By Pastor Pat
Sunday, July 18, 2010
The Controversy - Circumcision and Social Intercourse
By Pastor Pat
By Pastor Pat
In opening the annuals of church History, we soon discover that when a controversy arises within the halls of the church there begins an extreme understanding or misunderstanding of the issues themselves and how it will affect the norm. Today just as in the days of Paul, change is not welcome. Especially when that change goes against the very fiber of set laws and doctrine.
Between the first and second journals of Paul, just such a controversy is still debated behind close doors by scholars and learned men of doctrine and history. We will explore what has become the biggest conflict between Jews and Christians throughout the last 2000 years. The issues of Gentile freedom (Acts 15: 1-41) that overflowed within the very fibers of the church of Antioch as well as in Jerusalem (acts 15 1-5). Over the years as with many issues affecting our structures the actual reason such a controversy arose has been lost to deaf ears for no other reason than they refused to hear the foundation of the conflict. Driving deeper into the words of Acts 15 you begin to realize it is a narrative looking for a meaning that Luke gives us is they represent the minimum of the Law of Moses whish was required from the Gentiles in lieu of circumcision. Going even deeper into the word and rattling the pages of church history this problem was rooted far deeper than just circumcision rooted and actually dealt with social intercourse between Jews and Gentiles.
Further study of the events leading up to the council of Jerusalem practically in the light of the way the events unfold and the accounts within Acts, as well as the book of Galatians makes it clear that this there was in fact two issues in dispute. Even tho in the book of Acts Luke does not separate the two.
Beginning in Acts 15: 1-2, we see representations of the ulta-Judarstic party (A group devoted to adopt Jewish customs and beliefs.) who insisted that the new Gentile converts should be circumcised before admission into the church. This group had arrived in Antioch from Jerusalem. It was brought to the attention of the council these converts had been treated in the same way as the God-fearing Gentiles in the Jewish communities of dispersion: ( Jewish people within communities of Jews within the Roman empire) They were admitted to worship without being circumcised, and in addition the Gentile Christians were being baptized as were the Jewish converts. However, this Baptism was becoming to be a substitute for circumcision, as Jewish converted-baptism. The Judarstic party whose members in site of Paula;s bitterness may have been sincere men, regarding this as an invocation that would denationalize the Jewish Gospel, turning the Messiah into a non-Jewish 'Savior' and make salvation an individual matter instead of being the privilege of Israel.
So the challenge became unless you are circumcised according to the laws of Moses you cannot be saved. The Jews adopted circumcision as a religious ritual7 and preserved this prehistoric practice into modern times. The circumcision of Abraham removed only the very tip that extended beyond the glans penis. Moses and his sons were not circumcised. (Exodus 4:25) Although Moses apparently prohibited circumcision during the 40 years in the wilderness, (Joshua 5:5) Joshua reinstituted circumcision at Gilgal after the death of Moses (Joshua 5:2-10) It is interesting to note that after the Israelites were circumcised, they immediately became soldiers in Joshua's army for the conquest of Palestine. (Joshua 6:1-3) On the basic of south Galatians, theory we can suppose that the trouble arose not only in Antioch but extended also to Paul's newly founded Galatians churches.
As recorded in Gal. 2: 11-14, and about the same time trouble arose in Antioch concerning the question of social intercourse between Jewish and Gentiles Christians. A very essentially different problem. This had been brought to a head by the inconsistency of Peter himself, who before the arrival of the delegates from Jerusalem, 'before certain men came from James ate with Gentiles; but when they came he drew and separated himself. Fearing the circumcision party.' (Gal. 2: 12) The identification of the visit of Gal. 2: 10 with the famine visits of Acts 11:30 makes in possible to date Paul's dispute with Peter at Antioch.
The council of Jerusalem: Acts 15: 1-35 Gives us insight into the success of Paul and Barabas in Asia Minor making it clear that Christianity could never be confined within the borders of Palestine and it raised the practical question: If Gentiles are to become Christians must they first become Jews? In other words, must one be circumcised before they are baptized? The question was not a new one; it had come up many times before as the case of Cornelius.
Acts 10 & 11
Peter and Corndius These two men are the least of people you would expect to be drawn together. First Cornelius was a gentile and Peter a Jew, and they were a world apart from one another. Cornelius was a high-ranking officer of the Roman Empire and peter having no rank at all except he was a follower of the carpenter who was put to death by Pontius Pilate. Cornelius was a man of the world; peter tho was a county boy with little or no knowledge outside of his province of Galilee, until the Christian movement threw him on the worldwide stage. Cornelius was a professional soldier; Peter was a laboring man, humble in nature.
The more one marvels at the fact of these world apart men coming together you realize there is no rime or reason they should of, nevertheless they would unite their efforts. What could possibly bring these two together? The basic could have been circumstances, yet on the other hand, we see that Peter had been turning repeatedly in his mind the question of the relationship of the new Christian movement to the rest of the world...
Being raised within the barriers of Judaism made it difficult. Yet the more he tossed the question and lived in association with Jesus, the more the spirit of Jesus dwelt in him, the more suspicious he became of the barriers, which separated Jews from the rest of the world. There was no deliberate act of thought on his part as it was a gradual growth into a deeper understanding of the solidarity of the children of god. As time went by him, he became more and more impatient with the lines that had been drawn between secular things, between unclean things and circular things. If god was the creator of all things, then how could one thing be more acceptance than any other could? What right did men have to draw lines beyond God's care and interest of which you could not and would not pass? The deeper Peter plunged into the truth he found in Jesus the more he refuse to confine himself to the artificial boundaries of Judaism. He was discovering that even tho born and raised a Jew, he came to the point that his institution cannot contain the spirit of God, it can only convey it.
Cornelius on the other hand is and entirely a different man. As described by Luke in the book of Acts he was a religious man. He held all impulses that are associated with religion. He accepted the fact of God and did not hesitate to say his prayers. He was generous to his fellow man regarded by his peers as a man of integrity. Tho a Gentile he was not allowed into the inner sanctuary of a synagogue yet he stood on the fringe of it. He was more like those we see today who have religious temperament but have no church ties. His devout spirit was not committed to and doctrine concept.
Yet each of these men had what the other needed. Peter held all the strength of an institutional religion and needed to be set free of its confines, while Cornelius had all the freedom of the religious spirit of the Gentile and needed the supporting framework on institutional religion giving him spirit discipline and direction. The situation of these two men are dramatized by Luke with Petera's dissatisfaction within Judaism and his final acknowledgment of God's sovereignty are again dramatized in the story of the trance in which he saw let down from heaven a sheet that contained all shorts of creatures clean and unclean. As Cornelius increasing since of insufficiency of his religious life is put in the dramatic form of a vision in which he was directed by a angel to seek out a man called Peter who could show him how to link his understanding of his own religious genius with the life and influence of Jesus. Of course, in drawing the picture Luke is saying that Peter and Cornelius were brought together not by natural circumstances, but by the hand of God. While trying to make it clear these two men were brought together not by their efforts or by the drift of human events but by the specific intention will of God.
However, as so often happens the church did not answer the question until it was forced to. The answer could no longer be postponed. The increasing number of Gentiles converts under the leadership of Paul and Barnabas demanded an answer. Hence, the council was called...
The leaders of the church must have been well aware of the fact that the question had dynamite in it; to an outsider the discussion may have looked like a dispute relatively unimportant ceremonial practices. Baptism versus circumcision was a debate of which the outcome was doubtless a matter of indifference to the average intelligent citizen of the Roman Empire. Nevertheless, it was so much the practice that mattered; it was the issue that was behind it. Is its Jewish setting and frame a context apart from which it neither has meaning nor power, or is it a cocoon which, once it has served it creative purpose must be abandoned if the church is to fulfill its role as a world-wide religion.
Paul and Barnabas leave the council after they made their report and knew that circumcision was not to be require of the Gentile converts yet they had to keep the moral laws and food laws out of respect for the Jews of whom they might be associated with. Soon after the council of Jerusalem Paul and Barnabas separate company of a conflict with John Mark and takes up with Silas into Asia Minor.
Sometimes it seems that things seem to take so long for a decision to be made within the church yet if we look at the mystery of which God works we realize that sometimes slowness is the best route to take. Exploring all the avenues of the issue in question and its outcome is time consuming yet somehow within the mystery of men and god they fall together for the better good. The next section will be the beginning of the second journey.
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