The major thing that jumped out at me today is that there is room for conflict in the church. We see a few conflicts in the reading today. The biggest issue that took up a bulk of the reading was the conflict over if new converts to Christianity should be circumcised. It was an issue that was ultimately decided by taking the debate to the Apostles and church leaders in Jerusalem. I’d like to say that the conflict was resolved with a well drafted letter from Jerusalem, but the reality is that this became something that plague Paul’s ministry down the line.
It’s worth noting how Paul and his companions handled the conflict. They took it to the Jerusalem council and left it in the hands of those who had been called as Apostles to decide. These men met, prayed, and discussed the matter and finally resolved the issue. Then a letter was drafted affirming the decision they knew honored the LORD. This should have ended the controversy inside the church, but unfortunately there were those who would follow Paul wherever he went trying to teach gentile converts that they had to be circumcised.
Another conflict arose when Barnabas and Paul wanted to visit the churches they had planted. Barnabas wanted to take John Mark with them, but Paul had no confidence in John Mark because he had been abandoned by him before. We are told that this was a sharp contention (15:39) that wasn’t even really resolved, but that ended with Paul and Barnabas going separate ways with separate partners.
Often we picture the early church being conflict free. We imagine that folks prayed about everything and that everything just worked out. The reality is that the early church was filled with drama and issues as good people, called by God, worked through their conflict. Earlier in Acts, deacons were appointed to deal with the drama surrounding feeding widows. Here we see a church council meeting to decide an important theological issue. We also see good friends going separate ways over what seems like a small issue. The early church had just as much conflict as the church does today.
Conflict resolution is part of ministry and a part of God’s church because it’s at the very heart of the gospel. The Apostle Paul wrote in Romans, “while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” We forget we were at enmity with God but that He made peace with us through the cross of Christ Jesus. When we see conflict in the church, we should recognize that we live in a fallen world and seek to resolve our conflict in a ways that honors God.
Father, thank you that we get an honest understanding of historical events when we read your word. Thank you that it isn’t dressed up or sugar coated, but that you are straight forward and honest with us about very real conflict that took place in the early church. Thank you that you have made us ambassadors and peacemakers to a lost and fallen world and we get to bring the message of hope to those who have yet to be reconciled to you. We pray that you give us opportunity and wisdom to be peacemakers today. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.