27 May 2011Acts 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.
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?