and all the Jews want to beat him and stone him. Why do they want to stone Peter and yet leave James and the council and church in Jerusalem alone? All were followers of Christ. And the church itself in Jerusalem was bringing charges up against Paul. Why?
Because the church in Jerusalem still followed the law of Moses. These Jewish Christians remained close to their Jewish practices, customs, and traditions after becoming believers. They “blended in” with non-Christians enough to be ”ok” in their eyes.
Paul however, proclaimed a gospel of the free grace and forgiveness. And he may have been ok if he stuck to proclaiming that Gentiles did not need to become like Jews first in order to become Christians. But he started “meddling” and went farther than that. The big issue and charge was that Paul was also teaching the Jews in the Diaspora (Jews dispersed in other regions and countries) that became Christians to abandon the law of Moses and being bound to its required practices, customs, holidays, and traditions. It was Paul’s “meddling” with church practices, and traditions that riled the Jews up enough to want him dead.
We in the church get riled up in the same way today. When I pastored a local church, one Sunday I moved the altar from behind the rail you kneel at to in front of the rail for a sermon on the Lord’s Supper I was doing that day. I was practically charged with committing heresy for doing it! One Sunday I read the Scriptures from my cell phone and two people left the church because I did not read from leather and paper. Our house church meets on Wednesday and Monday evenings. When I tell people this I do not know how many people reply back to me in shock, “You do not meet on Sunday mornings?!?”
The church in Jerusalem praised God and wanted Paul to continue efforts to make disciples that imitate Christ, however those disciples better imitate them as well or else we will take you out. In most churches today this attitude, if not openly declared, is firmly instilled in the polity and DNA of the church. We want you to make new disciples that conform to the image of Christ, so long as they conform to our polity, practices, customs and traditions as well. Or else the church will overtly or covertly make it known to you that you have crossed the line.
To Paul, such religious practices such as the circumcision of the Gentile converts as a kind of "insurance policy," incase faith should be insufficient in itself, he denounced as a departure from the purity of the gospel: Of Simply Jesus.
Pray over your personal relationship with Jesus. Are there any religious practices you are clinging to as an insurance policy, incase your faith should be insufficient in itself? Are your steadfast in your obedience to Scripture and Christ, yet flexible enough to allow, accept and even join in with others who’s practices and customs differ from yours. Paul was flexible enough to worship with Jewish Christians and gentile Christians. Are you?
Pray over any past or current areas in you faith where you have shown prejudice resisted fellowship with, or been hostile towards other Christians or churches because of personal practices, customs, or traditions.
Please share your reflections on chapter 21 with us.