Many churches throughout the world use a Bible reading schedule called a "lectionary." It's just a fancy word meaning "selected readings." Posts like this reflect on the readings for an upcoming Sunday or other Church holiday, as found in the historic one-year lectionary.
We recognize Acts chapter 15 as a foundational gathering in Church history. In this passage, which scholars generally date in the spring of the year 51, the question had arisen whether Gentiles could become Christians without first converting to Judaism. Additionally, it was unclear whether they would need to take on Jewish law and customs or not.
If we think about it, this was a really huge question. There was no known background for answering it. What would the people recognized as leader of the Christians, assembled in Jerusalem, do? Acts 15:2 and 15:6 both attest to there being a large amount of discussion and debate, and that the discussion involved significant disagreement. This was not a friendly picnic in the park.
Peter's experience at the household of Cornelius, recorded in Acts chapter 10, became very important in the discussion. Though we don't have a clear identification of what Paul and Barnabas brought to the table, Galatians suggests that the same kind of dispute drove them to Jerusalem for the consultation. Paul had been bringing the Gospel to non-Jewish people. They were believing and living as Christians, apart from the dietary customs and other cultural habits of Judaism.
What was the conclusion? Salvation can come to Gentiles, just as to Jews, regardless of their cultural differences. However, in the end of the decision, converts are cautioned to avoid a few things which would be culturally very offensive to Jews. This was to avoid burning bridges across the cultures which could bring people to Christ.
The decisions of Acts 15 are consistent with Old Testament precedent, by which people from any nation could join into Israel, God's covenant people. However, in the New Testament context, the association is done by trusting Jesus and receiving his grace through faith in him, rather than by changing cultural habits and following a series of laws.
God still calls people to himself. Salvation is still, and has always been, by God's grace, received by faith. We still do well to offer that grace to others, and to avoid erecting cultural barriers which would drive others away. We allow the Lord to convert people, changing them from inside out. We trust he is able to do it.
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