In Acts 15 we hear of the church in Antioch being accused by representatives of the church in Judea of getting so much wrong that they could not be saved. “Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them.” The Greek is considerably stronger. It works out to something like, “standing together and seeking to understand each other…they did not!” These people did not want to be around each other and had no desire to come to an agreement. They were in each other’s face. Yet, the beauty in it, the holiness of the moment is how they chose to proceed: “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.”
The Antioch church did not say, “This is our church. We do things our way. Its none of your business. Go away.” They sent a delegation to the council, and those of the view of the church in Judea did the same. Each group accepted that they were not independent congregations ruled by their own conscience, but were connected to each other and accountable. They would listen to the council because they could be wrong. They firmly believed they were right and were prepared for the argument, but the consequences of being wrong on so grave a matter as salvation are too weighty to be resolved by loud voices.
Moving directly to the council decision (because this is a lengthy chapter whose key point is, “we are saved through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ…” A subject worthy of several Wesley length sermons.) we learn that the customs, traditions, and order, of the one community ought not be imposed on the other. They are not essential. Now the fact that they are not essential does not mean that they are unimportant. The church of Judea is not instructed to abandon what are useful disciplines for growing in the faith, but they don’t have the same meaning or result with the Christians at Antioch. We are left at the end of Acts 15 with two different churches with two different sets of disciplines for growing in the faith. In the church’s rapid growth, with the success of its evangelism, it was time to grow by producing two cells from one with similar, if not duplicate, contents.
Healthy organisms grow by producing two cells from one. How far this lesson can be applied to our current affairs is for the reader to decide. It is worth noting that this chapter concludes with a warning to abstain from sexual immorality and what is in dispute today for many of us are indeed essentials of the faith, but I put it to you that a separation of the church may not be schism but growth. I put it to you as a question because I could be wrong. However, I put it to you as a truth that the kingdom has not been served by remaining so long where, “standing together and seeking to understand each other…they did not!”