The Church Releases Itself From the Torah
Jesus' revelation that the writings of the Law and the Prophets were symbolic put Him in direct conflict with those who held that the teachings of the Old Testament were absolute and needed to be accepted literally and followed exactly as they were written.
Because obsession with these rules was so pervasive and so compelling (even among early Christians), reforming the ritual of the Old Testament became one of the earliest priorities of God.
When the Apostles gathered in Jerusalem to decide this matter, there was much disagreement among them as to how much of the Torah should be retained and how much discarded.
Moved by the Holy Spirit, Peter stood up before the assembly and argued, "God, who can read everyone's heart, showed his approval of the pagans by giving them the same Holy Spirit he gave to us. It would only provoke God's anger now, if we were to impose on them the very burden of the Law that neither we nor our ancestors were strong enough to support. Remember, we believe that we are saved in the same way as they are: through the grace of the Lord Jesus." (Acts 15:8-11).
This statement silenced the discord.
In one of the most momentous decisions in the history of the Christian Church, the Jerusalem assembly then decreed: "It has been decided by the Holy Spirit and by ourselves not to saddle you with any burden beyond these essentials: you are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from fornication. Avoid these, and you will do what is right." (Acts 15:29).
With this decree, the Apostles in Jerusalem severed the Church from its bondage to the rules of the Torah so that Christians could live their lives in the mercy and justice of Jesus without having to struggle with the voluminous decrees of the Law of Moses.
When this meeting ended, only the template of the Torah and the symbolism it advertised remained in place. The Laws and rituals of the Old Testament were all discarded. These were replaced almost entirely by the commandments of the Gospel and the directives of a 'new' Testament which had begun to be penned around the letters of Paul.
Despite authorizing this freedom, Jesus predicted that obsession with the Law would continue long after he was gone. "Beware of men..." (Mt.10:17). The ministers, he said, would keep trying to promote their own traditions despite everything He warned about.
This we have seen for ourselves. There has been no end to the stream of religious potentates and prophets who have tried to tie us back in one way or another to the old rules and regulations of the Mosaic Law.
The importance of what happened that day in Jerusalem cannot be overstated. The religious freedom of the entire Christian Church occurred instantly the moment those council directives were approved. Who has power ever to overturn their decree?
The entire Apostolic body was there. All the elders of the Church were in attendance, the great and the small. In addition to Christ's original twelve Apostles, Paul, Silas and Barnabus were present as well.
Of the council members, those who were of the Pharisitic party and had converted to Jesus, argued that the Laws of Moses should be incorporated into the rules of Christian doctrine.
There was a long discussion on the matter (Acts 15:6-7). When all the members of the gathered assembly had presented their views on the subject, and after Peter had made his own statement, James, the head of the Jerusalem church arose and said:
"My brothers, listen to me. Simeon has described how God first arranged to enlist a people for his name out of the pagans. This is entirely in harmony with the words of the prophets...I rule then, that instead of making things more difficult for the pagans who turn to God, we send them a letter telling them merely to abstain from anything polluted by idols, from fornication, and from the meat of strangled animals..." (Acts 15:13-20).
This directive immediately separated the Christian Church for all time from the rules and regulations of the Old Testament, and the body of believers who made this decree were so prestigious that no one could ever come later and overrule their decision.
While they kept intact the framework of the Law -- all the prophecies and symbolism-- the laws and traditions themselves were instantly erased. The freedom that resulted allowed the Church to build itself only in the directives of Christ.
Return to Chapter 28
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E.C.S.Leavenworth III; Goodnews Christian Ministry.