“And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved. When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question.” (Acts 15:1-2)
When I spoke on the division of the church, I spoke only on things peculiar to our time. But one factor that will prove divisive regardless of age, era, and time in history, is that of doctrinal differences based on disputable issues. This has always been so as we can see in the text above, from the earliest church, and it will always be as we are assured in scriptures where it says, “For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you.” (1 Corinthians 11:19). So this must happen for our good. God allows it so as to streamline our leadership. The folly however of this present times is nobody cares about checkmating heresies. For most people hold to their faith without convictions, and are afraid of being proved wrong in what they hold to be true. Therefore, to be on the safe side, they keep quiet and refuse to challenge these things. But it was not so with the apostles. Imagine if Paul and Barnabas had allowed these teachers of circumcision to continue to teach these things for fear of being proved wrong, they’d have allowed this people to drive a lot of believers from the faith. But they stood their ground and disputed with these people. So also must we do in this our time without dividing the church.
To make sure that heresy does not spread, it is important that we keep watch for any strange doctrine or any other thing that seem to be a disputable issue, and if we, as individuals or as a church, discover any, we are to meet to discourse the issue prayerfully, and come to a conclusion based on scriptures. This is where the council of elders come in. Elders of all concerned regions are to meet and discourse the issue, and anything they conclude is to be accepted so far it has a scriptural backing. (By saying region, I do not mean that there decision is binding only on that region. But where they come to a conclusion, they should communicate everything about the meeting to the global church. The global church will approve of it, if it is in truth gotten by the leading of the Holy Ghost. All other regions of the world should take a cue from what they observe and adopt it when they observe it is scriptural. If any region object, their objections should be given a proper hearing. Remember, we all must be of one mind. We are one body. What affects the one affects the whole.)
When the conclusion of elders has no scriptural backing so much that the men who claim to be elders only handled the issue based on popular idea or for their personal benefit, interest, or profit, let they who know the truth dispute it again bringing to bare where it contradicts scriptures. Let him or them not be afraid of the decision of the elders but oppose them with the scriptures.
We don’t have many elders now, and much of the people who claim to be elders are in no way elders. For this reason, as it should always be, absolute reliance on scriptures alone is what we need. We must all go back to our Bibles (i.e. King James Bible in English), and return to the basics. We just can’t rely on much of the people who occupy the role of leadership now, for they are like a foot out of joint. We would talk about the nature of, and who are qualified to be elders in subsequent chapters of this book. But those who are truly elders ought to meet, discourse the issue, come to an agreement as the Holy Spirit leads them, and what they conclude through the Spirit of God shall all churches accept. The conclusion of the elders should be published to the view of everybody globally. In our days, this should include on websites, blogs, Facebook fan pages, twitter, magazines, and so on. This should be done so that all, like the Berean Christians, may be able to observe these things and search the scriptures to see if these things are so. This way, heresy shall not be given provision to be a source of division, but to manifest those who are approved. When the apostles held theirs, it didn’t mark the beginning of a new church, probably with the name, “Pauline Christians Assembly.” Rather, it made it clear that Paul and Barnabas were approved, it silenced heretics, and the church remained united.
This is how disputable issues ought to be handled. In the recent past, disputable issues has been handled by breaking the church. With much joy people break the church for profit and not in pursuit of truth. But we’ve seen, here, that when disputable issues arise, never should it result in fragmenting the church. The council of elders, and continuous disputation, insisting that the truth be maintained, are the means by which matters are to be resolved. If any man in the name of finding faults with doctrines or practices start his own church, he is a thief. Let us return to the practice of holding councils of elders in resolving issues.
—How The Council Of Elders Should Hold—
“And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written.” (Acts 15:15)
It is good that we’ve noted the importance of the council of elders. My fear is that ill meaning people would take the occasion to start unnecessary and unintelligent disputations and ferment unending troubles. For this reason, to avoid the continuous disputation of unnecessary rancour, let’s take a look at how an effective council of elders must be held.
My joy in reading scriptures is that we have a template for virtually all things. It is a glad thing that we also have a template to serve as a guide when it comes to how the council of elders should hold.
1. Reason for holding: “And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved. When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question.” (Acts 15:1 – 2). When in the cause of preaching the gospel, out of zeal, or undue insistence on traditions contrary to what is necessary to our faith, unacceptable teachings emanates causing confusion or constituting an unnecessary burden to the brethren, a council of elders should hold. By this I mean issues that originates from well meaning people over things that are not conspicuously wrong. I’m not saying that a council of elders should hold for everything, whether trivial or not, probably to discuss whether or not it were good for a Christian to have a glass of water before a meal. Or to discuss whether or not it is right to put ones wife away and marry another. That is clearly evil and the party which raises such issues are evil and ill-meaning seeking after the flesh and not after righteousness. They’ve clearly got an evil motive which could be easily refuted. Council of elders are to settle matters that are hard to determine especially of which both parties are well meaning and seek after righteousness and pleasing God. Matters for which a man may consider starting his own church.
2. Who should attend: “they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question.” (Acts 15:2). All the parties from which these disputations emanated from should have at least a representative who is very well acquainted with the claims of his party. All the elders and devout men should be present. Others who wish to avail themselves of the opportunity to observe the proceedings should be encouraged to come.
3. Where should it hold: “they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question.” (Acts 15:2). The council should hold in a place most convenient for the elders. If the disputing parties think that their claims is anything to reckon with, they should go to the elders, and not the elders coming to them. The elders’ convenience is the decisive factor here.
4. The procedures and speaking privileges: “But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.” (Acts 15:5). Everybody in attendance should be allowed to contribute in Bible based questions and suggestions. We observe that there were reasonings and disputations when the apostles met, but no shunning of anybody. Suggestions and questions from anybody should be encouraged as much as possible, but orderliness and reason must be maintained.
5. Concluding matters: “And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up, and said unto them, Men and brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe.” (Acts 15:7). Matters are to be concluded by elders who truly fit the definition of elders. Conclusion should be based on scriptural knowledge, genuine revelational knowledge, and the direct present guiding and leading of the Holy Ghost. There should be no place for mere personal opinions of the elders. Peter made reference to evident testimony of the working of the Holy Ghost in concluding that God accepts Gentiles just the way they were. I believe if Peter made reference to his own personal opinion, his state of mind would have been that of which he had when he was in a trance where he said, “not so Lord.” (Acts 10:14) He’d have concluded this matter saying, “not so Paul. Not so Barnabas. They must be circumcised.” But with the leading of the Holy Ghost, they came to a righteous conclusion.
6. What next after the conclusion: “Then pleased it the apostles and elders with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas; namely, Judas surnamed Barsabas and Silas, chief men among the brethren: And they wrote letters by them after this manner…” (Acts 15:22 – 23). Publishing the conclusion far and wide with the sign or seal signifying the authority of the elders is the next thing. In the case of the apostles, they sent chief men among the brethren to signify that they approve of the letter that is to be delivered to them. All well meaning Christians should accept it when they perceive that the conclusion was according to the leading of the Holy Ghost, as it should be clearly inline with scriptures. The party proved wrong shouldn’t feel humiliated by being proved wrong, but they should, in humility, accept the conclusion. Rather, they should be joyful to see that the will of God is done. By this shall they show that the zeal in which they acted was well intentioned and not a product of pride, haughtiness, or desire to ferment trouble. The conclusion should be published on websites, blogs, magazines and bulletins, social media, television and so on and so forth, for awareness and for the considerations of the body of Christ.
I hope that, with this in mind, all members of the various denominations would start disowning their denominations and start pressing for a united church. I hope that all owners of churches would start closing their churches, encouraging their leaders to resign, seeing that they had no basis at all to start their own church in the first place. This is the best thing for any well meaning person to do for the benefit of uniting the church of Christ. I can assure every church owner that would still desire to keep their church running that it’s just a matter of time that their churches would close down against their will, if they don’t close down their churches willingly and push for a united church. It’s only a matter of time that all denominations will collapse being helplessly battered to the ground. This I shall consider an admonition of which the Bible tells us, “A man that is an heretick after the first and second admonition reject.” (Titus 3:10). Before you be rejected and your church closed against your wish, join forces in uniting the church today.
Brethren, if we do things this way, we’d get rid of heresy and maintain a united church, and be of one mind. No more will there be any need for schism. No more will there be a provision for vain men to hide under the guises of wanting to preach a truer truth divide the church. I pray that God will help us in holding our council of elders profitably in Jesus’ name. Amen.
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