This morning I read, among other things, Acts 15:1-21. This chapter recounts the time that Paul and Barnabas disputed with other leaders from the Jerusalem church over whether or not the Gentiles had to live as Jews in order to be saved, and more specifically, whether or not they had to be circumcised.
As Gentiles who are more than 1,900 years removed from the situation, it may seem to us like a no-brainer--of course we don't have to become Jews in order to be saved. But the solution to this problem was not so clear to them, and it shouldn't have been. It would have, in my view, been tragic if the leaders of the early church simply dismissed Moses and the Law as though it had meant nothing. After all, Moses' writings are the Word of God and therefore teaching people that they don't have to obey those writings is a very serious matter.
But what really jumped out at me this morning is the means by which the leaders in Jerusalem were finally persuaded that the Gentiles should be released from strict adherence to the Law of Moses. First, Paul and Barnabas shared with the leadership what God had done through their ministry among the Gentiles. Then the believers who were of the party of the Pharisees rose to say that the Gentiles still had to be circumcised and keep the Law. Much debate followed. Next, Peter stood up and briefly recounted his experience with Cornelius (recounted in Acts 10-11), and took sides with Paul and Barnabas. This caused the crowd to fall silent, and once again, Paul and Barnabas recounted what signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through their ministry.
Finally, James took the floor, referred back to what Peter had shared and then quoted, probably from memory, Amos 9:11-12. On the basis of this text, James made the following statement: "Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood. For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues" (vv.19-21).
And with this the leaders of the early church decided to release the Gentiles from the obligations of the Law, writing in their letter, "For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay no greater than these requirements" (v. 28, same requirements as above).
I have been in many a church board or business meeting where decisions were made, not by appeal to the Word of God, but by appeal to common sense, to current trends, or to whoever happened to be the most persuasive that day. I feel, however, deeply encouraged by Acts 15 to lead a church that makes decisions by the Word of God, as much as that is possible. Of course, the Bible doesn't say what color carpet churches ought to buy, but it does say what our attitude toward one another ought to be as we're making these kinds of decisions: be humble, gentle, and patient with one another, bearing with one another in love (Eph. 4:2). "Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ forgave you" (Eph. 4:33).
In all things, it's God's wisdom that we need, and that wisdom is made manifest through the Word. Therefore, we church leaders must discipline ourselves, and train our people, to think by the Word, renewing our minds until we think God's thoughts after him and can be so bold as to say, "This decision seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us."