This won’t be an indepth post at all, but Elders and Leaders by Getz is goooood. Our church’s elders have been chewing on it since last fall, and we’re just now beginning to dialogue about it in our meetings.
One thought that completey intrigues me and has immense practical application for Christ-followers is how the apostles and early church leaders made decisions. In the first few chapters of the book, Getz begins to unpack the processes and events that led to the development of recognized leaders in the newly-planted churches of the Mediterranean area. In particular, he dives behind the scenes into the controversy that caused the famous Jerusalem Council in Acts 15. I can’t imagine even our local pastors getting together to come to an agreement on a theological issue these days, but church leaders converged on Jerusalem for this important gathering.
The issue was one of religion vs. grace. Jewish Christians were offended that new Gentile converts weren’t being circumcised. In fact, a group of these cutter-promoters traveled to Antioch in Syria to seek to enforce this religious custom upon the new Gentile believers there. Paul and Barnabas engaged in the first recorded church cage match with these overly-zealous legalists. A meeting with the Big Dogs was called, and they all wound up in Jerusalem.
Read about it Acts 15. The gist of it goes like this… Peter described a revelatory dream he’d had and the subsequent experience of Cornelius and his household coming to faith in Christ, complete with evidence of the Holy Spirit’s presence. Paul and Barnabas recorded what they’d seen God do in their travels, insofar as witnessing mass conversions of Gentiles. Then James relates these experiences to scripture, as recorded in the prophet Amos, and a decision is reached.
Here’s some conclusions that Getz (and I agree) reach:
God doesn’t always make it easy for his folks to come to agreement on an issue.
God has given us each other, and desires that we work through theological issues together. (Theology is done best in community.)
Experiences alone are not sufficient to base decisions or doctrine on.
Events alone can be misinterpreted and are not sufficient to base decisions and doctrine on.
Experiences and events, when confirmed and enlightened by scripture, can help the community of faith reach a decision.
Decisions of a faith-based community should never exceed scriptural imperatives and principles.
As the pages of Acts are turned, Getz comments, “God gave more and more responsibility to Christian leaders to make decisions based on previous revelations and experience.”
During these times, I also would project that the apostles turned to one another and asked, “Does anyone recall any specific teaching by our Lord related to this?” I’m also confident that during these times, the leaders would seek God’s guidance through prayer.
After all, Jesus promised His followers His continued guidance through His Spirit. And it was for just such occasions as the Jerusalem Council that Jesus said:
“But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth… (John 16.13)
“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.” (John 14.26)
Food for Thought:
- Why do you think various churches (often from within the same denomination) neglect to convene to discuss issues of theology and belief?
- Why do you think churches would rather split than resolve differences?
- How well do you integrate the teachings of scripture into your daily, personal decision-making?