Thoughts for the Day

Wednesday, 10th May 2023: Church authority

Law Paul Pharisees Barnabas Judaism Acts 15 Jesus

Reading : Verses from Acts, Chapter 15

Paul's First Missionary Journey

Then certain individuals came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.’ And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to discuss this question with the apostles and the elders. So they were sent on their way by the church, and as they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, they reported the conversion of the Gentiles, and brought great joy to all the believers. When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they reported all that God had done with them. But some believers who belonged to the sect of the Pharisees stood up and said, ‘It is necessary for them to be circumcised and ordered to keep the law of Moses.’ The apostles and the elders met together to consider this matter.

(Lectionary, New Revised Standard Version)


Paul and Barnabas have travelled through Cyprus and Galatia preaching the word of God among the gentiles. Their message has been joyfully received and despite persecution, new Christian churches have been established. But now a problem occurs. Jews have come from Judea, to insist that new gentile converts should first keep the Law of Moses, before following becoming a Christian. As we know Jesus was hounded by the Pharisees, who complained that he broke the Law, by associating with sinners, and healing the sick on the sabbath, but Paul, though a Pharisee himself, has insisted that gentile converts were to be accepted because of their faith. The church in Pisidian Antioch feels the solution is to take the question back to the apostles and elders in Jerusalem for a definitive decision.

For two thousand years this is how the Church has sought to resolve problems - from the Council of Nicea in 325 CE which wanted to define the 'status' of Jesus Christ, as well as agree a common date for Easter. Throughout history the Church has moved forward by coming together to make decisions through worship, prayer and discussion.

In 1992 when the General Synod of the Church of English met on 11th November to decide if the church should ordain women as priests, they were following a pattern initiated by the church in Pisidian Antioch. On the morning of 11th November listening to the news I could not see that a majority would agree in the House of Bishops, the House of Clergy and the House of Laity - there were too many opposed. Yet by 5pm that day the vote had passed with a tiny majority. Through worship, prayer, and discussion ,the Church had listened to each other and to God, and the Holy Spirit had changed many minds!


Heavenly Father,
when decisions have to be made
concerning the Church,
help us to engage in common worship,
in prayer and in discussion,
to listen to others
and to listen to You
that we may follow the path
set for us by Your Son,
our Lord Jesus Christ.

Follow Up Thoughts

If you would like to look further at the Council of Jerusalem, see this article:

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