The first church fight addressed issues we grapple with today.
Who can be part of us?
What do you have to do to belong?
The issue, back then, was do you have to keep the law to be/become a Christian?
The fight is recorded in Acts 15. After the fight, James summarizes the key principle in verse 19 (NIV):
It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.
In other words, make it easy. The rule applies to those who have and those who are turning.
Make it easy:
- Invite people to turn TO God. It’s easy to point out what’s bad. Turn away from drugs, sex, and rock-n-roll, for example. But, the gospel is good news, not bad.
- Forget about fixing people. Let God fix.
- Err on the side of grace. When in doubt choose compassion over confrontation.
- Avoid arguments on peripheral issues. Trusting Jesus is THE issue. Nothing else matters until that issue is resolved.
The four rules James gave gentile believers in Acts 15:20 (NIV) illustrate the “make it easy” rule.
Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood.
- No “idol” food.
- No sexual immorality.
- No strangled animals.
- Drain the blood.
Why these rules? Acts 15:21 (NIV):
For Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.
James says the principle of “don’t make it difficult,” applies both ways. Jewish believers in Jerusalem are working to make it easy for Gentiles to turn to God. Gentile believers should be concerned for the Jews in their communities. Make it easy for them to turn to God, too. Avoid offensive behaviors for the sake of the Gospel.