27 May 2011

Acts 15:22-31

"We have decided unanimously to choose representatives and send them to you, along with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, who have risked their lives for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ." (vv. 25-26)


The story of the Council at Jerusalem continues. The decision has been made that male gentile (non Jewish) believers need not be circumcised in order to be part of the Christian community and now it is time to make sure the churches are informed. A very courteous letter is written, which makes a number of things clear. It offers greetings and explains that the Council has made its decision following reports that people with no authority have taken it upon themselves to disturb and upset gentile believers. So there is a note of censure and judgement against those who have taken upon themselves an authority that is not theirs. There follows a clear statement of the authority with which those who bring the letter have been sent. The full and unanimous support of the Council is carried by both letter and by trusted and respected members - Judas and Silas, and Paul and Barnabas. The latter two have particular authority because they have risked their lives for the sake of sharing the message of Jesus Christ. The letter then goes on to make clear what the decision of the Council is.

So far in this passage we have issues of authority - who has it and who does not. Who can speak on behalf of the Church and who cannot? There is also a sense of mischief on the part of those who have stirred up trouble with no good reason (except perhaps their own deeply held beliefs). What of those who receive this communication? Verses 30-32 show a wonderful picture of joy amongst those who read the letter and hear it confirmed by Judas and Silas - these prophets then go on to encourage and strengthen the believers.

A time of great anxiety and disagreement is brought to a close, not with a perfunctory note or a legal document but with a warm letter and a personal visit. Here is something we can use as a model when there are times of discord within a church community. Once a decision is reached that resolves a contentious issue, it is important to think through carefully how to communicate the decision and its consequences in a clear and unambiguous way. There is a lot to learn from the Acts of the Apostles about good leadership that is not overly controlling, but is clear in decision-making, good at communication and encouraging to the whole community. This is not just a lesson for local and national Church bodies but in also in business, education and politics.

To Ponder

What would you identify as marks of good leadership?

Who do you think should have authority within the life of the Church?

How can you encourage and strengthen others in their faith?

Bible notes author

The Revd Micky Youngson

The Revd Michaela Youngson is Chair of the London District of the Methodist Church. She has served as a presbyter in circuits in Lancashire and London, as well as having been Secretary of Pastoral Care and Spirituality in the Connexional Team.