A Church Dividing
Did you imagine the church of Acts as some perfect, perfectly united entity that solved all problems with a quick dash of prayer and obedience to the Spirit? Have you ever heard people say how they wish our churches were more like the church of Acts, as if somehow we've lost that pristine innocence? But maybe we're not so different after all - just a little bit bigger. Our Coffee Break group is continuing its studies in Acts with a look at a Biblical example of a Church Dividing
(13) The Jerusalem Decree
Paul and Barnabas have returned from Galatia. Now they’re back in Antioch (on the coast of Cilicia, just north of Syria, just north of Galilee). The church is spreading as a result of their missionary journey. But it’s also getting stretched... Does this remind you at all of Jesus’ parable about wine and wineskins?
Paul returns to Jerusalem
1. Read Acts 14:28-15:2 Why might they have stayed so long in Antioch? Didn’t they think the Jerusalem church would want to know what they’d been doing? What do you suppose Paul was doing while they were in Antioch?
2. Was this the first time Paul and Barnabas returned to Jerusalem? (Read Acts 11:29-30)
3. Why did they eventually decide to go to there this time?
4. Read Acts 15:3 How did God use the journey to prepare them for the discussions to come?
5. Can we think of other times where God prepares people for difficulties ahead? Or where he prepares us?
6. Read Acts 15:4-5 What’s the connection between Paul and the Pharisees? Would this make their opposition particularly difficult for him?
7. Circumcision was the sticking point for faithful Jewish Christians at this time. What sticking points do Christian denominations use today to define who’s right and who’s wrong, or who’s less saved than their neighbor, or less worth saving?
The Jerusalem Council Meets
1. Read Acts 15:6 When churches are in dispute, could they draw strength from knowing the church of Acts endured similar problems?
2. Read Acts 15:7-11 Who do you feel is least “saved” in the modern world, or least likely to listen to God’s word. How does it make you feel if you substitute their name for Gentiles in this passage?
3. Read Acts 15:12-17, Amos 9:11-12 What do the church leaders appeal to when resolving the argument?
4. Read Acts 15:18-21 Can you put the new rules into modern terms? How did these rules lead to, for example, Jehovah’s witnesses refusing blood transfusions? Should we follow the rules, or the spirit of the rules, when applying these criteria to modern Christianity?
Judas and Silas join the team
1. Read Acts 15:22 Why are Judas and Silas good people to send back with the letter?
2. We don’t know much more about Judas Barsabbas, but Silas appears again in the Bible story. Read Acts 16:25-27, 2 Corinthians 1:19, 1 Peter 5:12. What do these passages tell us about him?
3. Read Acts 15:23-29 How does this letter address the Gentile believers? Do you think it would have helped?
4. Read Acts 15:30-35 How was the message received?
5. Do you think that would be the end of the problem? Are church problems so easily resolved today? Which issues come to mind when you try to think of things dividing the modern Christian church?
Paul tells his version of the story
1. Paul is famous for his letters, from which we learn something of what he “remained in Antioch” teaching and preaching. Read Galatians 1:1-5 Having visited the churches in Galatia on his missionary journey, how does he start his first letter to them?
2. Read Galations 1:6-9 From what we’ve just read in Acts, what might be dividing the Galatian church?
3. Read Galations 1:10 When churches set up barriers between Christians, are they trying to please God or men?
4. Read Galations 1:11-17 Does Paul’s account agree with the story of his conversion in Acts? What does he add to the story in Acts? Does this make the story more or less believable?
5. Read Galations 1:18-20 Why does he say he’s not lying? What might have been said about him?
6. Read Galatians 1:21-24 Where are Antioch and Tarsus? Does this agree with the Acts account?
7. Read Galatians 2:1-5, Acts 16:1-3 Titus and Timothy were both Greek converts from Antioch. Why might Paul have had one circumcised and not the other?
8. Read Galatians 2:6 Who is Paul referring to? Is he being offensive, or does he have a reason for referring to them this way to these people?
9. Read Galatians 2:7-10 Does this refer to the Jerusalem Council decision? If so, is Paul over-simplifying, or just sticking to the spirit of the decision? (Some commentators argue that this letter must have been written before the Jerusalem Council, since it doesn’t explicitly reference the council’s letter. If so, Paul’s visit to Jerusalem would be the one where he and Barnabas brought food during the famine, and he would be planning a follow-up trip to discuss circumcision soon, and this letter would have been written during Paul’s long stay in Antioch.)
10. Read Galatians 2:11-13 How easily does this sort of hypocrisy spread through modern churches?
11. Read Galations 2:14-16 This is where the phrase “justified by faith” comes from. What does it mean?
12. Read Galations 2:17-21 Can you paraphrase this to apply to modern-day issues?