Acts 15 – Edict or Consensus?

December 24, 2009 at 5:32 am Leave a comment

Who was at the Meeting?

The question at hand is who was in the meeting of Acts 15?

We know that Apostles and Elders were there (Acts 15:6).

We know that Peter addressed “Men and brethren” (Acts 15:7) Possibly two phrases for the same group, or maybe even believers and unbelievers were present?

We know that Barnabas and Paul were there (Acts 15:12).

We know a MULTITUDE kept silence and gave audience to Barnabas and Paul. (Acts 15:12) “Multitude” is translated a “great number” in all of the other instances where it is used in scripture. Could it be that the entire group of believers and possibly even some unbelievers were present at this meeting? Is it possible that meetings were always open door meetings and that anyone and everyone was allowed to participate?

We know it pleased the apostles, elders, and the whole assembly (Ekklesia) to send men to Antioch (Acts 15:22)
And here’s what was written: It seemed good unto us BEING ASSEMBLED in one accord (Acts 15:25). Was the Ekklesia (the whole church) in this meeting – or did they just send a letter saying they were part of the assembly? Obviously – the whole church was in the meeting. 

Could Acts 15 then be a picture of the Ekklesia being gathered in order to make a governmental decision?

In my opinion, this was a legal assembly (see Acts 19:39) – the very heart of the word “church” (Ekklesia)

How did they come to a decision?

 There was much disputing – open discussion – back and forth – many people coming forth with their arguments. (Acts 15:7)

Peter gave a testimony of what God did at Cornelius’ house – and gave his opinion that the law was a yoke on the Gentile’s necks that they could not follow. (Acts 15:7)

Barnabas and Paul gave testimony to what God had done among the Gentiles thru their ministry. (Acts 15:12)  Notably, Paul is a complete outsider to the Jerusalem church – and he is one of the main players in this meeting.

James brought a passage of scripture testifying that God was going to move on the Gentiles – and then gave his opinion on laying down some guidelines about eating that would make it a whole lot easier for the Jews to not be completely offended by what the Gentiles were eating – thus opening up the real possibility that Jews and Gentiles could eat together. (Acts 15:14-21).

Decision by consensus or decision by the “HEAD” of the church at Jerusalem?

If you look at James as the head of the church at Jerusalem – and see that he talked last – then you will probably conclude that the decision was a unilateral decision made by James and dictated to the rest of the group. But…… let me present to you another alternative….

A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. (Deut 19:15)

But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.‘ (Matt 18:16) Jesus

This will be my third visit to you. “Every matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses”. (2 Cor 13:1) Paul.

The law taught, Jesus taught, and Paul taught that every matter must be established by two or three witnesses.

In John 5:31-47 Jesus outlines what a true “witness” is.

  1. NOT your own testimony about yourself (not even Jesus could do that)
  2. The prophetic word (given to John the Baptist) was a “human witness” , subject to caution but a witness. (prophecy can be manipulated)
  3. The signs and wonders (works) that Jesus did was a “God witness”.
  4. The voice from heaven that the disciples heard was a “God witness”.
  5. The scriptures (that the teachers of the law mishandled) was a “God witness” (not man’s interpretation of the scriptures).

In Acts 15 – we have two “God witnesses” – signs and wonders thru Peter, Barnabas and Paul, and we have a third “God witness” – the scripture given thru James.

Now the whole group had been taught about “Witnesses” (by the law, by Jesus, and by Paul) and could say a hardy amen when the third witness (James) came forward. James kind of put the icing on the cake – and with a stroke of Godly wisdom to bring the Gentiles and Jews together – not divide them!

Once the group caught sight of the third witness – the meeting was over.  The testimony of scripture sealed the deal.  If this passage says anything – it says that scripture has the final say – not James.  But even Scripture, when misused, or misapplied is not a valid witness.   (see John 5:39)

James was not the “head” in this meeting – Jesus was and the testimony of what Jesus was doing ruled the day and trumped the opinions of the circumcision party.

Which is right to follow – the witness of God – or the authority of man? It’s easy when they are the same – but what if James would have sided with the circumcision party?

My opinion is that – the witness of God ruled the day in the early church – not the authority of man. In fact, they knew no such thing as a man in authority over them dictating to them what he thought God was saying. The leaders were well respected and actually led the people – but the governmental decision was a consensus on the evidence at hand – not an edict from the “head man”.

The vast majority of time that a “sola pastora” rules over an assembly or even a meeting, the context of two or three witnesses is totally destroyed. This slaps the command of God in the face. The scriptures never said – put a pastor in charge and let him establish every matter. No, no, no, indeed. Let every matter be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Do you want to know what God is doing in your midst right now? Ask the person next to you. You might be surprised what a group will come up with – and how it all fits so wonderfully together. Instead – we ignore (or assign to some other time or setting) whole passages of scripture (Romans 12; 1 Corinthians 12, 13, and 14; Acts 15; John 5, etc) – and instead replace these practices with stuff that’s nowhere to be found even in a single scripture. (Senior pastor, Assistant Pastor, the authority of the pastor, Senior Elder, covering, Marketplace Apostle, Foundational Apostle, Sunday Service, pulpits, A non-participatory meeting, etc). Is it any wonder that moves of God are so rare in the traditional western setting?

“The prophets prophesy lies, the priests rule by their own authority, and my people love it this way. But what will you do in the end?” (Jer 5:31 NIV)

The question at hand is this: even if you think everything I’ve written here is total error – and that the church is a hierarchy led by a single pastor and advised by a group of elders – then how does the concept of two or three witnesses come into play – in a meeting – in governmental decisions – in EVERY MATTER?

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Entry filed under: Church Leadership, The Church.

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