What Council of Jerusalem? (Acts 15)
The purpose of the two articles on this page is to illustrate why Reformed Baptists are not Presbyterian in their church government. It is often necessary to explain how we can be both "Reformed" and "Baptist". The best response is that we see ourselves as more fully reformed than our Presbyterian brethren when it comes to matters of church organisation and government. Establishing Presbyterianism from scripture is most often attempted by citing Acts 15. I hope to indicate with the following articles how weak this argument is.
What Council of Jerusalem?
Suppose the visit of Paul, Barnabas and the others from the church at Antioch to the church at Jerusalem was not a Council. Suppose rather it was a representation and complaint from one local church to another whose members were behaving erroneously and opposing Christian doctrine through mistaken zeal (for superseded Jewish tradition). The account in Acts 15 can be read perfectly logically with no inference of authority, delegation or council. To read in the idea of appeal to the "authority" of the Jerusalem church is bad exegesis.
First we have the cause for complaint from Antioch. Acts 15.1,2 "And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved.
Then the appropriate** response from the Antioch church to the Jerusalem church. 15:2 When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question."
Suppose the Apostle Paul made the journey to Jerusalem to inform James (the Pastor of the Jerusalem Church " not James the Apostle) and have the problem dealt with at source. The Apostle Paul (and witnesses) took the problem to the responsible Pastor. **This, of course, is precisely how the Lord Jesus Christ teaches us to deal with brethren (fellow believers) when we have issues with them (in Matthew 18: 15-17.) 18:15-17 Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.
The meeting of the church at Jerusalem.
There were still Apostles in the Jerusalem church (including Peter) -Acts 8:14; 15:4 et sec.
And there were erring members -with the same Judaising attitudes as caused the problem in Antioch. -Acts 15:5 "But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses" "and there was the Pastor, James.
Now read the account of the elders´ meeting (one church, remember) in which the elders and Paul´s came together to consider this matter and to reason. The verb translated "disputation" is suzhthsis, from suzhtev; mutual questioning, i.e. discussion: disputation, reasoning. 15:6 And the apostles and elders came together for to consider of this matter
Note the Apostle Peter´s contribution vv 7-11. 15:7 And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up, and said unto them, Men and brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe.
Next read Barnabas and the Apostle Paul´s contribution. Acts 15:12 Then all the multitude kept silence, and gave audience to Barnabas and Paul, declaring what miracles and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles by them.
Finally the Pastor´s resolution.
When all had said there piece (note the absence of debate or "dispute" in the negative sense), the Pastor makes his response TO HIS OWN CHURCH, where he is the governmental authority under Christ, even though Apostles are present. His ruling on this issue is: 15:19-21 "Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood. For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day."
The Apostles endorse the decision of the church leadership and send men and encouraging letters to Antioch. The tone is apologetic and the Jerusalem church acts on the resolution to put right the wrong done in Antioch. 15:22 Then pleased it the apostles and elders with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas; namely, Judas surnamed Barsabas and Silas, chief men among the brethren: