I’ve decided to do a series on the official councils of the Church. Because doctrine is usually defined in face of heresy, councils are good ways of 1. learning doctrine of the Church and 2. learning some history of the Church. While councils usually clarify doctrine, it doesn’t stop heresies from continuing. But they do help us recognize and name those heresies and hopefully avoid them.
Council of Jerusalem
The Council of Jerusalem is not really considered an ecumenical council. The religion had not yet spread far enough. Yet there was already divisions forming. This council is unique in that is recorded in the Bible and sets the president for further councils. Councils are usually called with the purpose of addressing divisive issues and clarifying doctrine as disagreements arise. The Council of Jerusalem was held around the year 50.
The main issue at the time was whether Gentiles converts to Christianity first had to become Jews. Christianity was still seen as an extension of Judaism, so there was the idea that to be Christian meant to be Jewish. James and his followers believed that following traditional Judaism was part of accepting Christ as Messiah. Paul and his followers believed that Christ’s message was open to Gentiles without having to go through Judaism.
It was determined that Christianity was separate from Judaism. Gentiles were not obligated to be circumcised or live under the Law of Moses. However, they were expected to follow the rules regarding idols, fornication, and blood (Acts 15). This created two set of rules: one for Jewish converts and one for Gentile converts. But over time, the Jewish converts were pushed out of their Jewish communities and began to reflect the Gentile Christian community more and more.
I’m not really aware of any contemporary group that requires converts to get circumcised. But there still is debate about how Christians are supposed to follow (or not follow) Jewish law as listed in the Old Testament. The Council of Jerusalem was not about addressing a heresy so much as figuring out what this whole Christianity thing actually meant. Was it a branch of Judaism or something completely new? I for one am quite glad that it was opened up for everyone.