In Acts 15, we see the church encountering her first big theological problem. It is about the gospel. It surfaces at Antioch and the nub of the issue focusses on whether or not you have to be circumcised and keep the Jewish law in order to be saved. As a result, Paul and Barnabas are sent off to Jerusalem where the apostles were still based.
At Jerusalem it is interesting to observe that the apostles and elders met together to discuss the issue (see Acts 15:6). The church were not included in the discussions. It was they, as spiritual leaders who took responsibility for sorting out this issue. And when you think about it this makes perfect sense. The spiritual leaders are the ones who have been trusted by the church to give spiritual guidance. They are set aside to make decisions for the benefit of the church. The church has entrusted this to them.
Let us ponder some issues here:
- If there is entrusting of responsibility to elders then we need to be careful that we choose trustworthy men to be elders. So we need to look at the passages of scripture in 1 Tim. 2:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9 so as we ascertain the right men for the job.
- Getting the wrong men into leadership can be a disaster both for them and the church. They are harmed because they are seeking to fulfil a ministry God has not called them to. The church is harmed because it is entrusting a work to those not qualified.
- Churches get bogged down in decision making. The church meeting can become a tyrannical entity which stops those truly equipped to lead from leading.
- One key aspect of church government is to release people to serve. The elders take responsibility for decision making so as to release others for service.
Happily the Jerusalem gathering resolved the matter and could makes declaration of such to the churches. it appears that the church was happy with this. As we read Acts 15:22-23a:
Then the apostles and elders, with the whole church, decided to choose some of their own men and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They chose Judas (called Barsabbas) and Silas, men who were leaders among the believers. With them they sent the following letter
it is beautiful to see this pattern in operation; where you see a church and its leaders working appropriately and harmoniously together.