About Jesus  -  Steve Sweetman

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Collaborative Debate

Acts 15:28 reads:


"It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements:"


The context of Acts 15:28 is this.  The first challenging issue that divided the infant church concerned how Gentile Christians should relate to the Old Testament Jewish Law.  This led to the first recorded gathering of church leaders to solve a divisive doctrinal dilemma.  The meeting included Paul, Barnabas, Peter, James, and others, men who represented both extremes of the debate.  Understanding the personalities of these men, as limited as I do, leads me to believe their gathering got quite heated before a well thought-out, corporate conclusion was agreed upon.  


With a well thought-out conclusion in mind, the words "seemed good" in the phrase "seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us" become important.  Seems good is translated from the Greek verb "dokeo," which implies the making of a well thought-out opinion.  The well thought-out opinion agreed upon by leaders with differing opinions, guided by the Holy Spirit, exhibited a collaborative debate resulting in a corporate conclusion.       


Another thing to note here is that a team of men, not one man, balanced the intellectual with the spiritual in their deliberation.  They presented their varying intellectual arguments as well as seeking the spiritual guidance of the Holy Spirit in the pursuit of a resolution.  The resolution, was thus, a product of plurality of leadership; leaders with varying opinions in collaborative dialogue.  This led to a corporate consensus that preserved unity in the midst of diversity, which is central to the nature of church.    


Post Script


The conclusion agreed upon by the team of leaders stated that Gentile believers did not have to concern themselves with the Old Testament Law.  It was, however, recommended that they abstain from meat sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals, and from sexual immorality.  These requirements were meant to relieve Gentile believers of burdensome laws that were never directed to them, and in the process, restore unity to a fractured church.   


Even with the above agreed-upon recommendations, it appears that the individuals who came to the corporate collaborative conclusion, still held to their personal autonomous opinions.  Paul, for example, had no problem eating meat  sacrificed to an idol as long as his eating did not harm the conscience of a fellow believer.  If meat was offered him, he'd thank God and eat it without asking if it had been first offered to an idol (1 Corinthians 10:14 - 33).  Unlike Paul, James, who appeared to uphold his Jewish heritage would have asked if the meat offered him was sacrificed to an idol, and if it was, he would have refused to eat it. 


Collaborative debate among leaders with varying opinions is meant to produce a corporate consensus that preserves unity in the midst of a diverse Christian community.


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