Saturday, October 22, 2022

2022.10.22 Hopewell @Home ▫ Acts 15:1–22

Read Acts 15:1–22

Questions from the Scripture text: From where did men come down (Acts 15:1)? Whom did they teach? To whom did they attribute circumcision? What did they say could not be done without it? What did Paul and Barnabas have with them (Acts 15:2)? What did the church determine to do? Whom did they decide to send to whom? What route did the Antiochan delegates take (Acts 15:3)? What did they do along the way? What did this cause to whom? Where did they come in Acts 15:4? By whom were they received? What did they report? Who rose up in Acts 15:5? What two things did they insist was necessary? Who came together in Acts 15:6? To do what? What did they have much of (Acts 15:7)? Then who rose up? Of what event did he remind them (cf. chapter 10)? What does he point out that God knows? What had God done to Gentiles (Acts 15:8)? By giving them what? What didn’t God make (Acts 15:9)? But what did He do to their hearts? By what? What does Peter say they would be doing to God if they demanded circumcision (Acts 15:10)? What would they be doing to the disciples? Who couldn’t bear that yoke? To whom do the multitude now listen silently (Acts 15:12)? What were Paul and Barnabas declaring? What does James wait for Paul and Barnabas to do (Acts 15:13)? Whom does he address? For what does he ask? Whose speech does he reference in Acts 15:14? Whom has God visited? What has He taken out of them? for what? Now to what does he compare this testimony in Acts 15:15? What had Amos said that Yahweh would do to what (Acts 15:16, cf. Amos 9:11)? With what result for the rest of mankind (Acts 15:17a)? And what nations (verse 17b, cf. Amos 9:12)? Who would do this (verse 17c)? What is known to Whom since when (Acts 15:18)? What is James’s judgement that they shouldn’t do (Acts 15:19)? What three things does he say they should write to them instead (Acts 15:20)? What does he say Moses has had, where, and how long (Acts 15:21)? What is done where? How often? What three groups were pleased in Acts 15:22? To send whom with whom? Which two specifically? What type of men were they?

How does the church resolve issues that are unable to be settled in the local church? Acts 15:1–22 looks forward to the morning sermon on the coming Lord’s Day. In these twenty-two verses of Holy Scripture, the Holy Spirit teaches us that elders of Christ’s church are to gather in broader assemblies to determine controversies of faith. 

The Lord’s ordaining of the synod. In the Spirit’s wisdom, He has juxtaposed the Scriptural underpinning of sessions and presbyteries (cf. Acts 14:23) with this passage that gives us a Scriptural underpinning for synods and councils (a.k.a. general assemblies). Whereas the former were for the ongoing, ordinary work of the church, this council is occasioned by a specific issue/problem. 

And it is a very great problem! By placing circumcision alongside the gospel  in necessity for salvation, these “certain ones” from Acts 15:1 come under the later-written anathema of Galatians 1:8–9. If you are living in an age of the church which has forgotten that there are things worth having “no small dissension and dispute,” let Paul and Barnabas in Acts 15:2, and more generally this occasion of the first synod, remind us of it. There are doctrines worth defending. And one of the Lord’s primary ways of defending them is at councils composed of elders from across multiple presbyteries.

The delegates from Antioch include “Paul and Barnabas and certain others” (Acts 15:2). And it is specifically “to the apostles and elders” that they are going. This isn’t a church visit (although the whole church sends in Acts 15:3, and in Jerusalem the whole church concurs in Acts 15:22); it’s specifically a council of (apostles and) elders. It is instructive to see that the elders have the same seat (Acts 15:6) and same vote (Acts 15:22) as the apostles.

This brings up an important point. Elders are not only the shepherds of a congregation as a plurality and an established help and accountability to one another throughout a region (as established in Acts 14:23). They are officers of Christ among whose assemblies the mind of Christ more generally may be discovered in discussing and applying the Scriptures.

What are the elders in Jerusalem doing participating in a decision regarding Antioch? Are they apostles? No, it is Christ’s wisdom to establish broader assemblies of His elders for the instruction, help, and accountability of all.

The operation of the synod. Now, note that there is much disputing in Acts 15:7, as there had been in Acts 15:2. But, the portion of the debate that the Spirit preserves for us is theological interpretation of events (Acts 15:7-9, Acts 15:12, Acts 15:18), theological consideration of their own actions (Acts 15:10-11), and corroboration of the theology from specific Scriptures (Acts 15:13-18). It is from this that a specific solution is proposed (Acts 15:19-21) and adopted (Acts 15:22).

Theological interpretation of events (Acts 15:7-9Acts 15:12). God is acknowledged as having chosen to use Peter (Acts 15:7a). God is acknowledged as the One Who uses the preacher’s mouth to give hearing and faith (verse 7b). God is the Knower of the heart and the Testifier to what He has put there (Acts 15:8). What God did to the heart (purifying, Acts 15:9) by the Spirit they had recognized by use of water in baptism (cf. Acts 10:44, Acts 10:47, Acts 11:15–16). And many more such miracles had God done as He saved Gentiles through the ministries of Paul and Barnabas as well (Acts 15:12).

Theological consideration of their own actions (Acts 15:10-11). Peter urges them not just to consider the issue as a question of what to do, but an active/living engagement with God. It would be testing God to demand circumcision (Acts 15:10), just as it would have been resisting God to withhold the water in Cornelius’s house (Acts 10:44–48, Acts 11:16–17). And it is trusting God for their own salvation that keeps them from resting upon circumcision, so also they must teach the Gentiles to trust God rather than circumcision (Acts 15:11).

Corroboration of the theology from specific Scripture (Acts 15:13-18). James now summarizes what Simon said, but even apostolic testimony in the council of apostles and elders stands only as affirmed by the Scriptures. So he quotes from Amos 9:11–12. When God saves a remnant from Israel (Acts 15:16, cf. Amos 9:11), He will give the same salvation to the nations and even call them by His own Name (Acts 15:17, cf. Amos 9:12). Note that the “nations” called by Yahweh’s Name (Acts 15:17, cf. Amos 9:12) are a remnant who are called out (Acts 15:14). 

So, what Peter has observed in Acts 15:11 is precisely what Amos had prophesied, because God uses His Scriptures to prepare the way for His coming works (Acts 15:18). 

The outcome of the synod. The question of circumcision is answered. They won’t test God or insist on something that would compete with either Christ for salvation or baptism as the outward testimony of the Spirit’s inward work. And they won’t trouble them with the yoke that even the Jews were unable to bear (Acts 15:19, cf. Acts 15:10).

What they do require are two ways in which their new hearts from Christ will stand out most against their culture (Acts 15:20a). Idol-temple worship and its fellowship feasts were the social center of their culture, but they were to refuse to participate rather than accommodate the idolatry. Sexual immorality was rampant in the Greek culture of the Gentile world, so they must abstain from it. 

And they draw covenantal requirements not from the Mosaic administration of the covenant of grace, but from the Noahic administration, from which all nations had come. This is what is behind the prohibition against meat that has been strangled or otherwise still has the blood in it (verse 20b, cf. Genesis 9:4). 

Believers from the Mosaic administration had a perpetual and consistent witness to the cultures around them (Acts 15:21). Christians’ witness in their culture should be at least as perpetual and consistent as the Mosaic witness has been. 

Finally, the apostles and elders approve this proposal (Acts 15:22), and the whole church submits to and carries it out. The gospel has been defended; God has been interacted with sincerely, and wisdom and love have been exercised toward the church. Hallelujah!

What should a Synod consider or decide? How should it go about doing so? Who should participate? What should the churches do? Who can bring the church into a condition in which these things are biblically done? Besides praying to Him, how can you encourage the church to operate this way?

Sample prayer:  Lord, grant unto our own synod that it would pursue and fulfill only those duties that You give to synods in Your Word. Grant unto the elders wisdom and grace from Your Spirit for all of their deliberations. Make them to be conscientious in engaging You, and to be directed entirely by Your Word, we ask in Jesus’s Name, AMEN!

Suggested songs: ARP197 “Christian Unity” or TPH404 “The Church’s One Foundation”

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