The apostles and the elders met together to consider this matter.7After there had been much debate,
This verse may seem a slight detail, but I believe it to be a very important and often overlooked point. One of the ways that the early church organized itself, made decisions and dealt with conflict and diversity, was dialogue. There was no king, caesar, bishop, or pope to make a decision from above. The community gathered together to talk it out. This is important for two reasons.
First, it assumes that there are some minds that need to be changed. I know that this is not always a popular opinion. After all, what is most often modeled for us is entrenchment in political ideology and argument from these positions at a loud volume. But there is little listening and little to no admitting that perhaps ‘I’ could be wrong, that my perspective needs to change.
Paul the apostle, would later write in Romans, ‘Do not be conformed to this world,* but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God.’ What Paul is saying is that all of us come to faith in Christ with assumptions, opinions, ethics, and morals that are shaped by powers other than God known to us in Christ. The beliefs that help us make sense of the world could be very different from the beliefs (and actions) expected and required of those who would call themselves Christians.
So part of what is going on in these two short verses is a vitally important, unpopular and overlooked part of our faith. We have been influenced in our thinking by many sources that do not conform to the witness of Christ. And that needs to be corrected.
Second, this story models a way of peace. Differences are honestly admitted, not hidden. They are debated, discussed and everyone given a chance to speak. Decisions are not made by one or a few and then enforced in a coercive or authoritarian way. All are given a chance to speak, all are heard. And although we don’t read the conclusion, the decision of the council was to allow those communities that wanted to practice circumcisions to do so, to allow those communities that didn’t want to, not to and they focused on other practices that they all agreed on, such as caring for the hungry and poor, to unify them. In other words, some diversity in their unity was allowed as long as that diversity conformed to the life of Christ.
This is the way Christians are meant to show the world how to make peace and live in peace. Be honest about differences. Dialogue about this honestly and respectfully. Leave space for differences. Focus on the life of Christ and the unity we find in that.
How could we encourage more honest dialogue so that we all conform to Christ and not to the world?