First Council of Churches? - Acts 15

First Council of Churches? - Acts 15

Acts 15 is often used as 'authority' for having 'universal church councils' to decide orthodox teaching. The problem is that what happened in Acts 15 is NOT what takes place in any of these councils.

First, as Gareth Reese wrote in his commentary on Acts, this meeting was not to figure out what they were going to believe. That had already been determined for them by revelation!" (pg. 536). This refers back to the fact that God had revealed such thru Peter and the case of Cornelius.

This meeting wasn't a universal church council – it was made up of specific members of the church in Antioch and the leaders of the church in Jerusalem, which included the apostles.  Even as early as this meeting took place there were many other churches scattered throughout Judea, Samaria, Syria, and Galatia. They were not included in this meeting.

Apostles were in the foundation of the church and were not replaced. They were unique in both the requirements of their office and the work that they did. Acts 1 shows that the replacement for Judas (the only recorded replacement of any apostle) was to have 1) accompanied the other apostles during the lifetime of Jesus beginning from the baptism of John until the ascension; and 2) to have been a witness of the resurrected Jesus. There are no such qualified men since the 1st century. There can then be no council like the meeting in Acts 15.

Apostles were the primary men used to reveal the Word of God. Paul wrote that God was now revealing the new teachings "through the apostles and prophets by the Spirit" (Eph. 3:3-5). The revelation is complete and needs no further additions. The writings of modern councils may be seen as 'church law' by some but are never to be held as the Word of God.

This council came to an inspired conclusion given by the Holy Spirit. They could write that 'it seemed good to us, and to the Holy Spirit" (vs. 28). The best that modern councils can do is give a studied opinion, and such opinions are often based more on worldly issues than the word of God.

The meeting in Jerusalem came about BECAUSE "some persons have gone out from us and troubled you with words, unsettling your minds, although we gave them no instructions" (vs. 24). Teaching is shown to be truth by showing it is what the apostles instructed and NOT by a vote of men. Any teaching today is only authoritative in that it reflects and shows the teachings that we have from the apostles. In the end, it is the word of God that we must be guided by and not the decrees and edicts of men. "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God" (Matt. 4:4).

This meeting then wrote inspired directives for ALL the churches. Such were NOT just the studied opinions of men on what the bible teaches about some subject. The decrees were to be taught to ALL believers.

These councils often purposely excluded those who disagreed with the opinion of those who made up the council. This gave the appearance of unanimous orthodox teaching, but such was deceptive. Later councils often changed such 'accepted' teaching. While such councils often claim to be guided by the Spirit (or claiming that they are under the guidance of an infallible leader in the pope), they have no authority to write inspired scripture. Their edicts and commands at best influence those that are aligned with their group but have no authority over all of God's people.  

The whole concept of modern church councils is built upon the faulty concept of modern church structure. While acknowledging the 'universal church' (i.e., ALL those who are in Christ) and the 'local church' (those who live and worship together), there has been added a level of organization above the local level but admittedly is not the whole of believers. Such further organizes its self into geographical and political areas. There develops an authority ladder where each level is seen as 'above' the other. Such structure developed after the time of the apostles and has no basis in the word of God.

The disciples continued steadfastly in the Apostles teaching (Acts 2:42). If anyone taught differently they were considered accursed (Gal. 1:18-19). We are to let the word of Christ dwell in us richly, not the edicts of men (cp. Col. 3:16-17). If we follow any of the teachings of such councils, it is only because they are in agreement with what the apostles had already revealed. As such then, we are NOT following the writings of the councils, but the word of God. Prove all things and hold fast to that which is good (1Thess. 5:21).  

Hugh DeLong