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Early church councils were to address false teachings

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  • Early church councils were to address false teachings

    Year A.D. 48 or 49.

    It is because the early Church Councils were convened to address false teachings that make these councils important sources toward a better understanding of orthodoxy.
    It is in the councils where the false teachings and accepted teachings are compared side by side which help in defining why one is false and the other acceptable.

    The actual first council is not included in the historical listing or numbered among the ecumenical councils of the early Church. This council was more than 275 years before the first of these others and is recorded in Acts 15. At this council the issue over what was required of gentiles who became followers of Jesus was addressed.

    Addressed by the Jerusalem Council was the false teaching that the gentile believers must become a Jewish convert and males must be circumcised. These teachers were known as judaizers. The judaizers were devout believing Jews who sincerely believed being Jewish was necessary for salvation. The background and reasoning for their position must have followed something like the following.

    In the early decades of the Church there was the expectation of the imminent return of Christ with the corresponding restoration of the kingdom to Israel (Acts 1:6). Many devout believing Jews retained this perspective of the Messianic hope. If the gentile followers of the Messiah did not becoming part of Israel by becoming Jews the soon coming Messiah, who would rule Israel, would not be their king or they would not be the people of God. From the perspective of the Judaizers, it would be pointless for gentiles who followed the Messiah not to be citizens of the Kingdom of Israel in which the Messiah rules as king. Being a follower of the Messiah meant being a citizen of His kingdom which would be the same as being a citizen of the restored Jewish state of Israel where the people of God will dwell. Furthermore, being a Jew meant keeping the Mosaic Law.

    This first Church Council rejected the necessity of circumcision and the necessity of keeping the Law of Moses (Acts 15:5), thereby, not requiring the gentile to become a Jew or a God fearer. The following letter was sent to the churches in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia.

    “The brothers, both the apostles and the elders, to the brothers who are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia, greetings. 24 Since we have heard that some persons have gone out from us and troubled you with words, unsettling your minds, although we gave them no instructions, 25 it has seemed good to us, having come to one accord, to choose men and send them to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, 26 men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27 We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will tell you the same things by word of mouth. 28 For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements: 29 that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.”

    What factors instigated the Jerusalem Church Council?

    From the Book of Acts this process requiring a decision at the Jerusalem Council began in Antioch of Syria. (Acts 14:26-28 confirms the location). All the previous rejections and sufferings by Paul were instigated by Jews who had rejected the gospel message (Acts 13-14).

    After the first missionary journey of Paul and Barnabas they spent what is described as “not a little time with the disciples” in Antioch of Syria (Acts 14:28). Jewish believers journeyed from Judea to Antioch of Syria. These believers were Pharisees, supposedly associated with the Church in Jerusalem (Acts 15:1, 5). Some commentaries speculate they were sent by the Apostle James, the brother of Jesus.

    There was a contentious debate between these believing Jewish Pharisees and some in the church in Antioch of Syria, including Paul and Barnabas. The issue was over the requirement for gentiles who became followers of Jesus to keep the Mosaic Law (Acts 15:1-2). The Church in Antioch determined to send a delegation which included Paul and Barnabas to the Apostles and elders in Jerusalem (Acts 15:2).

    This delegation must have had no concern of the decision at the Jerusalem Council because as “. . . they were going through both Phoenicia and Samaria describing-in-detail the conversion of the Gentiles. And they were producing great joy in all the brothers. 4 And having arrived in Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders. And they reported all-that God did with them (Acts 15:3-4).

    The historian Luke must have had Holy Spirit direction in how what he was recording because by the time of the dispute in Acts 15 we have already read the events which determined the decision.

    1. Acts 10
    The Apostle Peter had preached the gospel in Caesarea to Cornelius the centurion of the Italian cohort and his family. While preaching the hearers received the Holy Spirit just as Peter had and all the witnesses who came with Peter were astonished. “15 And at my beginning to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as also upon us at the beginning (Acts 11:15).

    2. Acts 2:1 Now the apostles and the brothers being throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also accepted the word of God.

    3. Acts 11:2-18
    The Apostle Peter recounts all the details to the judaizers in Jerusalem.

    Then in Acts 15, Peter, Paul, and Barnabas retell their experiences again, and James quotes the prophets to support this is the plan of God to save the gentiles. The letter explaining the decision was sent and the very first Church council has addressed a false teaching. Yet . . . yet, some remain to this day teaching gentile followers of the Lord Jesus must keep the law or some aspects of it.

    Example: The seventh day Sabbath must be observed. Therefore, worshiping on Sunday is the sign of the antichrist.
    Did you read this in the letter sent from the Jerusalem Council to the churches in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia?
    What I read was,
    "“For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements: . . .
    abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols,
    and from blood,
    and from what has been strangled,
    and from sexual immorality.
    If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well.”"