Doctrinal Challenges

Acts 15:1-4
1 Some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” 2 And when Paul and Barnabas had great dissension and debate with them, the brethren determined that Paul and Barnabas and some others of them should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders concerning this issue. 3 Therefore, being sent on their way by the church, they were passing through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and were bringing great joy to all the brethren. 4 When they arrived at Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they reported all that God had done with them.

Today there are many denominations of Christianity.  Each has their own set of beliefs and doctrines that are based on the same book and teachings.  It amazes me how many different views there are on the same topic.  What has started here in Acts 15 is a debate concerning physical circumcision, as was required by Jews in order to convert to Judaism.

It is interesting to note that the men state that the custom is from Moses, since it was started with Abraham when God made His covenant with him.  We read this in Genesis 17:

10 “This is My covenant, which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: every male among you shall be circumcised. 11 “And you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin, and it shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and you. 12 “And every male among you who is eight days old shall be circumcised throughout your generations, a servant who is born in the house or who is bought with money from any foreigner, who is not of your descendants. 13 “A servant who is born in your house or who is bought with your money shall surely be circumcised; thus shall My covenant be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. 14 “But an uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant.”

Do you see how division starts?  They don’t even have all their facts straight!  Yes, Moses continued the tradition through the Law (handed down by God), but it started with the Abrahamic covenant.  We must see the foolishness in this statement (maybe I’m the fool that is missing something), because when we make claims like this ourselves, we incite unnecessary division and problems from within the congregation.  Secondly, Jesus never talked about physical circumcision, only circumcision of the heart.  Physical circumcision was/is simply an outward expression of what has happened inside of us.  God chose Abraham for His Will and as a result, Abraham responded in obedience by circumcision.  In Genesis 18:19, God states:

“For I have chosen him, so that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring upon Abraham what He has spoken about him.”

Does this say, “Well, he decided to circumcise himself and his household, so now he is worthy of what I need to be done”?  Not at all!  So why then would anyone think that circumcision is required for salvation?  This is a selfish desire based on religion (Judaism) to disclude those whom they detest (Gentiles).  We’ve already seen the Holy Spirit poured out upon the Gentiles and while Peter himself was completely bewildered by the event, he couldn’t deny God’s presence among them.

Notice here the response of Paul and Barnabas; they went to the elders and other apostles.  It is the job of the elders to guide the doctrine of the church.  As I continue to study about biblical eldership, I am finding this is the chief job of our church elders: to clarify doctrine and settle disputes.  How often do you go to your elders for these kinds of issues?  Oftentimes we don’t have the spiritual maturity to see past the little details like the fact that circumcision was an Abrahamic covenant or that God poured His Spirit out on an uncircumcised Gentile.

Also notice how these murmurings did not sway Paul and Barnabas as they made their way to Jerusalem.  It actually encouraged them to tell more of the truth.  In Phoenicia and Samaria, they were talking about Gentile conversion to the masses and they were bringing great joy to the brethren.  Too often we get caught up in theological disputes and it stifles our growth and the growth of others.  We see here that clearly Paul and Barnabas were taking action to learn more about it, but they were sticking to what they knew to be true and were keeping the issue at bay until the appropriate time and place.  Do we behave this way?  Do we go to the right people to get the correct answers?  Do we keep theological debate aside from spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ?  How often do we mix uncertain doctrinal rumors with truth and create widespread confusion?

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